Travel has many benefits. It gives us a break for our own lives and allows us to have a glimpse into different cultures and lifestyles. We see nature and wildlife that we’ve never seen in the past, and we check things off the bucket list. However, there are some things that shouldn’t be on bucket lists, and there are travelers who are just doing it wrong. Here are seven things that travelers should not do when visiting other countries.
Use Animals as Entertainment
Taking selfies with wildlife seems to have become a trend over the last few years. It puts the life of the animal and the tourist at risk. Take a photo from a distance and save the selfies for your friends.
Other examples of using animals for entertainment include swimming with dolphins, riding elephants, lion walks and circuses with animal entertainment. These animals are often taken from their mothers at a young age, abused and kept in poor conditions. Seek out animals in their natural habitat and never approach them or entice them with food. This includes throwing bread into the ocean to attract fish. The yeast causes constipation in the fish, causing them to suffer and sometimes die.
Even activities that seem harmless, like whale watching, can sometimes be ill advised. I have seen the difference between ethical tours and tours who just want to make a buck. I went on a whale tour and touched a grey whale. It was incredible, and something I deeply regret. In time, there were at least six noisy boats surrounding the whale and her baby. The mother whale swam over and bumped our boat and we can only guess that she was feeling stress. At our request, our boat left. A couple of weeks later, a very similar boat was tipped by a whale and a boy lost his life.
I experienced a more ethical marine boat tour a year later. They told us what we might see and said we would not approach or follow any of the animals. On the tour we learned about the marine life, saw some dolphins, birds and fish, and stopped at a beach to look for shells.
We all now what it means to assume, right? It makes an ASS out of U and ME. Making assumptions while traveling can leave you in a predicament. Here are a few things that you never want to assume while traveling:
- Your country’s currency will be accepted. While many countries accept US dollars, there are many that don’t. Learn what currency you need and get cash before you leave.
- Credit cards are accepted everywhere. You will encounter many shops and vendors that don’t accept credit cards, so cash in the proper currency is important.
- Public washrooms are free, and supply toilet paper. Always carry some change and some tissues to avoid this problem.
- Everyone understands english. If you are visiting a non-english country, there should be no expectation for them to speak english. Learn important phrases before you go. Download a translation app or carry a translation book to help you while you are there.
- You cell phone will work. Check with your service provider to find out if you have coverage and what the additional fees will be. You can also research purchasing service from the country you are visiting.
- Your special dietary needs can be met in restaurants. Being grain free or dairy free may be common in North America but that doesn’t mean it is everywhere. If you have special dietary requirements, find out if they can be met at your destination and plan accordingly.
- Your group health insurance is sufficient. Purchase separate travel insurance or contact your group insurer to make sure you and your family are covered.
- The standard of living is equal to home. All countries are not created equal. A 4-star hotel in Canada is not the same as a 4-star hotel in Cuba. Tropical countries have more insects than northern countries, and it has nothing to do with cleanliness. The differences do not equate to one being better than the other, just different.
Mock Your Host Country
There is nothing more distasteful that watching tourists mock the local residents. Imitating their accents, laughing at their choices in clothing or decor or disrespecting their customs are all deplorable. If you can’t respect the place and people you are visiting, it is better to stay home.
Play it Safe with Food
I travel with my children and I know how tempting it can be to take them somewhere they know. By doing so I am robbing them of the opportunity to experience a new culture. Adults also miss the chance to discover amazing dishes by playing it safe. Visiting the Caribbean without eating seafood is practically criminal, but I’ve seen it done. Take a chance on local restaurants and their signature dishes and ask locals where you should eat.
Stick to Tourist Areas
The cruise ports and major tourist areas of every destination are there just for you, the tourist. The prices may be inflated, the food caters to tourists and the people there are mainly tourists. Rather than spending your time and money in these places, ask the locals where they go out for dinner and do their shopping. Staying in an Airbnb is a great way to experience the local culture and your host may even show you some of the best places in the area. Seek out farmer’s markets, family owned bistros and local festivals or events to get away from the tourist areas.
Treat people like attractions
Local people are not there for the amusement of tourists. Don’t take their photos without permission. If you do have permission, don’t plaster their photos all over the internet without first getting their consent.
Tours to see the poverty stricken areas of a country is another form of treating people like attractions. While there is controversy around “slum tourism” because it has created some jobs, it just feels wrong to me. You can support the local economy by purchasing local and donating to local charities.
Visit Without Learning Local Customs
One of my college professors once arrived to our class a little flustered after an incident. A student held the door open for her and after she went through he yelled “Your welcome!” because she had not thanked him. She wasn’t native to Canada and in her country it is assumed that people will hold the door for one another. No thank you is necessary. Cultural differences like this can lead to big misunderstandings, so arriving without learning the customs and etiquette is something travelers should not do. Here are a few things to know before visiting these countries:
- In many European, Asian, Indian and Arabic countries it is rude to wear your shoes inside the home.
- It is rude to tip a server in China and Japan. It is rude to point with the index finger many parts of the world. In Japan they gesture with a flat palm up hand. Nicaraguans direct you with pursed lips. Germans point with their little finger.
- It is a Chinese custom to refuse a gift several times before accepting.
- Arabic countries consider seeing the soles of your feet to be an insult.
- In China and Japan, slurping noodles in a sign of appreciation.
- Always leave a little food on your plate in China, to show you have had enough.
- Asking for salt in Egypt is insulting to the cook, as is asking for ketchup in France.
Wherever you are traveling, remember that you are a guest in that country and your hosts should be treated with the utmost respect.
Do you have anything to add to the list of things travelers should not do? Leave them in the comments.
As a licensed travel agent with Stonetown Travel, I can help you book your next ethical trip.