I wish I had thought of that before I arrived. I should have known better.
I’ve often had these thoughts while discovering a new place. It’s taken years of travel and best practice advice from experts to become a more thoughtful traveler.
Continue reading for simple steps to becoming a great guest in a new land.
1. Learn how to say “thank you”.
Take a minute to search “thank you” in the local language before you go, and play the pronunciation feature a few times. If you want to go above and beyond, download a language app like Duolingo or Babbel, or buy a phrasebook.
2. Travel with thank you cards.
This small gesture goes a long way. Express your gratitude to your host family, local tour guide, or fellow travelers.
3. Pack a reusable water bottle, straw, and bag.
Say adios to plastic. Your water bottle will become your best friend because water = life, especially when traveling. It’s important to stay hydrated and be green. Let’s save the turtles and say no to single-use straws. You can find reusable metal, bamboo or silicone straws on Amazon.
4. Eat like a local!
Arguably the best way to discover a culture is through food. Ask locals for the best spots to eat around town, and begin your food adventure. Take it a step further and learn how to say “delicious” in the local language.
5. Learn the stories behind photographs.
Beyond snapping a photo, talk to the people who may be in the picture and take note of any cultural significance. Provide more meaning by simply writing down how you were feeling at that moment.
6. Turn off the lights.
Save energy! When you leave your hotel room, Airbnb, ecolodge, or host family, be sure to turn off the lights, fans, and air conditioning.
7. Shop local!
Once you have your reusable bag it’s time to go souvenir shopping. After hours, days, or weeks of travel, you deserve to bring home something unique from your destination. Products made by local artisans are often one-of-a-kind and better quality than commercial tourist shops. Support the local economy and remember your adventures with local art.
8. Choose kind words.
Cultural traditions aren’t dumb or weird. They’re unique and different. Food is not disgusting. It’s interesting and flavorful. One of the most enjoyable parts of travel is discovering a way of life different than our own.
9. Brush up on history.
Before you head out, take some time to learn more about your destination’s history (when you enroll in a Rustic program, we’ll send you some information about your destination country). Having a little context provides a deeper understanding of the culture and helps as a conversation starter. I like to make a notecard with basic info on religion, population, language, and key historical moments.
10. Consider your body language.
This includes smiling, bowing, and more—observe the local culture and think about your body language and the message it sends to those around you.
11. Ask questions.
Curiosity breaks the ice and shows others that you’re interested in learning more about them. You can start with some simple questions: “What’s the most popular music here?” or “What do you enjoy most about your home?”
Take these tips with you on your next adventure. The world needs more thoughtful travelers. What would you add to this list?
Want to put these tips to use during an immersive student travel experience? Check out all of the programs that are still available for this summer.
Scott is the Director of Admissions at Rustic Pathways. He has spent the last 15 years in the student travel and experiential education world. Before helping families find the perfect Rustic Pathways program, he led gap year programs that took students around the world and spent three years teaching English in Japan.