There’s an awesome quote from Bill Bryson that perfectly summarises the experience of traveling to a completely foreign country or culture:
“Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.”
Those of you who have travelled will recognize this as a slightly scary, but mostly liberating experience, which instils a renewed sense of wonder and
appreciation for the world, the new environment you are exploring, and if you’re lucky, a new gratitude for the country you call home.
Having travelled solo around Indonesia for the past year and also worked with groups as a RAW Wildlife Tour Leader, I have encountered many visitors to
Indonesia, and there are definitely “good” tourists and “bad tourists”. By “good” tourists, I mean those people who get the most out of their travel,
immerse themselves in the experience, and leave a positive mark on the places they have been and the people they meet.
Because it can be daunting visiting an entirely new place, we have put together our Top 3 tips on how to be a responsible and conscious
tourist; helping you to get the most out of your trip and leave your own little positive mark wherever you go.
Understand your destination.
In today’s world, there is no excuse for arriving in a destination and knowing zero about it. Although part of the adventure is having new and unexpected
experiences, it is important to do some basic research on the culture and customs of the places you intend to visit. This can avoid uncomfortable,
or potentially even dangerous situations, and shows respect to the local people, which will make them even more friendly and welcoming, thereby enhancing
Some cultural differences to observe in Indonesia, for example, include:
•Only using the right hand to shake hands, give, or receive items. The left hand is the hand used to wipe yourself after using the toilet, so is considered
•When swimming, wear shorts and t-shirts instead of bathing suits (in most areas).
•As opposed to many western countries, burping and spitting are commonplace in Indonesia and not generally considered by locals to be overly rude; whereas
things like putting your feet on or sitting on a table; wearing shoes indoors; or pointing with your index finger are considered rude (use your right
thumb to indicate direction if you need to point).
It makes sense for the comfort of your trip to know what climate to expect, what products you may need that can’t be purchased in your destination, and
take note of laws surrounding drugs and alcohol to avoid any nasty surprises!
Learn some language basics
Although you don’t have to be fluent in the language of every country you visit, (but by all means feel free!) it is advisable to learn a handful of words
to help you along your way. You will feel more empowered and capable and find the locals really appreciate even the smallest effort. Learn the niceties:
hello, please, thank you, how are you, yes, no. Throw in a few sentences like “where is the….?” “how much?” “my name is..”
Google translate is great at a push, although not particularly accurate for longer sentences. There are many apps that make learning a new language fun
and easy. My favourite is Duolingo - it’s free, easy, fun and effective. (A tip, if you are wanting to learn Indonesian with Duolingo, there is no
English to Indonesian option, but you can say you are Indonesian wanting to learn English and use the app in reverse!)
Support local communities
Where possible use local guides, buy crafts, products and food produced locally, support small businesses. Immerse yourself in the culture and save yourself
some money by eating local food at local places; you will make new friends and a whole new world of cuisine will open up to you.
At RAW we are proud to hire local guides, assistants, cooks, drivers and other staff where possible. Our tours provide income to the people
from many remote areas, where often their only alternative incomes come from working in palm oil plantations or illegal logging and poaching.
At RAW we take it even further, by setting up and supporting a wide variety of initiatives that give back to and empower the communities we visit. Learn
more about how we give back HERE
At times this is more difficult than it sounds, particularly in developing countries with poor infrastructure. In many places, tap water is not safe
to drink, and it’s easy to go through dozens of plastic bottles during your trip. Bring along your own water bottle and ask for refills where possible.
You will find you save money (as refills are considerably cheaper than bottles) and will be doing your part to reduce the plastic waste.
RAW has a strong focus on visiting natural landscapes, and our motto is 'to leave it as we find it, or cleaner if possible!'
- Carry your trash with you until you can find a rubbish bin.
- Support initiatives that protect both the natural environment and look for animals in their natural habitats.
- See our earlier blog here on 'How to be a responsible animal tourist.'
Bear in mind that all cultures have both positive and negative aspects, including our own. Perception is all about how and where we
are raised. Things that seem negative to you may be perfectly acceptable elsewhere, and vice versa.
Try to remain open-minded and non-judgmental during your travels, and do your best to understand different customs, cultures and people, rather than
judging them. Smile at the people you meet, be gracious when they share what they have with you and do your best to share what you have in return.
There may be times and places where you need to say a firm no and go on your way, but generally there is no need for anger or rudeness, a polite
and firm no, followed by a departure, will usually do the trick.