“If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel – as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them – wherever you go.”Anthony Bourdain
If you love traveling and your enthusiasm for foreign cultures prompts you to buy a one-way ticket, chances are you follow a certain set of unspoken rules that I call,
The Avid Traveler’s Code of Conduct.
Besides governmental laws that citizens and tourists alike must follow, there isn’t a guide to how one should conduct themselves in a foreign place.
During my South American trip to Colombia I met this well-spoken hostel owner who told me that people who travel without a code of some sort tend to act like the stereotypical American tourist who, oblivious to their selfish behaviour, imposes their arrogance, ignorance and travel-magazine mentality upon the world.
None of us want to be that tourist.
Think of the following six rules I list in this article as a guide to cultural immersion.
Most of you reading this most likely already follow these rules intuitively and for those of you who don’t, I encourage you to adapt these principles before deciding to travel!
Without further ado, here are my six rules to the avid traveler’s code of conduct.
Treat others how you want to be treated
- Showing respect goes without saying. When you show up at someones home or, more broadly, a foreign place, your first responsibility is to be respectful.
Right back to the basics of social interaction: Always say please and thank you.
This also means following the established rules, guidelines, and cultural norms. As long as your heart is in the right place giving respect is second nature.
We first saw this rule posted in big, vibrant colors on our elementary school’s classroom wall. It applies everywhere in life and especially as you travel to unknown places as a visitor.
Be considerate. Don’t touch what’s not yours. Use your manners. Ask if you’re not certain.
Simple enough, right?
Observe, Listen, Adapt
2. The second code of conduct for an avid traveler is to adapt to your host’s lifestyle and traditions.
This doesn’t mean to blindly follow, but instead to respect and understand a different and possibly new point of view.
This could mean waking up at the general time of whats expected, eating meals at a certain time or in a particular fashion, and following the “flow” of the household schedule.
Maybe your host practices prayer before and after a meal. Even if you aren’t religious it’s your responsibility as a guest to take part. To certain people, it would be considered highly disrespectful for someone to not follow tradition, especially in a foreign culture.
Observe how people go about their routines, practices, and traditions. Listen to what locals tell you about their beliefs and customs. And adapt to the new information you gain to make your travel experience richer and smoother.
Usually adapting simply means leaving behind your preconceived notions, which brings us to code number three:
Leave behind pre-conceived ideas about the world
3. Pre- conceived ideas and beliefs can be detrimental to your travel experience. They limit the depth of exploration.
If you go somewhere stubbornly set in your ways the chances are your trip will be limited to what you already know and are comfortable with; In that case, you should’ve stayed home in the first place.
Traveling requires an open mind. Only then can you thoroughly explore your surroundings.
Admittedly, most people who decide to travel are pre-supposed to alternative ways of being. In the light of new information open and receptive people often identify their own pre-conceived notions they weren’t aware of.
To expose and then correct a biased idea/belief is one of the many great virtues of traveling. Mark Twain is famously noted for writing,
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
Be genuinely curious
4. Tagging along with code number three, an avid traveler must be genuinely curious to learn and understand.
Curiosity can take the shape of many forms and traveling is one of the best ways to express your thirst for knowledge. Perhaps you love history. What better opportunity is there to learn than being in the place of your interest? Maybe it’s your passion for food that drives you to a specific place, or something more nuanced like traditional culinary techniques.
Whatever your curiosity aims at, it is your obligation to seek out new information that broadens and deepens your overall understanding.
Additionally, as a guest in someone’s home it’s wise to get to know your host. Build a relationship with them by sitting down and engaging in conversation. You’ll find that your host will not only be a valuable resource of information, but also act as a compass directing you on your travels.
Too many people either forget or neglect to interact with the people assisting them on their trip. Remember everyone knows something you don’t so be genuinely curious to learn what they’re willing and able to teach you.
Lend a helping hand
5. A helping hand goes a long way which is why it’s absolutely vital to contribute either by helping with housework, cleaning, cooking, running errands or simply telling your stories.
However you choose to contribute, make sure you offer assistance for anything they may need.
Even if they don’t want or need your help, a gesture alone demonstrates your willingness, open personality and it’s even a good sign of your strong work ethic. People will always be willing or more reciprocative to you when you give respect, effort and an extended hand.
Speak the language
6. Our sixth and final code of conduct for the avid traveler is: Speak the language.
For travelers visiting another country, yes, you should learn the very basics of the culture’s language. At minimum learn the words for, “please,” “thank you,” and for your sake, “where is the bathroom?”
In my experience, giving a genuine effort when speaking a foreign language always wins respect from locals. You’re going to make a bunch of mistakes. But you need to try. When people see that you’re going out of your way to learn their language, despite how silly you may sound, they’ll not only teach you, but they’ll encourage you to keep learning.
For travelers visiting a place that shares a common language, this code still applies.
Language isn’t merely the words we use to represent things and actions. It’s also how we communicate using tone, body language, and social cues.
Speak the language means being agreeable or having the social awareness of someone’s possible intentions.You’re likely to come across a wide variety of personalities on your travels and it’s useful to know how to interact with people independent of where they land on that social spectrum.
It applies to bargaining prices, dealing with hustlers, meeting new people, creating opportunities, and making the best of your days with the people you’re with. This rule, which is partly a learned skill, decides whether or not your experiences are positive, immersive and novel.
So, there you have it.
- Treat others how you want to be treated
- Observe, listen, adapt
- Leave behind pre-conceived notions about the world
- Be genuinely curious
- Lend a helping hand
- Speak the language
What can we add to this list? I’m interested in hearing what you guys would add.
- Leave your suggestions in the comments
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