Mindful Travel: How to be a respectful tourist

In recent years, travel to far-flung corners of the world has become more and more common, with 2018 seeing a record 1.4bn international tourist arrivals, a 6% increase from the previous year. This has resulted in more diverse cultures, languages and people coming face-to-face, and whilst this is generally an enriching and positive experience, it isn’t uncommon for problems to arise when different cultures are confronted with one another. Tourists travelling to foreign countries have been known to be caught out by local laws and customs; things that might be considered completely normal back home can sometimes be taken more seriously elsewhere. Wearing camouflage in Barbados and chewing gum on public transport in Singapore can lead to heavy fines, whilst more serious punishments such as detention or deportation are given in Saudi Arabia for photographing government buildings, military installations and palaces, as well as in the Maldives for public observation of religions other than Islam by visitors

Research 

Every year nearly 6,000 British nationals are arrested and detained abroad, and sometimes it’s simply for not knowing enough about local laws and customs. Whilst some arrests may seem more easily avoidable, like the US couple who were fined and narrowly avoided jail for posing naked in front of a sacred temple in Thailand, there are plenty of other customs you might not be expected to know unless you’d done your research beforehand. For instance, last year a British woman was refused entry to Sri Lanka for having visible tattoos of Buddha, and in 2017 a British man narrowly avoided a prison sentence for touching a man’s hip in Dubai

The internet holds a plethora of information, and the government has even created handy guides for each country which are regularly updated. You can even follow their social media, @travelaware on Instagram and @FCOtravel on Facebook for instant travel info at your fingertips. Learning some of the local language is also a great way to make your trip run a bit smoother and is also a respectful gesture that locals often really appreciate, no matter your ability. A phrasebook is really handy too, especially in places where the internet might be hard to come by. Avoid cutting your trip short, facing heavy fines or even potential detention by doing some simple research ahead of your trip!

An Open Mind 

A few months back, a video circulated of a British woman arguing with vendors in Morocco about keeping chickens in cages. The interaction got very heated with the woman ending up biting one man’s hand, which resulted in her being removed by the police and taken to the hospital for ‘hysteria’. Whilst this is definitely an extreme example, many accused the woman in Morocco of ‘white superiority’, which exemplifies the kind of moral superiority one should avoid when travelling abroad. It’s vital that no matter whether something about a culture doesn’t align with your beliefs, it’s not your job as a tourist to try and impose your opinions on the country in which you are a guest: keep politics at home and observe respectfully. 

Sustainable Travel 

Sadly, tourism is notoriously bad for the environment, however, there are ways that you can reduce your impact for a more mindful kind of tourism. The normal rules of caring for the environment still apply: avoid plastic, shop local and use public transport. But other things, such as avoiding air travel and opting for trains or coaches, packing light, and being economical with water and electricity even if you’re in a hotel, will help offset your carbon footprint during your travels. 

With more consciousness towards our impact on the environment, ecotourism is becoming more and more popular amongst holidaymakers. Countries like Costa Rica have taken heed of the negative effects of tourism on their neighbouring countries and made an effort for the tourism in their country to be low impact. It can be a bit more costly but it is undoubtedly the best way to experience a country whilst being mindful of the environment. 

The world is a wonderfully diverse place, and many of us are lucky enough to be able to experience this diversity as respectful observers. Mindful and informed travel is the best way to get the most out of your experience, so make sure you do your research and Know Before You Go to leave a positive mark on the country you visit.

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