I’m a sucker for travel tips. From articles on how to get two weeks’ worth of attire into a carryon to lists of apps that make navigating public transportation in foreign countries easier, I’ve read them all — and I’ve learned so much.
But it occurred to me recently that the vast majority of those tips focus on the traveler. And hey, that’s fair — if you, as the reader, are the one traveling, you’re the one you care about, right? You want tips that enhance your experience.
However, you know how they say it’s better to give than to receive? That works for travel, too, because as much as your vacation is about you … well, it’s not all about you. There are undoubtedly lots of other people involved in your experience. And sure, in many cases, it might be their job to make your stay a pleasant one — but I’d argue that it’s your social responsibility to return that favor when possible.
I’m not necessarily talking about grand gestures (like using your vacation time to take a volunteer trip) — although if that’s your jam and you want to do something exceptional, far be it from me to get in your way. But after reading this article in the New York Times about being a kinder traveler, I got to thinking. Nobody wants to be an asshole, right? So let’s look at some simple ways to make sure the trips we take make the right kind of impact.
See and Hear People
Most of us have experienced the feeling of being an invisible outsider now and again — and it doesn’t feel great.
So, while I don’t go around greeting everyone, everywhere, I do try to make a point to make sure people feel seen, especially when it comes to people who are hard at work so that my experience can go a little more smoothly.
This isn’t hard — and I say that as someone who isn’t particularly outgoing. But I make eye contact, smile, and say hello. If they ask how I am, I answer, then ask them the same question — and I listen for a response.
Think everyone does this? Next time you’re in a place like a coffee shop, where you step up to a counter and place an order, just listen to the people around you. We’re often asked how we are, and more often than not, I hear the customer completely ignore the pleasantry and launch directly into, “I need a tall vanilla latte with extra whip and …” or worse, “Gimme a cafe mocha …” and oh, I just want to tear my hair out. Listen when you’re greeted, and respond like the person behind the counter (or pushing the cart of cleaning supplies, or holding the door open for you) is a real person who has asked you a question — because they are. Place your order in a way that doesn’t sound completely entitled. And for the love of Pete, say thank you!
Do a Little Research
Sure, part of the fun of going somewhere new is learning about it from the locals, but remember, unless a person’s job is actually to educate you about the area or culture, it’s not their responsibility. If going to a foreign country, learn at least a few words (like please, thank you, excuse me), and make sure you’re familiar with any customs that might be important. Understanding a bit about the area’s history and politics (especially as they pertain to where you live) is also a good idea.
Don’t get me wrong — I love talking to locals about their favorite places to eat or must-see parts of town, and often, they seem to enjoy sharing what they know about their home. But make no mistake; this is a favor being done, and while I certainly appreciate it, I don’t expect it.
Treat Everywhere Like Home
It’s not only the people in the area you’re visiting that deserve your respect, but the location itself, too. Just because you’re on vacation, that doesn’t mean you’re off duty as an adult human being who’s capable of following rules, disposing of trash, and using common decency.
I don’t mean you have to make your bed, but maybe turn off your lights when you leave your room, and actually put your trash in the trash. If recycling is available, make use of it, and if you’re in an area where you can fill a reusable water bottle rather than drinking plastic bottled water, do so. Being kind to the earth counts, too.
Look, I’m far from perfect in this — and even if I were closer to it, the fact remains that there’s always an opportunity to do better. But if we each start where we are and make a few steps toward being kinder, more thoughtful travelers, maybe we’ll start to see a shift toward mindfulness among other tourists, too.
What are some ways you try to make a more positive impact on the places you visit? —Kristen