Travelling is one of the most unique, and perhaps powerful, opportunities we have to learn during our lives. As travellers, we have an amazing opportunity to foster cultural exchange, share knowledge, form relationships and break down barriers, if we choose to. Travel can be life-changing, it allows us to have a better understanding of the world and humankind, but unfortunately travel often brings out the worst in some people. Here are some tips to ensure you stay respectful, curious and open to the amazing experiences that await when we act as travellers, not tourists.
1. Study your destination before you leave: having some prior knowledge about your destination's history and cultural norms will help you to connect with the locals and ensure you're acting respectful (even if you don't mean to do the opposite). Be sure to look at things like how to greet someone, tipping etiquette (see our guide here) and religious practices. Learning some basic language will go a long way with the locals.
2. Dress to fit in: your clothes will be one of the first things locals notice about you, so you want to make a good first impression. Particularly for women, research the culture and religious beliefs before you arrive, do you need to be covered up?
3. Have respect: remember that wherever you're going is someone's home. They are not on a holiday like you are, this is their everyday life. Too often travellers become the worst of themselves; ignoring local customs and demanding a place or culture conforms to their needs. Show respect.
4. Get outside of your comfort zone: do things that scare you, try something new, eat the local food - it's as much a part of their culture as the buildings and landscapes. Allow yourself to be open to incredible experiences.
5. Support local: Skip the big-city hotel and chain restaurants and support the little guys. Not only will you be making a huge difference to these small businesses and their staff, but your travel will be that much more treasured by the genuine connections and authentic experiences you're able to have.
6. Ask before photographing: many cultures will not appreciate being photographed for spiritual or religious reasons, or they just don't like it (would you like a stranger sticking a camera in your face with no interaction?). If you would like to photograph someone, develop a rapport first and make sure to ask clearly.
7. Be present: put your phone down, put your camera down and just be. Don't be afraid to look up from the map for a while and allow yourself to just explore (even if you get a little lost).
A little bit of patience and humility will go a long way when you're travelling. As will gratitude, you're likely to come across people, places and situations that are confronting and vastly different to your own life back home. Be kind, be open and enjoy the experience.