Created: 20 October 2011
Ethical Traveler's 13 Tips for the Accidental Ambassador
Travel is most meaningful - and least intrusive - when you approach your destination with openness, respect, and a willingness to adapt and learn. If you behave in an informed, culturally sensitive manner, you'll not only come away with truly memorable people-to-people experiences, but you'll also leave behind a positive impression with your hosts. As guidelines, we present these 13 tips from our friends at Ethical Traveler (www.ethicaltraveler.org).
- Be aware of where your money is going. Patronize locally owned inns, restaurants, and shops. Try to keep your cash within the local economy, so the people you are visiting benefit directly from your stay.
- Avoid giving gifts directly to children. Give instead to their parents or teachers. When giving gifts- everything from pens to pharmaceuticals - first ask what's needed, and who can best distribute these items in the community.
- Learn basic greetings. Learn to say "please," "thank you," and as many numbers as you can. It's astonishing how far a little language goes toward creating a feeling of goodwill
- Remember the economic realities of your new currency. A few rupees one way or another is not going to ruin you. Don't get upset if a visitor who earns 100 times a local salary is expected to pay a few cents more for a ferry ride or an egg.
- Bargain fairly and respectfully. The final transaction should leave both buyer and seller satisfied and pleased. Haggling is part of many cultures, but it's not a bargain if either person feels exploited or ripped-off.
- Learn and respect the traditions and taboos of your host country. Never, for example, pat a Thai child on the head, enter a traditional Brahmin's kitchen, or open an umbrella in a Nepali home!
- Curb your anger, and cultivate your sense of humor. Travel can present obstacles and frustrations, but anger is never a good solution. It's perversely satisfying, but won't win respect or defuse a bad situation. A light touch, and a sense of humor, are infinitely more useful.
- Arrive with a sense of your host country's social and environmental concerns. Our site will direct you to good profiles of many popular travel destinations. It's also very useful to read the political background section in your guidebook, and the local English-language papers.
- Learn to listen. People in other nations often feel underestimated or patronized by travelers from the developed world. This fosters anger and resentment. Be aware that good listening skills and respect help shape the world's view of your country.
- Practice conservation. Never be wasteful of local resources - especially food and water. Your efforts at conservation will be noted and respected by your hosts, and will set a good example for your fellow travelers.
- "Can you please help me?" This is the most useful phrase travelers can learn. Rarely will another human being refuse a direct request for help. Being of service, and inviting others to express their kindness, is what the phrase "global community" is all about.
- Leave your preconceptions about the world at home. The inhabitants of planet Earth will continually amaze you with their generosity, hospitality, and wisdom. Be open to their friendship, and aware of our common humanity, delights, and hardships.
- Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s best line is worth remembering. "Strange travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God." Go with the flow, and give free reign to your sense of adventure!