If you visit Niagara Falls, there’s a pedestrian walkway nearby that’s covered with inane graffiti. If you go to Paris, there’s a bridge festooned with bike locks—but only locks of a certain kind. Unapproved locks are clips nightly by the authorities. And it doesn’t take much of a Google search to find recent examples of fools visiting national parks getting roughed up by bison or elk because they ignored warning signs and got a little to close to the four-legged locals for comfort. The common denominator in all of this is the tourist—the respectful tourist. Sometimes these types of visitors to distant lands are in woefully short supply.
So before you head out the door for your next adventure, here are a few things to remember on how to be a respectful tourist:
Know your destination.
Learn about your destination’s currency, transport system, attractions, and major cities and towns. Know about their customs and practices around tipping, visiting houses, dress codes, and gestures. As a tourist, it is so easy to commit a social faux pas. Avoid these blunders by learning more about your destination.
Know a few words or phrases in the local language.
Learning how to be a respectful tourist involves effort. Greetings, asking directions in the local language or speaking commonly-used phrases show that you have made some effort. The locals will appreciate your efforts and, more likely than not, they will be happy to help you find your way.
Support local businesses.
When dining out, choose local restaurants. Doing so helps the economy and gives you an authentic experience. When buying souvenirs and mementos, negotiate or haggle for a reasonable price. Remember that most destinations have a seasonal influx of visitors. There may be months when business is lean because of fewer tourists.
Being mindful of the environment.
Being mindful is one way of showing how to be a respectful tourist. It takes time to get familiar with a place. However, checking your map in the middle of a busy street is not a good practice. Find a place where you can comfortably plan your next destination without being obstructive.
Go easy on the photos.
Documenting your travels is okay. However, learning how to be a respectful tourist means awareness that you may be blocking other tourists. Take a quick snap and move on. This also applies to taking photos of locals. Be sure to get permission before taking their picture.
Keep an open mind and relish the experience.
The whole point of travel is to discover cultures and appreciate other ways of life. One of the steps in learning how to be a respectful tourist is to realize that different does not mean wrong.
Remember that you represent your people.
When locals ask tourists where they come from, they are creating a picture of the place where you came from. Learning how to be a respectful tourist is easier if you keep in mind that everything you do contributes to the overall image of your people.
Tourism, when done right, is beneficial. With more people traveling, industries such as transportation, accommodation, and recreation all benefit from the growth in the industry. Also, tourism helps encourage cultural exchange, generate jobs, and boost economic activity. But most importantly, respectful tourists help host cities and destinations see tourism as a rewarding endeavor. After all, respect begets respect.