November 28, 2007

Respectful Travel

children in ethiopiaPhoto by dangerding on Flickr

Greg from Vagabonding Begins! wrote something in a recent post that really struck me. He mentioned meeting a Frenchman who, like Greg, is on a quest "to prove to one person at a time that not all (French or Americans) are snobs/idiots." What a great goal to have when traveling.

Another article that ties into this idea comes from Amanda at Vagabondish. Although I don't agree with the Traveler vs. Tourist debate, 4 Ways To Be A Traveler, Not A Tourist is basically about being respectful while traveling. Below are Amanda's recommendations (in italics) with my own suggestions of what you can do to show respect, and in the process, leave a good impression.

1. Research the area you are traveling to- You can avoid showing disrespect by being familiar with expectations, so read up on local customs. What are the norms for dress, bargaining and tipping? Are certain gestures offensive? What about public displays of affection?

2. Slow down- When you are in a rush, it is hard to be patient or polite. Take time to appreciate what you are seeing. Show respect by giving people and places the time they deserve.

3. Connect with the locals- Treat others as you would like to be treated.
*remember to say "please" "thank you" "excuse me" and "I'm sorry"
*be friendly, and smile
*learn a few phrases in the local language
*don't expect everyone to speak English
*be kind, not rude or condescending
*learn from people you meet by asking questions and listening to what they have to say

4. Surround yourself with new experiences- Be open to trying new foods. While food from chain restaurants can be comforting in an unfamiliar place, if you rely on them for all your meals, your travel experience will be lacking. Likewise, don't be a food snob. Avoid comparing your meal to other ones you've enjoyed, and if it isn't to your liking, keep the negative comments to yourself.

Although Amanda's article focuses on the local community, Greg's quest is probably for everyone he meets, including other travelers. Luckily, the above suggestions work with anyone (at home, too!) If you have a difficult time connecting with people, you can read 10 Tricks to Meeting People While Traveling to help you get started.

It is also important to treat your destination with respect. Avoid wasting food and water, and don't litter or damage travel sites. Learn about reducing your impact on destinations by reading about responsible travel.

For more suggestions on respectful travel, I also recommend Brave New Traveler's article on How To Respectfully Visit Holy Places.

*I couldn't resist the above photo. Whenever I see those beautiful faces and wonderful expressions, it makes me grin. I hope it made you smile, too. :-)