Travelling can feel rather self-indulgent at times. You spend your days gazing upon beautiful sights and consuming delicious food. No responsibilities, complete freedom and without a care in the world. However, this self-indulgence can lead to a bit of self-centredness if it’s not kept in check. Here are some ways to be a kinder traveller, so that your enjoyment doesn’t come at the detriment of others!
1. Give to Buskers
Don’t you just love walking down charming cobblestoned streets with an piano accordion playing in the background? Or passing a string quartet on the metro? It’s such a joy to be in spaces that are alive with music played by talented musicians. Show your appreciation for them taking the time to sharing their art with you, and give them a few of your small coins.
2. But don’t give to street kids
Nothing breaks my heart more then seeing children begging for money on the street. Sometimes, they really know how to pull off that oh-so-adorable face and it’s hard to resist digging out your wallet. However, giving them money turns them into profitable, money-making machines to those who might take advantage of them. This can encourage their parents or guardians to continue sending them out into the streets, rather than to school. Remember in Slum Dog Millionaire how they blinded one poor little boy because then he would get more money begging? Please don’t fund this.
Show kindness and love in other ways, like playing with them, talking to them and buying them food. Save your money for local charities where you can actually be certain your money is going to a good cause.
3.Carry spare bags
We can’t forget to be kind to the environment, as well as to the people we encounter in our travels. Stuff some of those cheap canvas bags or even old plastic bags into the bottom of your backpack, then you won’t need to consume more plastic bags every time you buy something.
4. Eat vegetarian/vegan
It’s a well established fact that animal agriculture is one of the worst contributors to climate change. We know that meat consumption is a really inefficient use of resources, which is hard to justify when half the world doesn’t have enough to eat. It’s also just a whole lot kinder to refrain from funding the death of an animal by buying meat products. I’m not a vegetarian or a vegan (I’ve never been able to maintain it for more than short stints), but it really is the ethically better choice, and so we should all try to eat less meat.
5. Ask permission before taking someone’s photo
When I was in India, I often encountered guys who would sit near me and not-so-sneakily snap a selfie with me in it. It felt really intrusive and rude. Sometimes they would ask me for a selfie, and often I would still say no, but at least they had the manners to ask. It’s really rude to just go snapping at people without asking for their consent. Be polite and ask.
6. Learn ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in the local language
Manners just make it so much smoother to connect with other people. It’s a simple thing, but it will make a big difference to how people perceive you and the kind of treatment you receive in return. Locals always appreciate it when you try and speak their language, even if you completely botch it!
7. Smile at people!
Female travellers are often told not to smile at men in Asia or the Middle East because it supposedly gives the wrong impression. In some cultures, a big toothy smile and direct eye-contact is not the normal way for a girl to say hi to a man passing by on the street. While you should certainly be aware and respectful of this cultural difference, don’t let it get in the way of being friendly! I’d say use your best judgement when it comes to smiling at strange men. But don’t forget you can still give a great big smile to women, children, families, couples and elderly people. Make an effort to brighten people’s days through your warm, friendly smile.
8. Invite solo travellers to join your group
I usually travel solo, which I absolutely love. However, this means that I’m well acquainted with the feeling of loneliness when there’s a big loud group of friends at the hostel and I’m not a part of it. I find it easy to introduce myself to other solo travellers, but it’s more intimidating when it’s a group. If you are ever part of such a group, make an effort to include the people around you who may not know anyone else. Even if they are a little shy at first, they will always appreciate you making the effort to include them!
If there’s one thing people in modern Western society are lacking, it’s time. We rush from work to university to parties to the gym, trying to pack our days full of exhausting activities without stopping to take a breath. The idea of donating this most precious commodity may be hard to swallow. However, you’ll almost certainly feel fantastic after using your time to help other people. It’s a kind of warm-fuzziness inside that’s even better than mulled wine. Trust me, you need some of this in your life!
10. But don’t ‘voluntour’
Like the business of child beggars, the business of voluntourism is also doing more harm than good. Tell-tale signs that it’s not an organisation you want to be working for are:
- It’s a short term program where you make connections with kids only to desert them after a week.
- They don’t require any particular skills or expertise and/or you’ll be doing work that could be done by locals (i.e. building a school) and therefore taking away jobs from locals.
- Volunteering at orphanages. Although there are undoubtably some great orphanages out there, unfortunately many are more sinister. Some take children away from their families, keep them in terrible conditions, and use this to get money from tourists. The best option is always for the child to stay with their parents, in a family unit, rather than be institutionalised in an orphanage.
Do a lot of research on your organisation before you go volunteering overseas!
11. Stay away from the animals
Following on from the point about vegetarianism, animal tourism is also resulting in a lot of suffering. We all know the sad stories behind Thailand’s tiger sanctuaries and about elephant riding. Watch out for things like camel treks, zoos and even safaris. Do your research to ensure your money is going to animal conservation, rather than harming them. Also never feed the wildlife, let them do what they do best: be wild.
12. Share your food
No list of mine would be complete without this point. Not only is it a way to make instant friends, it’s also just really lovely to have someone to chat with and get to know while you eat. It’s a secret to success according to a book by Keith Ferrazzi, so better get sharing, folks! Also, we’re backpackers and we’re poor and I can’t be bothered trying to find a nice, cheap restaurant so please give me some of that pasta you’re cooking that smells so amazing. I really will be your friend for the rest of your life.
13. Be interested in people
I recently read a book called Flourish by Martin Seligman and something that stood out to me was about how to have relationship-building conversations. This may come naturally to some people, but for me, keeping up a conversation can be difficult sometimes. So, what is this secret? ‘Active constructive responding.’
Say you’re at a hostel and you met someone who told you they’ve recently visited Mumbai. You could say ‘Oh wow, cool,’ or ‘I’ve heard it’s really dirty there.’ Both of these are not active constructive responses.
Instead say something like: ‘That’s awesome! Good on you for going to such a crazy city! What foods did you try? How were the tourist sights? Tell me about the people you met? How did the city make you feel?’. These sorts of questions show that you’re interested and enthusiastic about what they’ve just told you. They also keep the conversation going, and let you learn a little bit more about them. Don’t forget to also listen actively to their replies!
14. Keep your cool
When you’re on the road, you’re not always in the mood to be kind. You’re lost, sleep deprived, hungry and poor, so when you find out your flight is delayed or you get overcharged by a driver, you’re prone to lose your shit. Often these things are just unavoidable parts of the travel game and they’re not really anyone’s fault. You might even have misunderstood the situation.
Please, don’t start yelling at people, raising your voice and turning red in the face. Don’t swear, don’t throw a tantrum and definietly don’t start punching hard surfaces. Take a few deep breaths, remember that you’re the guest in their country, and maybe things are done differently here. It’s all part of the travel experience, it’s ups and it’s downs. Remember how lucky you are to be able to travel in the first place. Calmly, respectfully and politely ask for some help and you’ll be much more likely to have your problem solved.
What are your tips and tricks for being kind while on the road?