As travellers navigating the globe, it is our responsibility to be mindful—of the culture, of the people, of the environment, and most importantly, of our behaviour. Last week, news broke of a tourist being detained in Bhutan after he climbed atop a Buddhist shrine (a frowned-upon action) for a photograph. It’s the simplest task to be considerate of others while travelling, we list some tips we swear by on our travels.
1) Be careful of your social media use while travelling, and think before you geotag, as many locations are discouraging visitors from doing that. Last year, the Wyoming landscape was under such a threat from Instagram-active visitors, that the Jackson Hole Travel & Tourism Board had to ask visitors to stop geotagging photographs from Wyoming’s pristine lakes and forests on social media.
2) Adhere to local guidelines of tourism and respect indigenous cultural sensitivities. Do not exoticise, festishise, otherise foreign cultures. The line between celebrating and approximating can run thin in some cases, so to be on the clear, take the help of local guides where possible. A large number of tourists have been impinging on Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, for the past many years, much to the dismay of the indigenous Anangu tribe who consider it their sacred rock. After a decades-long campaign fought by several indigenous communities, visitors can no longer climb the Australian landmark from October 26.
3) When in museums, engage thoughtfully with the art and do not be an annoyance to fellow visitors. Don’t be like the tourists responsible for destroying a massive and iconic collage around the Louvre Museum, hours after it had been installed to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Louvre Pyramid. Nobody likes waiting but, respect queues.
4) Follow the rules and safety concerns if you happen to visit sites of disaster. For instance, a massive tourist upsurge in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, following the airing of the HBO mini-series, gave the Ukrainian government hopes of an economic revival through tourism. It started calling Chernobyl an official tourist site, even as scientists still deem it as one of the most radiologically contaminated places on earth. If you have to visit, they say, then you have to follow many safety regulations.
5) Be mindful of the country’s laws and do not bring back restricted or banned items. In August, two French tourists were arrested for stealing 40 kilograms of sand from Chia beach on the southern coast of Sardinia, in light of an August 2017 law which made it illegal to take sand, pebbles or seashells from Sardinian beaches.
6) Do not soil or damage sites of historic or cultural importance. Rome was forced to ban its famed Spanish Steps, immortalised in Audrey Hepburn-starrer Roman Holiday, because tourists were either sitting on it too long or littering the steps with food packets. Police have been asked to fine the offenders up to 400 Euros (Rs31,630). Also, do not litter in general. If the rogue plastic wrapper does escape your grip, run after it. No two ways.
7) Tip fairly. Look up tipping etiquette in the places you visit—for guides and servers especially. Be gracious to your guides, treat them with the respect they deserve for opening you up to new knowledge. Do not treat them like your personal errand man/woman for the vacation. Also, don’t forget to tip the buskers. Don’t just stand, watch, Instagram, and move on.
8) Do not chatter loudly or play disruptive music at sites of natural beauty, especially ones with wildlife. Most have travelled to escape the very noise. Consider the possibility that the finches and the frilled-neck lizards may not care about your dating history either.
9) Support local businesses—a coffee from that locally owned shop instead of a chain, eating local, staying local, picking souvenirs that aren’t mass produced but handmade by a local. Same applies to food, commute and language—go hyper-local. Order the kokonda instead of the burger, take that ferry, ask the passerby what ‘bula’ means. You can eat butter chicken to your heart’s content once you’re back home.
10) Follow mobile etiquette, especially while attending live cultural performances. No whirling dervish needs to wake to your latest ringtone. Also, if video recording of a certain live act is banned, it’s probably for a reason, so abide. You’re probably better off recording those magical moments in the only one place that matters—your memory.
11) It’s not a crime to take pictures of a place you are visiting—but ‘risky selfies’ are gaining undue popularity and causing harm to both the site/animal/object in question and to yourself. Please consider the safety of the former (and your own) in these situations. Cruise company Royal Caribbean recently banned a woman for life—after she was caught dangling dangerously from one of the ship railings—all for the sake of the perfect picture.