With a selfie stick and an obnoxious laugh, being an annoying tourist is easy. With the added hype of a new culture, mates and way cheaper beer, it is even easier to tarnish the experience of travel for yourself, and for every poor soul around you.
So, before you take the mandatory Instagram photo by the departures sign at Sydney Airport and embark on your fulfilling Contiki tour, read this.
Before you leave: A little research will get you far
There is nothing worse than a culturally ignorant tourist. You know, that guy that goes to a sacred site in thongs and rips the frescoes off the ‘sixteenth’ chapel with his two-dollar selfie stick. So, for your own enlightenment and safety, it is worth doing a little research before visiting anywhere.
You don’t need to get your atlas and monocle out, but a quick skim through Wikipedia, Smart Traveller and even Pinterest will ensure you get up to date with local customs, safety tips, and popular scams.
Consider yourself warned next time you are outside the Vatican and pay 95 euro for a ‘meet and greet’ with the Pope that you saw on a brochure designed in Microsoft Paint.
Accommodation: Sleep in the bed of a local
Travelling is done best when one experiences local life and customs, so what better way to do this than by sleeping in the bed of a local? Now hold up buddy. Put your phone down and get your mind out of the gutter because (for once) I ain’t talking about Tinder, I’m talking about more reputable/less awkward options like Airbnb and Couchsurfing.
These websites will not only save you a few bucks, but will also put you in contact with locals. Sure, you won’t be able to rack the hotel shampoos or have your bed made daily, but usually you will get sweet local advice and recommendations from the hosts.
Communication: Learn the basics por favor
When you’re at a local restaurant in Bangladesh, chances are that not everyone will understand you when you ask for a ‘sausage sanga’, so don’t be that dickhead that just assumes everyone will be down with your lingo. Learn a few phrases in their tongue.
This is a little sign of respect that will distinguish you from all the other foul tourists and boy, that’s something you want to strive for! Here is the local language starter kit:
- Sorry I don’t speak (insert local language here), do you speak English?
- Thank you
- Where is the bar?
Food: Think outside the (main town) square
See over there, past the mass of people, that restaurant overlooking the Eiffel tower with the menu written in 6 different languages, full of people?
Yeah, don’t go there.
The unwritten rule among travellers is that the more central a restaurant is, and the more languages its menu is translated to, the less authentic it will be. Location and accessibility are damn attractive if you are tired of walking around and you don’t understand a single word anyone has said to you all day, but these two factors usually imply higher prices, and lower quality.
So what the hell do you eat!? Well, tighten your Kathmandu trekking shoes and walk a little further off the main streets to look for places frequented by the locals. Alternatively, you can get Google translator out and ask locals for recommendations straight up (I’m not liable for any awkward communication blunders Google may create. Adios.)
Local cuisine is usually a reflection of cultural values, so trying local dishes is imperative for a deeper insight into a country. Take the goon sack for example, it speaks of fun times, hills hoists and above all, mates. #strayan #values.