We do our best to help you make the most of your time touring here at home in the United States and abroad, but what can YOU do to improve your experience? Being informed and respectful of the area you are traveling to is vital. Headlines from around the world have mentioned recent trends in tourists’ behavior that can be quite shocking. Being a respectful traveler comes in many different forms, but here are just a few tips and stories to help explain them.
Be respectful to the site and what it may represent
Kyoto’s Gion neighborhood prides itself as a home to many of Japan’s Geishas, traditional teahouses, and other historical sites. However, after issues with visitors, the neighborhood has introduced a photography ban to preserve the traditional atmosphere. Signs have been posted and leaflets handed out to inform visitors, and you will pay up to $100 US dollars for taking photos without permission. This will also help discourage visitors from disrespecting Geishas and Maikos (Geisha apprentices), and keep visitors from entering private property.
Another example of poor taste in photos and lack of awareness can be seen at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum. The former concentration camp oversaw the deaths of approximately 1.1 million people and should be visited with the utmost respect. The Memorial believes the same and took to Twitter to actively encourage people to stop taking insensitive photos at the site. Certain areas of the site prohibit photos, but they are not currently banned throughout the entire grounds. Walking on the train tracks or taking selfies at the entrance are just a few kinds of photos that are discouraged.
Dress modestly and behave appropriately when necessary
Whether you plan to tour historic churches in Europe, Thailand’s sacred temples, or a Muslim mosque in Dubai, you will need to alter your form of dress and behavior or risk being barred from entry. Long pants or skirts, shirts that cover your shoulders, or even a head covering may be expected when you visit houses of worship. If you’re not sure why this is necessary, then do a little research about the religion or destination and there will be plenty of explanations online. It may not be something you are accustomed to, but you are not at home! Think of this as an opportunity to immerse yourself in the culture. Also, keep your voices low and talking to a minimum as a sign of respect.
Learn about the language, culture, and etiquette
When in doubt, research your destination and learn as much as possible. You can never be too prepared. Learn a few important phrases of the language or carry a guidebook with you for quick references when you have free time in the city. The world is a diverse place, with vastly different cultures and etiquette standards that can shock and fascinate you at the same time. Take some time to get to know what the people are like and what their expectations may be of you while visiting their country.
For example, tipping can be considered insulting in Japan and you should never shake or eat with your left hand in the Middle East. Also, be careful with hand gestures when traveling internationally. The OK sign, a thumbs up, or a peace sign facing a certain way are all viewed as derogatory in certain countries.
The world is a wonderful place that should be appreciated and explored. Just remember to do so respectfully.