Travel is often seen as an escape from reality. It’s a chance to let go of commitments and have a little fun. Unfortunately, our actions carry the same consequences abroad as they do at home. Just as it’s easy for large groups of people to cause disarray at home, it’s easy for tourists and travelers to do the same abroad. Of course, that does not mean travelers can’t have fun; it just means that traveler’s carry with them a certain level of responsibility.
Before traveling somewhere new, take some time to educate yourself on the country, its history and culture, and any current events happening. With the wealth of information available on the internet, there is no excuse to show up in Cambodia completely oblivious to its recent history. Additionally, learn about current social issues – such as child beggars around the world– and how to appropriately respond situations prior to arriving.
Reading first-hand accounts of travel in the region is also a good idea, especially as they often offer more current information than is available in a guidebook. Learning a few phrases (“hello”, “thank you”) in the local language is never a bad idea.
Bring An Open Mind
When traveling, it’s highly likely that you will come across something outside of your comfort zone or that you consider weird or wrong, whether it’s the food they eat or the way they worship. However, different does not equal bad. While traveling, you are the outsider. Avoiding anything you consider weird or wrong can hinder your travel experience. Try to step outside your comfort zone and use these things as a learning experience.
Of course, bringing an open mind is also not an excuse for participating in activities that are truly harmful to yourself or others. Use your judgment but remember that the things we consider normal can also be considered strange to those in other countries.
Respect The Local Customs
Similarly, always observe and respect the local customs. In particular be aware of what is considered appropriate interaction between men and women, as things that are considered normal in Western countries can be very offensive in other countries. Be also aware of what clothing is appropriate, particularly when entering religious establishments.
Additionally, do not believe that because you are a foreigner that local rules do not apply to you. They do.
Ditch The Entitlement
You are not entitled to anything during your travels. While this may be a week or two of relaxing on the beach or temple-hopping for you, it is everyday life for the locals. Your foreigner status does not entitle you to special treatment or opportunities. It does not stop buses from running late, the rain from coming the morning you planned on watching the sunrise, or turn budget hostels into three-star hotels. Unfortunately, these things happen to everyone. Being rude to locals will not fix the problem and will probably make you look like a jerk. Instead, try to take on an attitude of kindness – it might not get the problem solved or make a bus go faster but it’ll make the best of an annoying situation.
Above all, just remember that other people live in the places we jet off to for vacation. Travel with the respect you would expect from someone in your home country.
What other responsibilities do you think travelers have?
By Sky Fisher
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