Are You a Respectful Tourist?
It's incredibly fun to visit new places and have adventures in faraway lands, but it is equally important that we, as tourists, understand and appreciate the local way of doing things when we get there. Respect is an important part of travel, and doing a little bit of research before you leave can help make the whole experience that much more enjoyable for you and the people around you. Being mindful of your own behaviour when travelling is not enough; we must also be aware of the local behaviours and customs, and tailor ourselves to fit in as much as possible. Difference is what makes travelling so much fun, and we must be sure to embrace our differences in those situations. Take note of the environment beyond your hotel room or tour group. What are the locals wearing, and how can you blend in with the surrounds? Is it a place of conservative dress – maybe even something you find controversial, like head coverings – or are there bikinis and short-shorts everywhere? Do people take their shoes off before walking inside? Do people shake each other's hands, kiss cheeks, or perhaps not touch at all when they greet each other? Understanding these factors can make dealing with the local people a much less stressful experience, and facilitate smoother social interactions. The best part is, so much of this information is available before you leave home! Ask your travel agent or tour company for information on these kinds of social behaviours, and when in doubt, a friendly local at your destination is sure to help you. Companies like our Hands on Development are especially helpful in this regard because we are run by well-travelled leaders and collaborate closely with our local contacts for an authentic experience. Just make sure you don’t ignore local customs; other cultures value their way of doing things as much as Aussies value the word mate, so be respectful towards them, even when you don’t agree.
Another topic a lot of travellers find contentious is sampling the local cuisine. Don’t be that tourist who turns away a traditional local dish because you’ve never heard the name before. Be adventurous, and accept that fish-and-chips is not a national speciality all over the world. If you’re heading for a place a little more exotic, remote, or less Westernised, seek out restaurants at home that feature the local cuisine. We are spoiled for choice in Australia when it comes to food from all over the world, so take advantage of that. It may not be exactly the same in your destination, but even a glance at the menu will give you an idea of what you’re in for. Take note of any allergens or food intolerance, but don’t let simple taste put you off. You never know, you may come to love it! Staying open-minded and being willing to try new things will minimise the distress you cause in your destination country, and will help to make the experience a truly memorable and authentic one for the individual.
And don’t forget to look up pesky little customs like tipping and tax; Australians are notorious for not knowing how to deal with these elements of the dining/trade experience. Research if tipping is customary and whether or not tax is included in sale prices. There are a myriad of smartphone apps and online guides to help you navigate the confusion, so use them. And above all, embrace everything your travel destination has to offer, good and bad, because after all, what’s the point of going away if not to see something different?