Traveling is one of the best ways we educate ourselves on life outside of what we’ve known our whole lives. It is also an enriching experience that helps us understand, empathize and open up to other cultures, traditions, religions, and lifestyles. When we travel, though, particularly as citizens who are financially stable enough to travel, we often forget that we are stepping into someone else’s home. Earlier this year, famous YouTuber Logan Paul posted a tasteless and insensitive video of a man who had committed suicide in Japan. This instantly stirred up a backlash against Paul for his disrespect. Additionally, the internet uncovered another video where Paul was seen shamelessly mocking the Japanese culture.
While this should be innate, some still struggle with proper tourist etiquette. Here are 4 tips we recommend you follow when traveling:
Do Your Homework
It’s important that you arrive knowing what to expect from each place you visit. Be aware of their religious practices, sacred grounds and architectures, and wardrobe expectations. If you are in a tour group, there is more flexibility regarding what you can wear but out of respect for your surroundings and the people’s culture, we recommend studying what is acceptable and what is considered disrespectful. Brendan David, a tour guide with SF Excursions, recommends joining small, local tour groups when visiting another country with a different culture. He says “do your research, check online what tour groups will keep you safe while still educating you on the people’s cultures. Reputable tour groups are respected amongst locals because they help bring money in, so you will be safe while still learning about the culture and how to respectfully enjoy it.”
Learn The Language
Most of us here, in the United States, are under the impression that the rest of the world knows our language—English. The truth is that only 20% of the world’s population actually speaks English and most of them are not native English speakers. It’s a bit pretentious of us to assume the rest of the world speaks our language. This could be because we understand the influence America has had on the world—from fashion to music, to technology, and entertainment, America has made contributions to the world. However, we cannot assume that other countries have not made the equal amount, if not more contributions. We only see things from this side of the world. Therefore, when traveling, it is not only polite but also extremely admirable to make an effort at learning the native language. This also shows the effort that you are making not only to visit and bring your own culture but to learn, accept and embrace theirs. While you’re at it, we recommend learning some helpful words: bathroom, help, hotel, police, please, thank you, excuse me.
Knowing the bare minimum in a foreign language can get you pretty far.
Ask Before Taking Pictures
When my family and I went to Kenya in 2014, we visited the Nairobi desert. It was probably one of the best experiences of my life but adapting to the culture was a bit difficult. It was a new lifestyle we needed to adapt, if only for a week. I showered with spiders and went to the bathroom in the dirt and while at the time it was difficult, it was also the experience I was asking for. We visit to learn and we cannot learn if we are not open to not only learning from the locals but also truly understanding and empathizing with them. The native tribe, The Maasai, shared the space with the tourist. It was a beautiful example of co-existing. However, it became apparent quickly that the Maasai people started to feel uncomfortable with the tourists. A lot of the tourists were taking pictures of The Maasai people doing… things people do like, eating, walking, and laughing.
When we take pictures of someone from a different culture or lifestyle without their permission, we stop respecting and appreciating them and we begin to use them as entertainment or for “show and tell” purposes. “When we take pictures, it is not to humiliate or bring an unwanted spotlight onto the subject of your photograph,” David tells HipLatina. “It is for appreciation and admiration. It has to be done out of respect and with respect. I think that when we travel because we are so caught up in a new sense of amazingness, we forget our boundaries.”
Donate to Reputable Organizations
One of the biggest mistakes tourist make when visiting a developing country is donating to people and children on the streets. Usually, city officials advise against giving money to homeless and beggars. While the “Do Not Give Money To Beggars” signs may offend us, it has a purpose. City and country governments have found that giving money to street beggars enables them to stay on the streets rather than seeking help or joining programs that can help rehabilitate them. Also, giving children money is one of the best ways to keep children out of school. Child beggars will often want to spend their time getting a little bit of money from tourists instead of no money at school. Most of the poverty-stricken countries tourists like to visit, tend to have child beggars who are selling toys or candy or simply asking for money. In a sense, contributing to them in those moments can enable them to become addicted to the quick money (which they so desperately need) but it takes them away from their education and other possibilities at a healthier future.
Every big tourist area you visit, despite country, will have organizations set up to help the community. Researching organizations with multiple reviews and recommendations, as well as getting in touch directly with an organization will help you see how you can donate your time and money more effectively. For example, research a school, a rehab center, a homeless shelter or a food bank that you know you can trust.
Make sure that when you travel, you are not only taking in the experience but fully embracing the people, scenery, architecture and overall life that is making the experience possible.