Today is World Tourism Day! Each year, the World Tourism Organization focuses on raising awareness of tourism’s social, cultural, political and economic value. The day is also meant to serve as a reminder of sustainable and mindful travel. Today we thought we’d dive in to some great tips on how to be a respectful visitor abroad, provided by both experts and API alumni.
1. Do some research
Not only should you look into the history of the country you’re visiting, you should also make sure you’re aware of local customs. This includes everything from expectations of tipping to public displays of affection. There are also expectations of dress to keep in mind, too. For example, the Vatican has a dress code for both men and women, and mosques in the UAE will expect women to wear an abaya.
2. Learn some of the local language
This is especially easy to do when you study abroad, even if the classes you’re taking are in your native language. Many programs offer language classes in their curriculum. In addition, program providers (like API) have language exchange options in some locations. This typically involves meeting a local on a weekly or bi-weekly basis to chat with each other and learn more about each other’s languages.
At the very least, head into a new country with a few basic phrases under your belt. You’ll be very grateful to know how to ask where a restroom is, and the person you ask will be grateful that they don’t have to guess what you’re saying!
3. Live with a host family
Host family placements are a fantastic way to be a respectful and mindful traveler! There is no better way to fully immerse yourself in a new country. You’ll learn more about the similarities and differences between your culture and another. In addition, host families are paid a stipend to help provide for your meals, laundry service and more. Your decision to live with a family also helps that family make a living! Some of our alumni who have chosen to go the host family route have said it was the best part of their experience.
If you do choose this option, be sure to be a respectful guest! Clean up after yourself where you can and offer to help with dishes or other housework. As a thank you to your host family, consider bringing a gift from your home country or offering to make them a favorite meal from your childhood.
4. Mind your surroundings
No matter how carefully you plan a trip abroad, there’s going to come a moment when you’re a bit lost or turned around! In these situations, though, make sure you’re still aware of the people around you. Try not to stop in the middle of a crowded sidewalk to take a look at your map or phone. Avoid blocking busy crosswalks or local businesses. Remember, you may be on the trip of a lifetime, but most of the people around you are trying to go about their daily routines. Minding your surroundings is also a great way to stay safe while traveling abroad!
5. Support local & give back
When you’re in a new place and feeling overwhelmed, seeing a Starbucks or McDonald’s can be a welcome sight. But try not to get in the habit of eating at big chain restaurants you can eat at home. Find local cafes or breakfast joints for your morning cup of coffee, and be sure to try out local restaurants around the area. Valuing local foods and customs is a great way to express appreciation to your host country.
In addition, take some time out of your travels to give back to the community. At API, we put together API Gives Back projects each semester. These volunteer projects vary. From painting schools in Santiago to running a 5k for breast cancer research in Bilbao, it’s important to us that our students and interns have the opportunity to say “thank you” to their host country in some way.
Other ways to be a sustainable traveler
The World Monuments Fund has a sustainable travel pledge you can sign. By doing so, you’re committing to do even more when you go abroad: conserve natural resources, offset your carbon footprint, and visiting lesser-known attractions that aren’t in danger due to overtourism.