We travel to see and experience new cultures, yet the majority of travelers show an abject ignorance of anything other than a westernized world view.

Please do not insult or ignore the rites of others, show some respect and appreciate that if you want the cultures of those countries you visit to continue to flourish, then you need to be more than just a tourist to foreign ways of living.

Try and acquaint yourself with local customs, be sensitive that many aspects of your way of living which you take for granted may be insulting to others.

This is predominantly the case, with western sexual attitudes and dress. Other cultures, especially Muslim areas will be offended by naked flesh in public and overt signs of sexual appreciation, i.e. kissing in public.

Read up and research the area you intend to visit in advance, but don’t just rely on guide books.

Talk to locals and observe their way of life to get a better understanding of the culture you are surrounded by.

In Thailand, for example, pointing is considered rude as is showing the soles of your feet, in China spitting is commonplace, however in the UK is considered rude and uncouth.

Different religions and cultures import different meanings to a wealth of activities. It would be futile to try and cover the ‘do’s and don’t’s of social etiquette from around the world, instead do some research.

Getting to Know the Culture

Responsible travel involves more than just being a passive observer. Try to get to know the culture you are visiting, both for your own personal enrichment and also to avoid accidentally offending those around you with different beliefs and views.

A good way to get to know a culture better is to try and lean some of its language. A simple ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ can go a long way to breaking down barriers.

Also take note of local dress. In many cultures women are required to cover up substantially.

As a general rule, dressing smartly, will garner more respect. A rich westerner who dresses sloppily in dirty clothes can be considered as insulting in the face of a poorer tribe, which despite their poverty make an effort to appear smart.

Use local residents as guides to gain a more grounded perspective of an area, and teach you local etiquette.

There are many cases of small tribes becoming entirely dependent upon cultural tours. Question what good a tribe or village gains from your visit.

Do they receive a portion of the proceeds to improve their infrastructure? Is their traditional livelihood being maintained? Or do they solely exist now to amuse a bus of gaping gap year students with a trigger happy penchant for clicking on their digital camera.

In short, ask first, and do not treat people as objects, a township in Soweto may be a million miles from your home, but poverty is poverty and snapping those ‘gritty and real’ pictures of people begging on the street for your own end does few moral favors.

Culture Bargaining – Bargaining, Bartering, Haggling

Many countries rely on a culture of bargaining. To the traveller this seems to represent a challenge to haggle relentlessly over the miniscule amounts of money which they wouldn’t give a second thought about in everyday life.

Bear in mind that a small amount to you, can represent a day’s food or more to the vendor.

Bargaining should be done in good humour and even though you will inevitably be paying an inflated price, I can guarantee that it doesn’t begin to bear on what you would pay at home.

A classic complaint from travelers is that they pay double what locals pay.

My response is that even on minimum wages, the traveler probably earns 50 times what a local does, so we’re not doing too badly overall.

Bargain in the spirit of the situation, not as a means of competition.

Tips on Begging

Begging always presents a difficult situation for the ethical traveller.

Always carefully evaluate requests for gifts and money. As a general rule, as difficult as it is, you should never give money to beggars.

This is especially difficult with regard to children who are often kept out of school to beg as a form of income by their parents. By handing out money you are ultimately condoning these methods.

If you want to give, then buy essential goods to hand out like food, water, blankets and toiletries. The most efficient way to help though is by supporting local and charities which can direct your money to the most needy in the most cost effective manner.

Although you won’t get the immediate gratification, that handing out a few pesetas to a street beggar may bring, in the long term you will be making a larger overall impact to the problem at hand.

When purchasing souvenirs try and buy from local markets and handcrafts so that the money goes directly to local businesses.

Eat in local restaurants and cafes too as far as possible, rather than western imports selling the staple of burgers and chips, as these can threaten the livelihood of local restaurants.