How we treat our world, the environment, other people’s countries and cultures, and how we treat other people as we travel, is very important. It’s about being responsible. Ethical. It’s about being mindful as we travel.
Have I always got it right? No. But I try. And when I fail, I’m sometimes able to correct my error as was the case when I felt it important that I pay a bicycle rickshaw driver three times the negotiated fare.
Travel is very much a two-way street. As you go and explore a new culture, those you meet are also exploring yours. Being a “good” traveler will help you get the most out of this reciprocal relationship and your travels. You’ll be better received by locals, have more close-to-the-ground experiences and you’ll return home having left a better impression of your own country on them.
So, having given some thought to this question of being a good traveler, I thought I would share some of my conclusions.
How to be a good traveler.
- Choose carefully - If you’re interested in traveling responsibly and contributing to this wonderful world, your choices are your most powerful tool. Check with hotels, hostels, tour companies, cruise lines… to determine their policies regarding environmental issues and supporting the local culture. Choose travel companies that act responsibly.
- Think local – Where was that souvenir made? Who are the guides used by your tour company? Support the local economy whether it’s a vendor at a European Christmas market or a tour through Morocco, try to find ways to support the thousands of small “mom & pop” companies you’ll meet along the way
- Be aware – Before you travel, learn about local issues and concerns of the locals before you go. Are there specific needs you can help with? Could you take long some school supplies, for example, to help address that local need?
- Tap the knowledge of your taxi driver – Some of your best experiences could come from a recommendation of your taxi driver, barista… just about anyone you meet along the way.
- Laugh and share your energy – You are in holiday mode. The locals you meet may be in work mode. Bring a little light into their day by being joyful.
- Think respect. Don’t judge – There isn’t a country on earth that has it all figured so leave judgmental attitudes at home. Be respectful and look for the good in a culture then bring some of it back.
- Be curious – Ask questions. But rarely is one question and one answer enough. Ask “why” and “how” questions that are open-ended so that people feel free to talk. It’s one way to really get behind a culture.
- Show your appreciation- If you’re in a hotel, don’t forget to tip the housekeeping people. They are so often forgotten. For all those many people who make your trip wonderful but for whom tipping would be awkward, offer a spontaneous coffee or surprise flowers. At minimum, take the time to learn something about them, smile and thank them.
- Keep an open mind – You will be surprised every once in a while – possibly even shocked. “Really, you do it that way?” Yes, people all over the world do things differently and sometimes, the difference is surprising. Keep an open mind and try to figure out why it’s so different and why you’re having such a response to the difference. Be tolerant of how other cultures do things.
- Don’t be discouraged by a scam – I’ve been scammed many times. In fact, I almost consider it the price of admission for travelers. Hopefully, you don’t lose too much money in the transaction. Take these kinds of humbling experiences and put them where they belong – in a list of humorous anecdotes.
- Smile – A smile opens many doors for a traveler.
- Be patient – You are the guest. You are the one who does not know the system. If you’re trying to get a visa or train tickets and you can’t believe how hard it is, be calm and patient. You’ll be happier and leave a better impression behind you.
- Act appropriately – How you dress and act affects how you are seen. If women cover up in public, so should you. If drinking alcohol is generally frowned upon, you should avoid it.
- Be flexible – Things will go wrong. It’s inevitable, but it is not necessarily a bad thing. Things going wrong can present new opportunities. Treat the unexpected that way by being flexible.
- Try new things - From strange food to adventurous day trips, try new things – a least once. You may never have the opportunity again so go for it.