How to be a conscious tourist

The holiday seasons are upon us!! And with it, comes much traveling. Last summer and during the beginning of Fall, I did so much traveling around Europe, and it was the first time I really country hopped a bit as an adult, having to fend for myself and figure out where I was going to stay, etc. Also, because I was living in France and traveling the continent with my French passport, the way I viewed other tourists had changed as well, as perspectives change depending on who you travel with and where you originally came from.

Since I’ve been in France for two years now, American tourists feel foreign instead of someone coming “from home”. The fact that I have lived in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico, and Paris, La Rochelle, and Bordeaux in France, means that I have lived places that at one point or another have been completely filled with tourists. It was in experiencing tourism as a native or tourist myself that I began to realize the ignorance we display sometimes in going to another country. I have had this blog in my head for quite some time but had to chew on it a while before deciding to write it. Finally, I figured I’d break it down into 8 convenient bullet points to help you be a more CONSCIOUS traveler during the holiday seasons, and always. If there’s anything you’d like to add, go ahead and do so in the comment section below!

And so, without further ado,

8 Tips on How Not to Be a Douchebag Traveler

  1. Learn some basic words in the native language

You ever gone to a country and actually not known what language they spoke until you landed? Because I have. That’s really ignorant. Don’t do that. Assuming that every one does or should speak English is a very close-minded and self-centered way to look at the world. Not everyone has the privilege of education of learning another language, first off, and secondly, it is not another country’s responsibility to cater to their tourists. While English is spoken in a lot of countries, it should be your job as a conscious traveler to at least try and be aware of the language(s) spoken, and try to at the VERY least, learn how to say “Hello/Goodbye”, or “please” and “thank you” depending on your own level of being able to memorize things. Just so that you can acknowledge people in their home language. Of course some people might want to practice their English with you and will be excited to do so, others won’t mind trying to help you figure out what you need through miming, while some people won’t even care that you tried and will be upset just at the mere fact that you can’t fluently speak their language (you can’t please everybody, so don’t try.)

2. Respect the natives

Listen to me. Black and brown babies are not props. It is so cringey when I see middle class white women taking pictures of a black or brown child with them because “look at this cute colored child isn’t it cute” like in their own home country they’ve never seen a child of color, and if they have, it’s like in a zoo, you know, in “those” neighborhoods, where they would never be allowed to grab a random child for a photo op.

Or people taking photographs of the homeless without so much as their consent or giving them money, or food. Yes, taking a photograph of someone we find beautiful because they are different than what we are used to can be a way to remember that, but this should be a learning opportunity and not one for you to improve your instagram’s aesthetic. Learn about their cultures and dress, and ask, ask, ask if you can take a picture. And read their body language first, don’t just aggressively pull someone aside suddenly to photograph them. Do not take a picture of a child without their parents consent.

And taking a picture of poverty? Is so inappropriate. Are you providing for it or just exploiting it for your own ego? Help them, instead of trying to photograph them. Unless you’re a journalist whose work might help these people, capturing others peoples misery and posting it on your facebook is too self serving for it to be appropriate under any means, unless you’re actively trying to help it. If you enjoy something and find it beautiful, instead of exploiting it, try to appreciate it through a way that may help the community in question.

3. Don’t litter

Unless you’re one of those really amazing people who are fully aware of their carbon footprint, chances are you litter on the regular. In your country, where you’re paying taxes and breathing the own gross air of your car polluting the atmosphere, that’s one thing. But going to another country to enjoy their goods, to then throw your gross cigarette bud on the ground, or letting your sandwich wrapper blow in the wind and away, or throwing the plastic bag of your souvenir next to the garbage, is rude, selfish, inappropriate, and ignorant. Be EXTRA mindful of other countries. However much careful you are usually about these things, triple that when you’re elsewhere.

4. Watch where you’re going

Dear family of 5 walking slowly down the street or sidewalk, everyone hates you. Watch where you’re going, and for the love of God MOVE TO THE SIDE.
Dear ANYONE that is walking slowly and unpredictably sort of zig zagging or coming to a full stop, what you’re doing is dangerous, annoying as hell, and inconsiderate to those trying to live their every day lives not revolving around you. Pretty much, walk how you would drive. (But better, and remember you don’t have turn signals here)

Would you come to a sudden complete stop without looking behind you first if you were in a busy highway? Probably not unless it was an emergency, because then you might cause a serious accident. Imagine a local parent with their kid and stroller walking down a street on their way to the grocery store when suddenly some douchebag turns unpredictably and runs into them because they tdont want to consider others. This isn’t the Truman show, we aren’t sitting here prepared for your every move. I’ve seen people run into strollers, other people, and even oncoming traffic. Be self aware, or you might hurt yourself or someone else at the worst, but at the least, you’re making your stay unpleasant for those that live here.

5. Do a minimum research of the laws

Try doing a quick google on things like religion and social laws when entering a culture that is very unfamiliar to you. For example in Japan, it is rude to blow your nose in front of someone, while in many other countries giving a “thumbs up” is actually a middle finger. You can Google things like, “what not to do in {country you’re traveling to}” for some help. No one is expecting you to know everything, but some kind of self awareness and attempt at respect is always appreciated.

6. Be self-aware

The other day in Paris an American tourist went to the Eiffel Tower and got a special deal on a tour which they felt completely entitled to anyway because “Paris is like, so expensive.” Do you know how I know that? Because even though I was 4 seats away trying to read my book, this small group of 3 adults apparently felt they were the only ones in the metro and were speaking so loud, I felt myself engrossed in their conversation, despite me not caring, because of how LOUD they were. Another time, in Rome, I had to stop a conversation that I was having with my boyfriend because another small group of American tourists were having a conversation so unnecessarily loud, it went over whatever we were discussing. Of course you’re excited, that’s wonderful, and if you’re in a large group or in a loud place, we get it. But if you’re in a metro, restaurant, or other place where people can hear you just fine if you use a quieter voice, try and gauge your volume. Don’t just assume you’re not loud, actually question it. Maybe ask someone else. If someone speaks loudly to you, try lowering your own volume. Be self aware of the space you are taking up in someone else’s home country.

7. Buy local

Whenever I pass a McDonald’s in any other country that isn’t the USA I am always perplexed. (I find McDonald’s in France to be completely humiliating for the French, for one, who love to talk about their fine cuisine and criticize American food.) However seeing an American walk in is disappointing, to say the least.That you want to go to a fast food restaurant at all is whatever, I’m not going to judge that, but that you’re feeding massive corporations that damage the local economy and land is not conducive to this country lasting in their rich culture and traditions, and therefore you should not help support them. Try to avoid large chains because you never know who actually owns them, and support Farmer’s Markets, artisans, and mom and pop shops.

8. Don’t Swim with the dolphins.

In the United States, Sea World is bad enough, but in other countries you should never swim with dolphins, and if you absolutely have to go to a place where you will see an animal in captivity, (avoid it, but if you must) inform yourself thoroughly before going to any zoos or aquariums about the treatment of their animals and how they help capture and keep them. Probably also inform yourself before riding an elephant somewhere, or coming in contact with animals. Don’t trust the company, they’re counting on your ignorance to get your money. Do your research, or if you aren’t sure, then don’t do it.

Basically, another country is not a theme park. I understand your excitement in visiting somewhere new and how bewilderment makes it hard to be fully aware of the damage we’re doing sometimes. We can’t always really control what we do. That’s why simply trying to be as aware and conscious as possible of our impact when traveling is so important. Our planet and resources are dying, coral reefs aren’t what they used to be, indigenous tribes and native lives are ruined, and virgin beaches are becoming more and more extinct due to poorly handled tourism. Let’s try and minimize that.


 

And, to end this blog post in a large bout of hypocrisy, in January 2017, I’ll be going on a cruise trip around Europe and you have no idea how problematic this is for me. Initially, I did not want to go because sipping a mojito in the lap of luxury with the current state of things in Aleppo, Venezuela, and even the USA, among so many others, felt a little disgusting for me. So when my mom originally asked me if I wanted to go on the family cruise trip I turned it down. However, due to schedule conflicts my little sister ended up not being able to go, and so I accepted her ticket because, hey, free cruise, and I’m not that much of a saint. I’m sorry.

But what I am doing, is reading up on why Cruise Ships are problematic to try and see if I can actively counter any of them, and also be aware of them so that next time, I can say “maybe let’s do something else instead of a Cruise Ship” and have my facts and alternatives ready and lined up, so that I can do something more solid and effective than writing a blog about how to not be a problematic tourist. 😉

Sometimes we make mistakes and realize too late, other times maybe we know we’re doing something problematic while we’re doing it, but it’s more complicated than just not going. Be as self-aware as possible, be forgiving of yourself but always hold yourself accountable, and always do better.

Happy globe-trotting.

 

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