Dear Travelers, Please Be Respectful!

If we travel to a new country we usually do some research beforehand about said country, so that we know at least a little bit about their culture, history, language and so forth. We want to be prepared for what we can expect and also to prevent as many unintentional faux pas from happening. We are by all means not perfect and still make our fair share of mistakes, but doing a little research can help minimizing them.

After years of typing “Things to know about [country]” into Google and gathering all kinds of information, I realized that we can essentially wrap up a lot of the details into one simple truth:

Don’t be an asshole!

Or if you want to put it in a more positive way:

Be respectful!

Because a lot of the things mentioned in those helpful lists about the do’s and don’ts should be in my opinion common sense. But if there is one thing I’ve learned throughout the last few years is that common sense isn’t that common. Many of the incidents that occur between travelers and the locals can often times be derived from the stupidity, ignorance and/or disrespect of the foreigners. In Colombia there is an idiom that says “No Dar Papaya”, which essentially means: “Don’t put yourself in a situation where you can be taken advantage of” or in short: “Don’t ask for it!

I remember this one incident that happened in Malaysia two years ago, where a group of backpackers took their clothes off on a sacred mountain and as a consequence got into big trouble with the Malaysians and, of course, with their government. As I said in the beginning we all make mistakes, but in this particular case they should’ve known better. Being respectful and not being an asshole shouldn’t require a bachelor’s degree, it should be part of an education everyone needs to receive from an early age on. But sadly the emphasis here lies on “should”, because as we can see it isn’t.

Many of my local friends are understandably frustrated, because it casts a shadow over their country’s reputation, if it makes the headlines. Most of the locals I’ve met so far on my travels are kind and friendly, but even their patience and hospitality knows its limits.

Wat Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Wat Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai, Thailand © Alexander Stephan Photography & Design

It’s sad to see how backpackers, especially the young ones, feel like they can behave as they damn well please, because they are not at home, and rules and guidelines don’t seem to exist anymore. But they do. They are just different. Try to imagine it as a kind of game. One that has been played for decades or even centuries and you just joined this game. Maybe you know some of the rules, but usually the “main players” can explain them to you and help out if need be. Now, of course, what you wouldn’t do is to complain about certain rules, because you don’t like them. You don’t say: “This is not the way we play where I’m from!” Well, my friend, we are not where you are from and the rules are different. The two choices you have is to either play after their rules or leave the table.

So, be respectful, be kind, be open-minded. You don’t need to understand or even like every single cultural quirk in order to accept them. Just accept them! If you still want to understand them, you can either ask a local, read a book about their history or use this incredible tool we have at our disposal called the Internet. As you broaden your cultural horizon, the things that were so new to you a while back may even become a part of your daily life, if you decide to stay a little longer. You adapt to your new environment and leave your old self in the past where it belongs. Then every once in a while when you look back in reverie at the person you once were, you can only shake your head with a sad smile. A lot has changed. You have changed. You have grown in many ways.

This is the incredibly unique power that traveling possesses. It turns our little world upside down and sheds light on the darkness we never knew existed within ourselves. By walking this very Earth we already “take” a lot with us; the least we can do is to “give” back our utmost respect, attention and appreciation for its various fascinating cultures.

Cover photo: Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Copyright: Alexander Stephan Photography & Design

7 thoughts on “Dear Travelers, Please Be Respectful!”

  1. Totally agree, man. I would add that it’s totally okay to not be an asshole for selfish reasons: you get a lot more enjoyment out of your time travelling. When you treat people with respect, they respond in kind.

    Can’t tell you how many times I’ve been given a free ride somewhere, handed a free meal or been given other measurable benefits by simply treating strangers I come across while traveling with kindness.

    As with most things in life, with travel, you get what you put into it. If you’re an asshole, people you run into will be assholes, too. If you’re kind and respectful, chances are that others will be, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with you as well. It’s the simple law of attraction. You receive what you send out and you already gave some good examples. It really is either a win-win or a lose-lose situation.

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  2. Common sense just isn’t so common. It is absolutely ridiculous what people think they can do. I still remember when I was in Thailand, a few people were standing in front of a 7/11 after a club. It was 5am, this guy asked a taxi driver how much it was to go to his hostel. The driver said 500 THB for him and his 4 friends together, 100 THB each. The guy says fuck off to the driver which infuriated the driver. Maybe in western culture people curse like it’s whatever but in Asian culture that is such a sign of disrespect. The driver and his driver friends beat the crap out of this drunk brit and his friends because he was insanely disrespectful.

    All I could think was how stupid this Brit was. You were being so damn rude over 10 bucks/quid!!! and you’re splitting it with your friends so it’s 2 dollars each. I understand that sometimes traveller’s get ripped off by locals but certain things are reasonable. Don’t bitch over 2 bucks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s exactly the problem. Unfortunately it’s not an exception, but a rule. It’s this sense of entitlement that some travelers think they have, because they are far away from home and they can behave however they like. Especially if it’s in a country that may not be as well developed as most western countries. But when it comes to manners, respect and yes, common sense a lot of western backpackers act like cavemen.

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  3. You literally took the words right out of my mouth with this one! It’s true, not everyone uses their common sense when visiting the local areas of countries. The same attitude that may work in tourists areas is not the same attitude that should be behaved on the grounds of the people who live their every day life, and struggles there. Respect, honesty, and humbleness plays a major part!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Taqueth!
      I even think not even in touristy areas, this behaviour is acceptable. I mean, it can’t be that difficult to, you know, just be nice. 😀 As you mentioned, be humble and just enjoy your holiday/trip through a different country. It baffles me often times how people behave.

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