How To Be Much More Culturally Sensitive When Travelling
Don't be a dickhead.
Travelling is one of the hallmarks of the 20- something experience. When you go out and experience the world, you’re inevitably going to run into different people and different ways of life. Part of travelling is learning how to be sensitive of other people’s cultures and lives, rather than trampling through like an obnoxious tourist.
So here are some ways you can be a conscientious traveler, and have cultural sensitivity at the forefront of your mind.
Become Aware Of Your Own Biases
Travelling is a quick way to come face to face with people completely different to you. And in that, you may be exposed to biases you didn’t know you had.
Learning about any biases you may hold isn’t going to be the best thing in the world, but it’s essential if you want to act respectfully when you venture abroad. Holding biases isn’t necessarily a bad thing; we’re all wired to think a certain way. It’s just a byproduct of our upbringing. The important thing is to be aware how your biases play into your thoughts, and how you choose to respond to them.
At the time, it can seem very easy to exclaim how different things are here compared to where you’re from. But try and make an effort to keep those reservations to yourself, at least initially. You’re going to run into different things, but they’re not necessarily wrong, backwards, or misinformed because they’re not what you’re used to.
What you’d essentially be doing is criticising the way a group of people live, a way that may hold a lot of historical and cultural significance. And that’s no way to be a respectful guest.
Go in with the knowledge that not everyone is going to be equipped with a Western-centric perspective, and be open to living a life that differs from yours, even if it’s just for a little while.
As you go about your travels, it’s important to remain cognisant of not stereotyping. Sure, some people you see may fit into stereotypes you’ve heard, and that’s totally fine, but be careful not to write every person off just because you’ve noticed commonalities. Remember to think of people with the same depth you would with people back home.
Learn Some Basic Phrases
It may surprise some that not every country you visit is going to be able to speak English, and those that don’t aren’t going to bend over backwards to learn it just because you’re dropping by. Language barriers are one of the hardest things to break through when travelling, so it’s in your best interest to brush up on some basic phrases to make the journey a bit smoother.
Learning some basics will go miles with the locals, because it will show them you’re willing to make an effort to communicate, instead of just talking loudly in English (note: never do that).
If you’re looking for a language crash course, Duolingo is a great mobile app you can take with you, and can teach you everything from Japanese to Klingon.
Be Aware Of Local Laws And Customs
A lot of culture is enshrined in a country’s law, so before you travel make sure to read up on any local laws you may run into when you’re over there. Smart Traveller is a government run website which outlines many countries laws, customs and risk factors which should be on your pre-travel to do list wherever you go.
There are also a bunch of helpful infographics on Pinterest on social customs like tipping amounts, basic phrases and table manners.