Respecting the local culture of the place you are visiting is important as a traveller. You are representing your fellow travellers, your country and also no one wants to be labelled a jerk. There have recently been cases of tourists being disrespectful in Japan’s suicide forest and in a separate incident, a traveller who is a celebrity in her country was rightfully lambasted for smiling and making inappropriate comments at a Holocaust memorial. You don’t want to be like these people. Another thing is that if you want to meet people whilst travelling respect goes a long way in cementing a friendship. So how exactly do you become a respectful traveller? Just follow these tips.
I’m always stating this point. But, it’s super vital to know about the culture of the place you are visiting. The history of the place will also provide you with a reference point for where customs come from. In some places, you also need to dress conservatively so learn a bit about your destination before arriving. In Brazil, the ok sign is a rude gesture. In most Muslim nations it is rude to give a gift or food to someone using your left hand. Knowing these things will show locals that you are interested in their way of life which could lead to friendship or just wonderful conversations. My sister knows someone who was almost arrested at an airport for hugging her boyfriend in public. You need to arm yourself with knowledge about your destination. This will help you feel more confident and you won’t find yourself accidentally breaking the law.
Observe your surroundings
Research aside, practical observation is also highly valuable look how people interact with each other. People watch for a bit don’t stare just look and get your bearings this will help you to know a small little bit more about the culture of your travel destination.
Give back if you can
Volunteer or donate items which you don’t want to take home with you such as clothes. Learn about the social issues facing the place you are visiting and do a small bit. You are after all on a trip to rest and relax but if you can and if you want to this is a great way to help out. Touring trips to slums have been criticized as commercializing communities and not giving back. Choose a responsible tour operator which hires locals and which gives back. If you cannot find this skip the tour or go and give back on your own after the tour.
Support locally made goods
Looking for souvenirs? Buy something that is truly made by locals. Street vendors who make their own goods are food all around Cape Town and buying things from them is often cheaper than at glitzy shopping malls. Buying locally supports the growth of the local economy and helps improve the lives of the people living in the place you are visiting.
Most travellers tend to want to blend in I am not one of those people. I do however respect the local customs when it comes to dressing. I always had a cardigan or shawl with me to cover my shoulders when entering churches and I never wore short dresses to churches unless I had a sarong to cover up with. When I visited the Japanese temple in Düsseldorf I took off my shoes upon entering. In most Islamic nations it’s important to dress modestly. So like I said find out if there are any dress regulations and follow them.
Respect the environment
Respect the environment of your destination this includes not littering. Litter has become a serious problem in Venice causing some locals to dislike tourists. Try to minimize your carbon emissions when travelling use public transport it’s cheaper and less detrimental to the environment or walk around.
Learn a few local words
Learning a few local words is before you arrive is always a good thing. Even if it’s just saying thank you in German-Danke or Afrikaans-Dankie it goes a long way with the local people trust me. Simple gestures like this will show that you have respect for the local culture.
Respect customs and resources
There are certain customs which I disagree with in Bali, for example, a woman who is menstruating cannot enter a temple. I’m against this practice I understand why it’s done but I disagree with it. That being said I’d just plan around my period or skip my period when I ever do go to Bali. Respecting local customs is important even if you disagree with them. If you want to help change unfair practices become a volunteer for an organization which respectfully provides information to locals.
Resources such as water and electricity are sometimes scarce in some places. My home city Cape Town is experiencing the worst drought it has seen. The last time our dam levels were this low was a hundred years ago. Travellers to Cape Town are being urged to please help us save water. I would be upset if I encountered a traveller wasting water in my city. So respect these precious resources whilst travelling.
Find a silver lining
There’s a lot about German culture which I didn’t like. Despite this, I kept looking for the positive things like how well behaved German children are, or how you find many older people who remain active, and how lots of people go for walks. The other great thing about Germans is that they love to travel and to learn so going to museums isn’t seen as nerdy. I met many friendly Germans who were helpful and many rude ones even a few who screamed at me. A man who thought I was being rude because I didn’t move out of his way whilst walking although there was lots of room for him to pass me. And a lady who insisted that I was blocking the doorway of the train, believe me, I’m far too small to ever block anyone’s path. Then again I met a kind women in Duisburg who after the bus driver refused to open the door for me asked me if I knew how to get to my destination and another woman in Berlin who told me about validating my train ticket. Even if you don’t love the culture there will be things you like if you just look for the positive.
Ask when taking photos of people especially children
If you are at a popular site like Pisa there will be other people in your photos this is hard to avoid. But if you are simply walking along a street and see a fruit seller selling colourful fruit ask him/her if it’s ok to take a photo which includes them. If you are taking photos of people in their streets or homes you should ask politely for permission to do so. I took photos of children in Bratislava but, I remembered to ask their parents first. I don’t have kids if I had any I wouldn’t want strangers taking photos of them without asking me. And if you promise to send the photos to your subjects do send them it’s just common courtesy.
If you are thinking of buying gemstones on your trip find out if they were mined ethically. Don’t buy items made out of precious natural resources such as shells, coral, hardwood, and endangered animals or from ancient artefacts. It’s important to respect the environment so don’t support people who aren’t doing so by buying goods that damage the earth.
Go with the flow
In Dubai, Fridays are part of the weekend and Sundays are work for most companies days. Don’t moan about it go with the flow. In some places, siestas are practised don’t annoy people trying to find open shops during this time. Go with the flow and embrace your new place soon your trip will end and you will be able to follow your routines in any case so don’t disrupt the local routines of others.
Check your biases at the door
This is a hard one sometimes your biases are accurate confirming them. It is a hard habit to break but don’t pigeonhole or judge a culture try to see it from a local’s standpoint. South Africa isn’t like the Lion King. Just like all of Germany isn’t a cute hillside village. All Russians don’t drink vodka just ask my friend Anastasia who prefers tequila. Also try to look at what your culture has in common with the culture of the place you are at. I know that Latin American culture is very musical, great dancing is common and people hug without having known you for a long time this is similar to South African culture.
If you can recycle, if you can’t limit excess
In Germany, it’s easy to recycle with bins for recycling all over. And in many European countries, bins are separated to promote recycling. If you are travelling to a place where recycling is harder then leave excess packing at home. If you bought items to take with you remove the packing at home where you can recycle it. Also, try to eat at places which don’t use straws and which make use of cutlery and plates, not disposal foam and plastic cutlery which is often not recycled and end up in our oceans.
Book a local tour guide
You will learn more and support the economy of your travel destination. In certain places like Kenya, wildlife poachers are now becoming conservationists and guides. By supporting local guides you will show these guides that poaching is less attractive and that wildlife tourism is the way of the future.
When going on trips to see wild and or captive animals find out about the place you are visiting. If you want to go to a zoo read the reviews try to find out about the conditions beforehand so that you aren’t supporting the abuse of animals. Don’t ever ride an elephant training elephants to do this involves torture of the elephants and I’ve read that it harms their backs. Orca whales also don’t do well in captivity so it’s better to pass over visiting places which keep them captive. Rather look for places which are approved by the WWF.
Find out if your tour operator operates in an environmentally friendly way. Book hotels which are environmentally friendly some save water for example. If you have to fly try to cut out connecting flights and stay longer at your destination in order to fly less. For me, this wasn’t really possible as I was budget travelling most of the time. During my Europe travels, I only used buses and trains. I only flew to Germany and back home. However, if I’m ever in a position to book responsibly I will do so.
These are my tips for courteous travel. Do you have anything to add? Thank you for reading my blog and if you want to please feel free to comment. Reading comments on my blog really make me happy. I’m open to both critique and praise.
Wishing you happy travels through the journey of life!
xxx Nikki xxx
Will do and thanks for the feedback 😃
well said Nikki, couldn’t agre more!
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Thanks for commenting glad that you agree
Wonderful post! There are so many things we agree on, especially when it comes to buying local souvenirs and supporting local communities while not harming animals or the environment.. And I definitely agree about asking permission when taking photos of children, or anyone else. I’ve seen some tourists in Cairo who treat children as part of the exotic landscape.
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I’m so thankful for your comment especially since you agree with my views it makes me upset and sad at times to see travellers treating people like they are a tourist attraction. It’s good to know that there are like minded people like you who are considerate.
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This is great advice more travellers could stand to take to heart. I am invariably disgusted and disheartened when I travel through wonderful national parks and other areas and find the visitors have left piles of crap and junk at the location car parks etc.
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Thank you for your comment Luke it is heart breaking to see beautiful places bring ruined by people. This is why I wrote this post. I saw an Instagram photo of a badly river polluted and it struck a chord with me. Luckily there are responsible travellers out there to. Like you who care about the environment.
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