A traveller friend of mine, Doulos (@deejTHtraveller on twitter) very recently tweeted this to me,
“to think about it, I have never encountered boundaries on my travels save check posts. (But) Every 50 km is different!”
I couldn’t agree with him more, especially in the context of a country like India, a country where almost 800 languages are spoken (even MS Word finds that amazing I guess cause it just suggested that I change the phrase to ‘Countries where almost…’!), many different religions are followed with equal fervour and cultural nuances differ with every new region you explore.
As of now, I have only been fortunate enough to visit only two other countries, Thailand and Cambodia and though these were very different experiences as compared to the ones I’ve had exploring India, some things remain common. There are a few things that every traveller must remember when visiting a new destination or meeting new people. These might at times feel strange or even ridiculous but the fact that these hold great importance to your hosts (and remember, wherever your travel takes you, you are the guest!) and that they have been following it for generations probably might make you want to take that smirk off your face. An open mind and a respectful demeanour have been known to open many doors for many a traveller.
Here are six rules that may help you become a more appreciated guest on your travels.
– IF YOU HAVE TO GOOGLE BEFORE YOUR VISIT, DO IT FOR THE RIGHT REASONS.
Most people have the habit of trying to find out about places to stay, where to eat, things to do and every other possible detail that might make their trip more ‘comfortable’. While, to some, it might be comforting to have all those details, attention to some other details will most definitely make your hosts more comfortable. That I can assure is a sure shot way of making your trip more enjoyable. Some of these things might feature in the points that follow.
– DRESS APPROPRIATELY.
This is absolutely basically very important and is applicable to both men and women. Not every hot place in the world is a beach and not every settlement along a coast line appreciates people strolling around their neighbourhood in beach wear. Certain communities, especially when you visit places that hold religious significance to them, expect a certain dress code from every one and that includes you. So whether you are at a beach destination or anywhere else, it helps to check what is acceptable and what is not to the locals and you will easily find this information on the net or from fellow travellers who might have explored the region previously.
– LEARN A BIT OF THE LOCAL LANGUAGE.
It is a given that a small greeting like a ‘Hello’ in the local language uttered by a traveller will bring a smile to the most hostile of locals. Add a smile to that greeting and you might have got yourself a friend for life. If you can, try to get the pronunciation right too but even if you manage it in a funny manner and got greeted back with a hearty laugh, you would have succeeded in breaking the ice. For those of you who are good at learning new languages, go ahead and surprise your hosts with a conversation in the local language and you will see a whole new level of generosity.
– BE OPEN TO TRYING DIFFERENT FOOD.
I understand this might be difficult for vegetarians or those with little or no experience of being adventurous with their food choices but adhering to this will help. The best food that you will find on your travels will most probably be served in the homes of the locals. If you really must refuse the generosity of your hosts, do it politely and in this case, a little local language might help to explain the reason for your refusal. Remember, in many cultures, refusing food offered to you might be considered to be an insult to the host.
– NOT EVERY PERSON WHO LOOKS ‘NEEDY’ IS LOOKING FOR YOUR MONEY.
Have you ever been at a place where every now and then during your visit you encountered either a local or a settlement that filled you with extreme sorrow or sympathy at the conditions that prevailed. Well, other than a select few, most travelers can be generally put into two categories, the super benevolent ones or the always suspicious ones. The right way is probably where those other select few choose to dwell. I belong to a country where coming face to face with the harsh inequalities of the modern world isn’t that difficult and trust me, not all the people in need are looking to you for money and neither are all of them trying to con you. A lot of these people would be happier if you could spare a little time and probably share a meal or even a hot cup of coffee with them. The money that you give them might help, but making them feel equal and cared for will make it special.
– REMEMBER, YOU ARE THE GUEST.
Humbleness and an affable disposition are precious characteristics when you travel. Whether it is a destination within your own country or a foreign land, you are the visitor. Your hosts, especially in rural lands, will go out of their way to make you feel comfortable and all they ask for in return is a little courtesy and respect. Locals around the world let people be a part of their lives and that’s what makes travel such a great experience, so be thankful. It might be great to take souvenirs back with you, but giving a gift (however small it may be) will mean the world to the people who so generously accepted you with open arms. Travel becomes an experience to cherish when it has the right mix of give and take.
“One bad apple spoils the whole bunch.” Never forget this. People around the world would welcome travellers if each and every one of us followed these rules. SET THE RIGHT PRECEDENT.