How to Be a Respectful Traveler


I went to Vietnam a few weeks ago, and it reminded me how important is to be as respectful as possible when you’re visiting a foreign country, so I’m telling you how you can be your most respectful self while you’re traveling. Don’t expect everyone to speak English: Imagine that you are in your hometown, the place that you lived all your life, and someone comes into your store or up to your house and just start jabbering right to you in Polish. You’d be like, “Hey! We’re in America,” or wherever you live, “How do you expect me to know what you’re saying?” Even if you are in a very touristy part of the city, don’t expect everybody to speak English, and what WON’T help them understand more is you speaking slower, or louder, or repeating yourself a bunch of times. You can avoid translation problems by downloading the Google Translate app, which can be used offline. Even if they just never end up understanding you, just smile, say thank you in their native language, and be on your way, which leads me to… Know some of the language: Now, I’m not expecting you to learn the entire language. before you go travel anywhere. Impossible! But, is very respectful to at least know a few key phrases, like please, thank you, I’m sorry, you’re welcome, the bill please… simple things like that. The locals will appreciate you at least trying to speak their language. Consider your impact: When you travel someplace new, consider how your traveling effects the country’s environment, the economy, and the people there. In terms of the environment, make sure you’re not littering and doing things like leaving those love locks onto, like, the bridges, which is actually terrible for the infrastructure, and do things like consider what your carbon footprint is. Even something as simple as not getting fresh new towels every day from your hotel when you’re in a country where there are millions of people without water is a really great thing to do. Before booking activities like elephant riding, forget about getting the photo and actually think about how those elephants that you’re going to be riding will be affected. Just because loads of people do something doesn’t mean that it’s right! Also, be truthful when you’re buying things like those really cheap clothes at the market. If you’re buying something that’s dirt cheap, chances are it’s being produced in a factory with exploited workers and in a factory that is not environmentally friendly. In other words, educate yourself, and don’t rely on tourism companies or other travelers to tell you what is right and what’s wrong. Remember: It’s not weird. It’s just different! When I was in Vietnam, we were on a Halong Bay cruise, and while most of the guests were drinking drinks at Happy Hour and enjoying the music, there was a group of Chinese guests who were at one end of the boat doing some really intense stretching, and to me I kind of, like, giggled a little bit because it just was something that I would never do, but actually, I thought to myself that “just because it’s a little bit weird to us doesn’t mean that it is to them, and it probably is completely normal.” In fact, they’re probably looking at all of us who are not stretching and thinking “Why aren’t they stretching? That’s terrible for your digestion!” Maybe that’s the reason that they think that us Americans are fat! I don’t know! Remember that a huge part of traveling is experiencing how people do things differently, so there’s never anything that’s weird. It’s just different from what you know. Be respectful when taking photos: Before you whip out your camera, look around you and try to figure out if it’s actually appropriate for you to be taking photos at that moment. Are you at a memorial, a religious temple, or something like that? Are you taking a photo in an area where the locals are busy working and are just trying to mind their own business? They might not want to be in your photo. And are people just trying to relax and enjoy the atmosphere and the view? Then your shutter clicking away is going to be really disruptive. Remember, you don’t have to have a photo of everything. Sometimes it’s nice to just live in the moment. And there are a lot of times when taking a photo is not actually appropriate. Practice empathy while you’re traveling: Put yourself in the local’s shoes, and think about how they’re going to be viewing you and your actions. What do you think a local Vietnamese man that just worked a 12-hour day, in the 95-degree heat, in the field, who’s just going home from work… What is he going to think of the westerner who’s belligerently drunk and wrecking things that people worked really hard to put together? Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and practicing empathy is not only important when you’re traveling, but also really in life, and it helps you to understand people who are very different from you. Don’t be a greedy westerner: Yes, I’m sure you paid a lot of money for your trip, but that doesn’t mean you can go around being a dick to the locals that are trying to serve you in a completely foreign language. Remember that, in a lot of countries around the world, the majority of the people in those countries are living in poverty. Don’t sit there and complain about how your iPad’s not working or that you didn’t get to relax as much as you thought on your two-week holiday, in front of these people who have nothing. Even if you’re not a westerner, it makes you look bad. Know what’s respectful and disrespectful: It’s worth doing some research if you’re going to somewhere that has a culture very different than what you’re used to to know what little nuances are going to be respectful and disrespectful. So this could be about your clothing choices, it could be about your greeting, about how you order and eat your food. There are lots of little things that you probably wouldn’t think of. You can also ask a local once you arrive to the country what you should know and also, just take note as to what is happening around you. It could save you from looking like a complete butthead. Spread your money: A friend that I met when we were in Vietnam actually turned me on to this. Especially in countries that are third world or developing, it’s a really good idea for you to be spreading your money as much as you can. So this means trying as many different restaurants and food spots that you can, buying souvenirs and items from different vendors, and even trying to stay in hotels that are locally-run as opposed to the big chains that we’re used to around the world. Remember that a smile fixes everything: If you’re having trouble communicating, or you think you’ve maybe made a little bit of a faux pas, in most cultures, a smile fixes almost everything. When there’s a language barrier, remember that in most cultures a smile will help. It shows you mean no disrespect or harm and can show appreciation if you’re not sure how to show it with words. And finally, don’t worry, because once in a while you’re going to slip up and do something that might not be as respectful as you hope, but that’s okay! You can’t know everything, so don’t worry. Again, that’s where a smile comes in and helps, and you might even get some giggles from the locals who think it’s funny anyway. For more travel tips on the Love and London channel, you can click my head popping up here to subscribe, and I think you should watch this video next!

29 thoughts on “How to Be a Respectful Traveler

  1. Well as a Brit who constantly travels to the US, I find that the inhabitants don't understand our alleged common language.

  2. These are such great tips. And a lot of them don't even necessarily apply to foreign trips. One thing that I try to remind travelers is to remember that cities aren't amusement parks. People actually live and work there, and everything isn't just in place for their entertainment.

  3. When I went to Turkey for the eclipse in 2006 my working vocabulary of Turkish was about 10 carefully selected words. The locals tended to address me in German. My German, while fumbling, ungrammatical and generally arm-wavy, is still far better than my Turkish. 🙂

  4. thank you for mentioning being considerate of the environment, not only elephants are in danger because of tourists but other animals like camels and ecosystems like the ocean from sunscreen that bleaches the coral

  5. wow, this is really a great video. i feel like you don't see a lot of first world people knowledgable enough to bring up the issues you brought up and evaluate them.

  6. This is awesome Jess. Those tips are really important and great and people should know these things not only while traveling but also in life. Thanks a lot for sharing these. Great video!

  7. I'm Vietnamese n I just found your channel 2 weeks ago, I'm going for a trip to London this month. I think your recommendations are really helpful. please keep doing these amazing videos. btw, it's fantastic that you went to our country and really understand, being so respectful like that 😆💓

  8. This was an incredible video. Thanks so much for opening my eyes and ears because often times we tend to forget to mind our manners. This is great when traveling and hope to keep it in mind when I travel.

  9. Great tips not only while traveling but in our daily lives, things will be better around the world of we consider to behave with respect

  10. I found that politeness goes a long way in Asian countries, particularly Japan and Korea where there are many cultural rules

  11. Hey, thanks for the great and helpful info you are giving, you were good untill you mentioned "Thirld World Coutries" (where i live – Egypt), i can't really find the right words to tell you how much i am insulted WOW, please watch out for what you say, maybe you are an idol for somebody who will copy what you say….be a good one.
    Thanks and have a good day (from a "Third World Country" Egyptian citizen.

  12. Hahahaha yes call out my fellow Americans because most of us are assholes. My fiance made fun of me because we're going on a cruise in spring of 2020 and 4 of the stops are in Italy so I'm really trying to get a bunch of the language learned and then basic phrases in the other languages. I'm like hey, I don't want to be an asshole tourist!!! Thank you for this!

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