There are a few things that travelers do or don’t do that really gets my knickers in a twist.
I know. There’s many ways to travel and see the world. Call us tourists, travelers, backpackers, flashpackers, nomads, whatever! There’s just some things that I do and don’t recommend doing if you’re exploring the whole wide world. Here are some tips on how to be a better or smarter traveler.
What is it?!
1. Research the country that you’re planning to visit.
+ Read up on the culture and traditional customs — even if it’s just a little bit. If you don’t speak the native language and English isn’t widely spoken, it’s not hard to get an easy-phrase guidebook (or Youtube it) and look up words for “hello”, “goodbye”, “thank you”, “do you speak English?”, “how much is this”, and “where is the bathroom,” etc.
I hate it when I see tourists being (blissfully) ignorant when it comes to rules, traditions, and customs of a country. You are visiting! How do you NOT want to know a little background about the place you are visiting??
I’m not saying read an entire history textbook and be able to cite their past 10 leaders or anything. I’m saying it doesn’t take that much effort to educate yourself on the background + history and culture of a place that you seemingly want to get to know.
(A good link I usually go to get a quick cultural and historical background on a place: WikiVoyage.org) Which brings me to my next point.
2. (Try to) be respectful.
When you are traveling, you will stand out. I understand it’s hard NOT to be noticed as a tourist because we are carrying a backpack, a big camera, looking at everything in awe or curiosity but locals will + DO appreciate it when you take the time to respect their culture and aware of particular customs. It’ll make ’em happy + you’ll feel good creating more happiness!
I hate when people end up being disrespectful and don’t even know it – don’t be THAT guy.
+ Note: If you’re visiting a church, temple, mosque + other place of worship – dress appropriately & have some self awareness.
Hint: You can also make sure they have shawls or wraps you can borrow or rent for a small fee to go inside.
It’s like wearing a club dress to a funeral. WTF are you thinking? You might not be that religious but realize that other patrons might be so try to be a tad more mindful when you’re pottering about. Other people are there to pray or have some experience while you’re just trying to get pictures for your Facebook album (or in my case, blog).
Stay out of the way and appreciate that you’re even allowed to take a peek. Some places of worship don’t even allow visitors if you’re not a believer in that particular religion so be grateful you get to explore inside.
3. Sometimes, you have to be sensitive.
For example: Maybe a country has been war-savaged in the past, do a little research and understand the effects and views of the general people, the government, etc. Know the CONTEXT of a country before you visit.
If you’re visiting a place of current conflict, it’s usually prudent to read the (unbiased) news and understand any current happenings that are going on as well. No need to be an expert but a general understanding works.
If you are a type of traveler that likes to interact with locals. Here’s a tip:
+ Know which questions might be my touchy for them and if you’re keen to get a perspective, think of a careful way to broach the topic without offense. Curiosity won’t kill the cat in most conversations.
4. Don’t travel for the bragging rights
It irks me to hell when people just want to visit a place for a check mark off their bucket list. I’m not against bucket lists – I have one myself and it’s a fun way to keep track of some of your dreams + goals especially in a broad sense. However, travel isn’t about another way to brag.
+ It’s more than that. LEARN. EDUCATE YOURSELF + APPRECIATE as much as possible. Am I saying you should have some “transcendental life changing” experience every time?
A fun weekend partying in Cancun is going to be just that. For other destinations, it might be just a little appreciation for the architecture or food.
+ Take something from the experience besides just “bragging rights” (if you can).
All in all – it’s never a bad thing to learn and soak in new experiences and cultures. If the result is being a “better” or “smarter” traveler, great!