Flight’s booked, bag is packed, and you’re ready to go to your next bucket list destination. Or are you? Before you travel or move abroad to any country, it’s important to know what you’re getting into. We’ve put together a list of 7 ways you can make sure you’re being a responsible and respectful traveler—and not a total tourist.
1. Read Up!
A little reading and research go a long way. If you’re headed abroad, chances are your destination will be quite different from what you’re used to at home. It’s important to learn the basics of the host culture’s etiquette and traditions. Is it okay to talk loudly in public? Do you shake hands or exchange cheek kisses when meeting someone for the first time?
By knowing what to expect, you’ll have a much richer travel experience and be able to connect with the host culture in a more meaningful way.
2. Learn the language
Whether it’s knowing a few key phrases or becoming fluent in the host language before your trip, learning the native tongue will make your experience that much better. By speaking the language, you’ll broaden your horizons by opening up a whole new plethora of opportunities for exploration.
If you’re wondering where the best restaurants or bars are in town, your best source of information isn’t your Lonely Planet guidebook—it’s the knowledge of the locals around you. And if you really want to sound like a native, you can pick up a little slang beforehand too.
Knowing the language will also enable you to make friends and acquaintances much easier! Depending on when you are, this could lead to some really fun adventures or family dinners.
3. Ask Questions
Don’t be afraid to ask questions! If you don’t understand something, there’s no need to pretend. The best thing you can do is return to a place of humility and show your curiosity by asking questions.
Ask a local if you are unsure about something—it’s a great opportunity for some additional language practice.
4. Offset Your Carbon Footprint
Knowing your impact on the environment around you is extremely important—even when you are away from home. While traveling is fun and awesome, it’s imperative to consider the large carbon footprint you can have on the world—even with just one plane ride.
REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE
Yes, the famous 3 R’s! Tourism and travel can build a lot of waste in many places. Even just turning off the lights and A/C when you leave your hotel room or Airbnb, using a refillable water bottle, or taking a shorter shower can turn into a large positive impact. Learning the local recycling practices can also help with sustainability.
TAKE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION WHEN YOU CAN
Bikes, trains, buses, ferries, boats, dog sleds—all better alternatives for the environment than renting & driving your own car. Many major cities now like Mexico City and Montreal have awesome bike sharing programs that are easy for travelers to use. If you’re traveling in Europe or East Asia, trains and buses are usually a good way to get places on a budget.
Of course, every city has its own public transportation protocol; be aware of certain rules that are followed (i.e. if eating is allowed on the metro or how ticket buying works)—and be vigilant where needed.
5. Support Local Businesses
Rather than seeking out well-established tourist hotspots, consider looking for the local alternative. Tourism is a huge money-making industry in many countries, but more often than not, that money can end up in the wrong pockets and not actually support the local economy.
To find the best places, it’s probably a good idea to learn how to ask the locals a few questions in the language.
6. Respect the Culture
We can’t emphasize this one enough! Don’t be that stereotypical American. This goes back to our #1 tip, which is to read up on the country and culture before you travel somewhere. But we are reiterating this here because it is extremely important to be a traveler and not a tourist. Be respectful of where you are and the people that you are interacting with.
7. Reflect On What You Have Learned
After any travel experience, it’s important to take time to reflect on what you have learned. There are many ways to do this; you can keep a daily journal, actively take time to think about some of your experiences, or chat about your travels with friends and family. It’s important to digest and realize how different things are in many places—but also how similar they can be as well.