Updated: Jul 1, 2019
I want to bring to light recent events that highlight the damage tourists and stupidity causes. There was a Russian tourist who is meant to be an “Instagram star” who recently travelled to my favourite country, Iceland. He decided to use his rental car to drive off-road in an attempt to make it to a volcano, all for an Instagram picture. Instead, he ended up getting stuck in the soil, still took a picture for Instagram, and was fined a hefty amount by the police.
In Iceland, it is illegal to drive off-road due to the fragile landscape and lasting damage that can be caused. Understandably, the local Icelandic people were angry and so were many of his followers. The lack of respect shown by people for different countries rules and cultures has inspired me to write this article.
Research the Rules/Laws of the Country Before You Go
Stating the obvious, every country is different. Things that might seem normal to you back at home could be illegal in another country. The story I mentioned above, could have been avoided if that person had researched the laws of Iceland and if he had a brain cell. It may seem like a boring task when you’re excited about a trip, to have to research laws, but it takes 10 minutes to search on Google and find the main ones. You can even do it at the airport.
Researching the country first will help you to avoid fines, imprisonment, and being disrespectful. This can also include looking at visas, driving permits, and especially now, drone laws. Every country has a government website that you can check on too. One piece of advice I will give though is if it doesn’t seem right, don’t do it.
Do Not Take Souvenirs From the Environment
This can relate to anything from the smallest of items such as a rock to a large historical item such as the train tracks in Auschwitz, as described in this article. Personally, I don’t understand why people would visit a location to try and take something home from it, but people do. Many items that you see will be a part of history or a part of nature, it does not belong to you so leave it where it is. The experience of visiting these destinations should be enough.
You Should Not Litter
Just looking at this picture should be enough of a reason to not to litter, not to mention the harm to the environment and animals, especially in the ocean. Animals are attracted to litter for food which can either hurt them or disrupt the way they feed naturally.
A beach should not look like it does above, it spoils the look, smell, and even the experience. Would you want to go and sit on this beach for the day?
It’s not just the beaches that have a problem though, it occurs throughout the cities and rural areas too. There should be NO reason to litter wherever you are in the world. If you don’t have access to a bin/trash can, then you keep holding on to that litter until you do find one.
Respect the Culture
Let’s be clear, you are not at home, you are in a different country that follows a different way of life and you should respect that or stay at home. There can be many different factors that fall under respecting another country, I will outline some of them:
Don’t dress inappropriately - this can be related to anywhere in the world but in particular highly religious countries and most of Asia. This means don’t wear revealing clothes, offensive t-shirts, or walk around in your Speedos.
Learn the Basic Customs - This includes tipping, speaking, eating, and falls under researching the country beforehand. If it is suggested that tipping is recommended, you tip.
Try and learn a few words - You are visiting another country and should try and learn the basic words before you go. Even if it is just hello, thank you, goodbye, the locals will appreciate you making the effort.
Don’t get annoyed - This can be with anything such as people haggling you on the streets, shops not being open in the afternoon, and restaurants only serving certain foods. Again, this is a different county and people follow different routines, you should respect that. Especially when it comes to marketplaces, the locals are trying to make a living on what little money they have, be respectful.
Take Photos Respectfully
Why can’t people enjoy life anymore without living through a camera? I see people at concerts, the beach, at dinner, and everywhere, just living through their phones/cameras. If you live your life like that, then at least be respectful, life isn’t about getting likes on your Instagram picture.
One memory that stands out for me here is the Mona Lisa. There are signs everywhere “no flash photography” and I was standing for 15 minutes watching flash after flash from ignorant tourists. If there are signs that say no photography FOLLOW THEM.
You should also follow these tips to be a respectful tourist when taking photos:
Be mindful of the environment - If you are at a good location and want to take pictures, don’t climb on buildings, damage plants, move items, or do anything that is not necessary to do.
Be mindful of others - I have witnessed so many people in tourist locations pushing other people out of the way for a good photo, standing in other peoples photos, and even walking into people because they are trying to take a picture while walking. Wait your turn, look where you are walking, and respect other people.
Follow "no photography" signs - They are there for a reason, whether it’s to protect the material of a painting or not to affect the animals, you should obey the rules.
Don’t be disrespectful - Taking a selfie at a concentration camp, really? There are certain places in the world that you don’t need proof of being there. Just embrace the experience away from your phone/camera and be respectful, especially at memorials.
Get consent - If you want to take a picture of a local working or with anyone in your picture, then you need to ask for permission.
Leave the Wildlife Alone
It can be tempting when you see an animal to try and touch it, get their attention, and feed it, but you should leave animals alone. If the animal approaches you, then you can interact as calmly and respectfully as you can. This also includes not being loud and damaging any habitats by littering or any other way. If you want an experience where you can interact with an animal, pay money to a conservation centre and have an experience while doing some good.
Respect the Locals
As a part of respecting the different cultures around the world, you should also be respecting the local people. You should accept that in some parts of the world, people don’t speak English and you shouldn’t assume they do or get annoyed if they don’t. You need to be mindful that everyone else around you is living their normal day-to-day life and you are in the midst of that.
People you meet and come across are going to look, act, and speak differently, which you should be aware of. It is never ok to be aggressive, swear, be rude, or disrespect that culture. Sadly, I have been to places and heard groups of people being disrespectful to local people where they can hear. This is never ok, you wouldn’t like it if someone from another country came to your home and starting insulting you, neither do they.
Don't Act Like a Fool
It’s nice to let your hair down when you travel and if it's what you enjoy, drink as much as you want and do what you want, as long as you keep it private and respectful. For example, if your idea of fun is drinking and being loud, stick to your resort/hostel/hotel and don’t go walking the streets damaging property and shouting at people. Unfortunately, the British already have a bad reputation for this. This also includes fighting, damaging anything, and thinking you are number one, it’s just not necessary
Accept The Countries Requirements
I have seen someone complain before about having to pay tolls in Switzerland to drive on the motorways, a local responded and rightly said: “if you want to drive in our country, you pay the tolls just like we do, or don’t visit.” I agree completely. You can’t visit another country and expect to be exempt from everything because you are a tourist. If there are tolls then you pay them. This could be a long list but whatever the country wants you to do, you do it.
Respect Local Sites
This is an obvious one but not many people follow it. Don’t damage anything and don’t take anything from any location you go to. You should observe the rules each place has before entering and follow them to be respectful. For example, if a location requires you to take your shoes off, you take your shoes off with no questions asked. Also when you visit a new location, unless it is specified you can interact with items/people/things then you look with your eyes, not with your hands.
Top Tips to Take Away
Learn some lingo
Be mindful when taking photos
Follow cultural etiquette
Don’t be rude locals
Do what the country requires
Leave the animals alone
Don’t dress inappropriately
Don’t take things that don’t belong to you
Be respectful to others