Opinion: The Importance of Being A Culturally Responsible Traveler
Don’t go pulling out your cellphone and snapping when you first land in a host country. As global citizens and especially as travel aficionados sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of traveling, amazed by the impressive sights, indulge in the new cultures and culinary expertise, but we often forget about the importance of respecting the customs and culture that we are stepping into. Traveling to some of my favorite countries, that have accepted tourists with open arms, sometimes the hardest thing to witness, is when visitors are disrespectful of local customs. One thing is - not being informed or educated about the customs, but it should be part of our responsibility as visitors to get informed and educated about what is appropriate and what is not.
So why is it so important to be culturally responsible? For starters, the way you act in your host country is in a way representing your home country and your own values. Many of the countries we do visit, are dealing with struggles that may be insurmountably different from the ones we encounter in our home, and in no way should our presence add to said struggles, but rather be a contributing factor to possible solutions.
Think of it this way, you wouldn’t go celebrate a holiday with your friend’s family and not inquire about what is appropriate to wear or contribute? -Why should visiting another country be any different? And also in an effort to be a more inclusive and accepting world - we have to take steps towards open-mindedness and sensitivity to others.
There are small but powerful ways we can all become more responsible travelers. For instance keep in mind, dietary restrictions of a country and avoid ordering foods that your host may have to go out of their way to get, is sometimes not necessary. Or offering to help a local individual or organization during your stay to help them get one step closer to their goals. Or simply opt into buying locally sourced and made goods that are preferably social responsible. Whichever way you decide to contribute - rather than take, remember: we are just by-passers in someone else’s home and cherished land, and for that reason we owe it to them to learn their customs and tread with gentle footsteps.