Travel (and traveling respectfully) is an incredible thing for so many reasons. For the large majority of our lives, we live in a surprisingly small radius. Work, school, home, grocery store. How often do we drive the same streets, and interact with the same handful of people? Our local communities provide a needed home base, but traveling offers us a unique opportunity to burst this bubble of familiarity and interact with cultures that are completely different from what we're used to.
We have the (fairly recent) power to travel at incredible speeds, landing us halfway across the world in less than a day. But as Voltaire famously said, with great power comes great responsibility. It's important to realize the impacts our presence has on the cultures that we are stepping into. We must learn how to travel respectfully, treating each culture with reverence and care. What exactly does it mean to travel respectfully?
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Travel isn't about you
People travel for all kinds of reasons. But whether you're traveling as an escape of daily responsibilities, to learn a different language, or to experience brand new things, ultimately - you are a guest. Your destination is full of people facilitating your adventures with their hospitality. The world doesn't exist for your Instagram, and the price of your airline ticket is the not the equivalent of a ticket to Disneyland.
As such, understand that travel is a privilege, and operate with gratitude, curiosity, and respect.
Knowledge is power
With the Internet at our fingertips, we all have the opportunity to educate ourselves about the places we are visiting. Though the United States certainly has its own history and relevant nuances, it's important to remember that the rest of the world's history spans back so many centuries further. Different cultures are steeped in history, culture, war, occupation, resilience, industry, tradition, religion, and so much more. This history makes local citizens who they are. And briefing yourself on the background of your destination empowers you to respect the local people, ask better questions, and have a more enriched and life-changing experience while you're traveling respectfully
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Recognize the need to say no
Especially when you travel to places who have a large number of tourists, you will encounter many services and attractions specifically geared towards tourists. Many cities even have specific districts curated for tourists. While there's nothing inherently wrong with this, it does offer the opportunity to think a little more critically about what you choose to say yes to - and when to say no. Some things to say yes to include local products, artists, venues, experiences, architecture, museums, and markets. Some warning signs to look for are any hints of human or animal exploitation or mistreatment - like elephant rides or orphanage tours.
Leave places better than you found them
Traveling isn't always selfless, and there's nothing wrong with that. We travel for a number of motivations, but most of them are about achieving personal benefit. However, you don't have to travel selfishly. Treat the place you're going like you would the house of a host that you love. Say thank you, make your bed, clean up after yourself, and maybe pitch in to help in some small way. Seek to give as well as take - and you will always be welcomed back.