At home, ignorance of the law is no excuse for not following it. The same goes for other countries. It's also wise to follow the customs of the land. A respectful approach to both the laws and customs of the country you're visiting is fundamental to your trip going safely and smoothly.
While it is worth reading up on the basic laws and customs of your destination, it is unlikely that you will gather all the nuance that you will actually encounter when there. Here are a few tips to help you travel safely by respecting local cultures.
- Take a step back and observe. Take pause and observe what the locals do before you walk into a public space or even pick up a tomato at a vegetable stand. You’ll avoid going into places you shouldn't tread and discover what good manners are in that culture.
- Dress conservatively. This is especially important in cultures where dress is a reflection of respect. Better to try to blend in than to draw attention to yourself and risk offending.
- Respect what is highly valued in the countries you visit. Electricity and water are often precious commodities. Conserve both as you travel and you can't go wrong. Likewise, show respect for dearly-held traditions. Here are a few examples of customs you may encounter around the world.
- Live the rhythm of the destination. If siestas are the norm, don’t disturb people by looking for an open store mid-day.
- Give back to the community to be appreciated and protected by locals. You can do this by giving to a local charity, supporting local artists and craftspeople, or lending a hand when the opportunity presents itself. Solo Travel Society member Bobbie once found herself helping out locals in the aftermath of an earthquake in Sauraha, Nepal. In the process, she learned much from how the community responded in the face of disaster, and how they kept her safe.
- Learn a bit about the history. Understanding the origins of a culture will help you better understand their world view and specific customs. Take the opportunity to learn more from those who grew up in the culture.
- Recognize your own prejudices and leave your biases at the door. Don't judge the culture through the lens of your own. Look for commonalities as well.
- Look for the good. Realize that, just like at home, what one person does or says is not necessarily representative of an entire culture. Be patient. Find the good and you'll likely stay on the right side of safety as well.
For more on respecting and enjoying local culture as you travel, check out our 10 Tips to Survive Culture Shock.