Friday, December 12, 2008

Be a Traveller, Not a Tourist

While working at MinVu over the last 5 years I have had many opportunities to travel, for both business and pleasure.

I am a very firm believer in being a traveller instead of a tourist - experiences like being part of a tour group has no attraction for me whatsoever. Right from the beginning I have always felt that wherever I am is where I am - that once I am in a place, then that is home and there is no other. I will always try to experience the local culture and people rather than the place - though there are some very beautiful cities and environments all across the world.

I guess a lot of this stems from the fact that my family and I lived in Fiji for 6 months when I was about 9 or 10. I don't remember a lot from that time, but my parents tell me that even then I was able to fit right in with the local kids and even the adults. I know though that it did open my eyes and thoughts to being more tolerant and accepting of other cultures, and if you can ever give your own children the same opportunity then I implore you to do so.

In this modern age, the internet has certainly made the world a smaller place, and there is more focus on people trying to find the lesser known travel path, with many websites dedicated to this. This is a good thing, but only if you a traveller, not a tourist. How do you do that? Here are my thoughts...
  • Above all, be respectful of the people and places around you
  • Learn some of the language of your destination
  • Don't assume that just because someone doesn't speak your language that they are stupid
  • Talk to the locals - not just to ask questions, but find out what their dreams and aspirations are, find out what they like about living where they do
  • Accept that things like the standards of service will not be the same as where you live (it might be higher, might be lower)
  • Accept that just because you are a visitor does not mean that you are entitled to better service than the locals
  • Be sensitive to the 'speed' of the culture. You may have to be patient (some cultures may not have the same sense of urgency as you), or you may have to step it up a notch (some cultures expect things to be done now)
  • Enjoy wherever you are, whether it be the airport, the middle of a city or a beach where you are the only person
  • It's ok to take photos, but try not to be too snap-happy. By that I mean don't get in people's way, don't focus on taking photos so much that you don't enjoy where you are, don't draw attention to yourself etc.. Always try to ask before you take a photo of someone, and be aware that it may be illegal to take photos of children or certain buildings.
  • Read up on the culture where you are going and be aware of the little idiosynchrasies that can happen e.g. in Fiji it's considered offensive to touch someone else's hair; in Canada you can turn right anytime, even if it's a red light; if you play golf with someone in Japan and get a hole in one you are expected to buy expensive gifts for the other players etc.

There's almost certainly things I have forgot to mention, but you get the idea.

UPDATE: This article from Vagabondish explains what I've tried to above but in a much better way...

As long as you are happy, tolerant, respectful and at least look like you are trying to make an effort, while there will always be some people who will look down on you, most will go out of their way to help you, and who knows, may even become a new lifelong friend!

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