As travel becomes increasingly affordable, convenient, and accessible, more and more people are choosing to travel for a multitude of reasons–whether it be simply to relax and have some time away, or to tick off a bucket list item. Traveling with the right intentions also makes us more cultured and educated about things that aren’t necessarily right outside our doorsteps.
However, on the flip side, there are some consequences to this sudden influx in the travel industry. For example, this year, the city of Amsterdam made the momentous decision to actively curb tourists who flood the city every year during the tulip season. Amsterdam and its neighbouring cities has been suffering from tourists destroying large swaths of tulip fields “for the gram”, as well as disrespecting and objectifying sex workers in the infamous red light district. Being a respectful traveller spans across so many different aspects: from behaviour and culture to sustainability.
Here are 4 ways you can be more mindful of becoming a respectful traveller:
Mind Your Surroundings
Respect, respect, respect.
An obvious way you can be mindful of your surroundings is by being respectful to locals and the space they live in. You should always be encouraged to take up as little space as possible as a traveller and as a guest. From little things like making sure that you don’t stop and check your map in the middle of the street and being mindful to speak quietly in public areas, to more significant things like rigorously researching your destination before you arrive, there are many ways in which you can be a traveller without disturbing the peace and everyday lives of the locals.
While these may seem idealistic, it’s also important to note that displaying explicitly rude behaviour can put you in danger. Most often than not, things do not go as planned when travelling. However, while being overtly angry or frustrated may just warrant a click of the tongue back home, you never know who’s watching your behaviour when you are abroad. Being mindful of your surroundings also means being mindful of how you are behaving. Always keep in mind that whether you like it or not, you are a representative of your country when you travel.
As a traveller, you are bound to come across traditions, rituals, societal beliefs that do not align with what you are used to. For example, in order to enter some religious sites, you must practice certain rituals which may not necessarily align with your religious practices back home. Perhaps back home, chattiness is allowed, even encouraged in public spaces, but silence may be a virtue in the place you are travelling in.
The most important part of experiencing these tensions is not to fight them, but to acknowledge and process them and to make it part of your travelling experience. Even if you may not agree with local politics or customs, consider keeping it to yourself, as these traditions may be very important or sacred to locals. Again, be mindful of your surroundings, and try to mimic how locals are going about to the best of your abilities.
It’s also important to understand that (no matter how much research you’ve done beforehand) as a traveller, you only get a very brief snapshot of the bigger picture that is that culture. Something that you might not agree with on the surface may have a more intricate and complicated history behind it. Use this as an opportunity to step out of your comfort zone and to expand your sociopolitical horizons instead of fighting back.
Appreciate, Not Appropriate
We’ve already talked about appropriate fashion in the past, but food, traditions, and cultural beliefs can also be appropriated as well. Blatantly referring to local traditional culture as “exotic” and “oriental” is also a big faux pas because these terms are remnants of a time of cultural “othering”, especially in nations that have had a history of colonisation. Remember, even if some local traditions seem “new” to you, it has probably been a large part of local life for a very long time. Appreciating new cultures and processing what it means to you is okay, but exoticising and objectifying someone’s culture is not.
On a similar note, avoid touring places that have a history of exploiting a vulnerable section of the population. Some examples include red light districts, “ghettos” and slums (also known as poverty tourism), and hospitals. That being said, there are certainly ways to expand your mindset about inequality, poverty, and your privilege through travel without contributing to slum tourism and exploiting the already vulnerable masses even more.
Maintain the “Green” Mindset
Last but not least, keep sustainability on your mind at all times, even when travelling. Admittedly, it is tempting to fill a bathtub every night and to constantly eat out while on vacation, it is important to not forget the impact your vacation time could have on the local community with regards to sustainability. Making an effort to keep in mind all the sustainability efforts you conduct at home, such as navigating the public transport system or refraining from producing waste will also naturally allow you to have more of the “local” experience.
On a related note, this also means actively avoiding staying at huge resorts that exploit local natural environments (and the people who live nearby), as well as participating in tours conducted by large profit-driven tour companies that often lack environmental awareness.
As a tourist, no one expects you to be a seasoned local. But they will appreciate it if you to abide by local rules and to disrupt their daily lives as little as possible. It’s also important to remember that being a respectful traveller doesn’t mean that you need to sacrifice any fun. It just means that you need to be extra mindful of your actions and your words, even more so than when you are at home.
What are some ways you remain mindful while travelling? Let us know in the comments down below.