Travel destinations are not just for tourists

It’s 2018. Money laundering is the everyday, environmentalists will be our future doctors and our children may be faced with the question of which passport to use. This almost hilarious, globalised life we live is the result of so much historical tension and confusion and, the truth is, an immense cathartic relief lies in being able to coexist and understand it all.

Affordable and efficient travelling is one of globalisation’s handy inventions. And honestly, it’s not every century that you get jet lag instead of contracting scurvy. A lot of us now have the liberty to travel transnationally; to experience different cultures, landscapes and mentalities and then bring them home in the form of a photograph. That being said, there are some 21st century mistakes that we should correct: the way we travel.

Due to its convenience, some travellers are said to ‘mistreat’ a place, and in turn, the people living in it. Generally speaking, it’s very difficult not to carry your own culture on your back when travelling overseas. The assumption that people from other nations will accommodate your views, expectations and norms is highly unrealistic. Hence what may seem a cultural quirk to one, may be perceived as disrespect to another. Talking loudly, sitting on landmarks of significant historical value, feeling silently frustrated at a local’s inability to speak your language, or even subconsciously prioritising your short-term, fun experiences over their daily schedules, are some of the many cultural phenomena that  everyone should be aware of.

What’s the best way to tackle this though?

Having noticed my own tendencies when travelling, I’ve learned not to assume that anyone should live and serve for a tourist’s short-lived experience. As someone who ‘comes and goes’ from the perspective of a local civilian, I have also found it so vital to read into the history and cultural norms of the place. Not only does this render a stronger appreciation for the people there, but it also makes every moment that much richer as you can understand it better.

Yes, tourism is meant to be enjoyable and can be great from an economic standpoint, but no place is the same. It’s hard to enjoy a place if the people there carry a sense of resentment towards travellers who oversimplify their culture, and undermine or disrespect what their community is proud of.

As for those who deem travelling a short break from reality – you should be able to be yourself wherever you go and travelling should never control that. Even amidst moments of relaxation, we should all be mindful of how we treat others and ask ourselves whether we’ve left the country in a better place by treating it like home.

Perhaps human beings are not wired for long-distance travel; our stomachs can hardly handle the changes in diet. Though since we’re at it, maybe it’s time to realise what implications our travels will have and to acknowledge our mistakes, so to not repeat them.

Image: dronepicr via Flickr

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