The Importance Of Respect When You Travel.

CAMBODIA Angkor Wat

In a month that has already seen tourists famously deported from Cambodia for stripping, yet another couple have gotten themselves into trouble for disrespecting local customs and sensitivities. Maybe it is time for a wake up call to all travellers to remember that we are not tourists on a jolly to a package holiday club destination and we do have a responsibility to show a little respect to the destinations and the cultures we visit.

Earlier this month three French tourists were deported for taking nude pictures inside Angkor Wat alongside a six month suspended prison sentence, and are banned from entering Cambodia for four years.

Now two American women have been caught and arrested for ‘taking nude photos of each other’. What they actually did was take photos of each other pulling their pants down and baring their backsides thinking it was somehow hilarious.

It’s all fun and games until someone gets deported, isn’t it?

These two sisters are now facing the same fate as the French tourists before them.

At the end of the day Angkor Wat is not just a world heritage site containing the ruins of numerous capitals of the Khmer Empire, it is considered a holy site! A site of religious import! Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for having a good party and if someone wants to have a few drinks and strip off at a club then I’m all for it. I may even join in and ruin the party for everyone!

But there is a time and a place!

And on a religious site where locals will be offended is not it!

It isn’t just Cambodia of course, go anywhere around the world and you will see tourists clambering over fragile world heritage sites for a good photo op, women straight off a cruise ship in Muslim countries wearing hot pants and bikini tops, men getting unbelievably drunk and sprawling all over the road. Tourists vandalising ancient sites with grafitti or damaging them in other ways.  Tourist after tourist blindly and ignorantly offending local culture and sensitivities.

It is important to remember that we are guests in these countries and that you have to be respectful when travelling the world.

As travellers we do have a responsibility to be just a bit more respectful. No one expects you to completely understand all the nuances and practicalities of each culture you visit, but they do expect you to do just a little research, know just a little bit about the culture and think and act responsibly.

Backpacking the world and travelling independently has never been easier, and parts of the world that only a few years ago rarely saw western visitors are seeing massive tourism booms. This is thanks in part to independent travellers and backpackers in essence leading the way, where independent travellers lead, package tour operators usually follow.

This can be a huge boon to those countries and bring with it a lot of benefits to the local population and the travellers too. But it can also bring a lot of negative influences.

It is our responsibility as travellers to make sure we don’t contribute toward the latter.

By doing your research, by understanding at least a little of the culture and by at least making as much effort as possible to respect the countries you visit,  you can have a positive affect on how tourism develops. You can make sure that the travel industry develops in a sustainable way, respects cultural heritage and benefits the local communities economically and socially without contributing to the negative image of tourists around the world. All you have to do is just be a little respectful. Everything else stems from that.

Be part of the solution, not the problem.

Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

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Michael Huxley is a published author, freelance travel writer and founder of Bemused Backpacker. He is also a charge nurse by vocation with an interest in emergency nursing and travel medicine, but his real passion is travel. Since finding his wanderlust a decade ago in South East Asia, he has bounced from one end of the planet to another and has no intention of slowing down.

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Posted in Travel Talk
28 comments on “The Importance Of Respect When You Travel.
  1. borntostitch says:

    I agree totally I am often left shaking my head at people’s behaviour, how they dress and even worse how they speak to locals when we are travelling. It is not hard ot learn a little about a culture and behave appropriately.

  2. Upasna says:

    I couldn’t agree more! Great post

  3. thegrownupgapyear says:

    This is spot on! I agree that we all make mistake sometimes, but there have been times when I have been so embarrassed by the behaviour of fellow tourists. I think many countries are starting to get fed up with it too, as this case clearly shows…

    • I know exactly what you mean. I have made endless mistakes over the years! Some pretty big ones too I later found out! But I have found that if your intent is genuine, if you make a real effort to try, people are very forgiving and very open to teaching you. I think that is one of the best parts of travel. Yes, I’ll undoubtedly make mistakes, but I’ll learn too because I started with a bit of respect. And I think you’re right about countries getting fed up of it but I think it goes deeper than law enforcement crackdowns, it shows in how locals treat tourists and by extension travellers too. They have no reason to respect us if we don’t respect them.

  4. Minority Nomad says:

    I’m the king of devils advocacy. But disrespecting people and their culture in THEIR country is just inexcusable. This is why I rarely find punishments levied on foreigners to be too harsh (provided their guilty). Of these idiots are thrown in jail I wouldn’t bat an eye. Their actions have far reaching impact beyond themselves. The perception of every foreigner is impacted. We’re already fighting against the “ugly american” stereotype and then DING this.

    I’ll go one step furthur though. Ex-Pats who treat locals like slaves. I just spent a few weeks in Ubud,Bali. Those expats are some of the worse people on the planet. Pretentious and reveling in their colonialism. The Balinese are treated like their slaves and are too damn nice to do anything. It’s sickening.

    • Haha, could not agree more! It is totally inexcusable. Oh, I have seen those ex pats too. Not all are like that of course but I do know the particular breed you mean! Gives all us travellers a bad name! Thanks for the comment. 🙂

  5. Sharon Greene says:

    A good reminder that we are guests in someone else’s country. If you wouldn’t strip or moon the camera in your local church or synagogue, you probably should think twice about doing it in someone else’s holy site. Common sense seems to be lacking here for some tourists.

  6. kariannedisalvo says:

    I struggled on a daily basis with the behaviour of tourists as we traveled around Asia. Woman in skimpy tops and short skirts, wandering around temples (taking off the scarf’s they had been given to cover up the moment they were out of sight of any security), people chasing monks down the road in Laos and people climbing all over religious sites.

    What makes me even more angry,is that a lot of the time, its not ignorance or naivity – people will happy ignore local customs to ensure that they get the photo they want. They don’t care who they offend in the process. There were posters and signs all over Luang Prabang explaining the customs of the alms giving – however, tourists still chased the monks, setting flashes off in their faces and taking selfies while apparently taking part in a religious custom.

    People need to research more before they visit somewhere, but they also need to put local customs and respect before their desperate need to get an amazing photo.

  7. Elle says:

    Totally agree! Another thing that angers me is that these people are in essence ‘representing’ their countries! A good way to give your country a bad rap for sure!

  8. Megan Kubasch says:

    I read an article once on a travel blog about how a the traveller tried to help an elderly woman who seemed to be struggling on a set of stairs. The elderly woman became extremely offended and started shouting at her to leave. There are so many little nuances like that that we all need to be aware of when we visit other cultures. What may be acceptable where you live, may not be acceptable where you travel. Great Post.

    • Thank you! I know what you mean there are so man little nuances we can’t expect. Mistakes are in one way inevitable, but as long as they are made from a place of respect and are used as a learning curve then they can be a positive instead of a negative. Thanks for the comment.

  9. Qoftwignberry says:

    I totally agree that this is such an important concept that is lost on so many. Especially when traveling, you are an outsider. The goal is for you to learn about the place you are visiting and see what makes it unique, not the other way around.

  10. Jess DiGiannurio says:

    This post is very informative, respect may not be huge in the US but its obviously a big deal in other countries and travelers need to understand that!

  11. taravdunn says:

    I agree, but sometimes have a hard time when women, for example, find themselves in some kind of trouble because of their attire. I understand respecting another culture when visiting a new place, but at the same time I think expecting us to dress according to someone else’s belief is too much. I’m not advocating nudity or indecency, I mean let’s be reasonable, but I don’t know… that one part bothers me. As far as everything else, I feel like it would be rude and out of place no matter where you go, home or abroad.

    • Why do you have a hard time? I don’t think it is too much at all Tara. When you are at home, you can do whatever you want and wear whatever you want, it isn’t a problem. But when you travel you should modify your dress according to local customs, local sensitivities and specific rules (such as visiting religious sites) and that goes for men and women. On one hand it is an important part of blending in and decreasing the risks of anything negative happening, on the other – arguably more important – side, it is about showing respect to the culture you are visiting.

  12. Elizabeth Hampton says:

    I agree completely! I get so angry when I see people on their travels behaving as the sterotypical “ugly American”. And yes, I am American and I feel that type of behavior makes us Americans and tourists in general all look bad. I don’t want to be associated with such ignorance. I can understand people making mistakes, we can’t know everything about every culture all the time. For example while teaching in Korea I learned the hard way never to write a student’s name in red ink while we were playing a game. I had no idea that Koreans write the names of the deceased in red. But once I learned this, I was careful which color marker I used. I also witnessed while visiting Foz do Iguacu in Brazil, several young tourists pulling down their pants and mooning the camera in front of the water falls, and not to mention several children that were present. This is plain disrespectful to everyone. I’m not uptight, I just think everyone needs to be more mindful and show respect to the culture of the country they are visiting. Thanks for posting this article!

    • Thanks Elizabeth, I don’t think it’s just an American thing. There are travellers and tourists from every country who behave with this shocking lack of respect, and it isn’t being uptight to expect people to behave with just a little decorum. I’ve made mistakes myself when travelling, everyone does, that is partly how you grow and learn about new cultures, but the difference is I generally got away with it with a polite sorry and locals showing me how to act or what to do. People all over the world are very lenient and understanding I think, provided you show respect.

  13. adrianakroeller says:

    It’s never occurred to me to rip off my clothes (and I’m no stranger to it!) in places like this. I agree with your article and like to add that people should be careful with their cameras period. I live in Munich Germany, a country that associates nudity with health. There is quite a bit if public nudity at the parks, and I can’t stand it when I see tourists take their cameras to take photos of the sunbathers, it’s so horrible and disrespectful. Travel is supposed to be about broadening your mind and these types of behaviors are just plain rude and disrespectful

    • Totally agree. I’m no prude myself and in a private party or somewhere appropriate (as you say nude beaches) I have no problem with it. I regularly used to use the Onsens (hot springs) in Japan where it is completely culturally acceptable to be naked for example. But there is a time and a place, and clearly a sacred bloody mountain isn’t it! I agree with your point about cameras too. There is just an astounding lack of respect in some people sometimes. Thanks for the comment. 🙂

  14. S. Bennett says:

    Another great article, I love your blog.

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Hi, I'm Michael! I'm a published author, qualified nurse and world travelling professional adventurer! I have spent 15 years travelling over 100 countries and I want to inspire you to do the same! Want to know more about me? Just click here!

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