Are you a little weary of hearing about yet another ‘Bucket List’?
We understand. Because travel has evolved from just ticking sightseeing experiences or eating an exotic delicacy on a list.
Today, all journeys must be enriching.
They must stir inside our souls and light a fire in our hearts.
But, how do you find authenticity in a world of commercialism and marketing overstimulation?
That is our favorite part of the job… To connect you with those ancient cultures, those once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and those unforgettable moments you will treasure forever. These experiences are what will make your vacation ‘next-level’ awesome. These are the stories you take home to your grandchildren.
The only way in is through culture
As experienced travelers who have an endless appreciation for our immense Earth and all the incredible things it houses, we are often asked how best to travel while being respectful and mindful of other cultures, religions, and people. Ultimately, being aware of cultural differences and preparing for them will help to enhance your travel journey and open the door to genuine experiences.
When you respect the beautiful people of the country you travel to, they, in turn, will respect you. They smile more, laugh and joke with you, introduce you to their children, give you a better price in the marketplace, show you a hidden side of the city or a favorite restaurant, they give you desert for free – just because, or they tell you stories of 50 years ago. But above all these people share the most under-valued quality freely available to us all – connection. The connection is what draws us together as a community, what unites us. It allows us to belong and to understand, to feel empathy and to relate.
So, where to start?
How do you enrich your journey by becoming this version of the traveler that we speak of? How do you know when you may be offending someone of a foreign culture (without ever meaning to)?
Let us share our secrets…
1. It’s OK to worry about doing the wrong thing…
To worry means you already care about other people and their culture and shows you want to learn from them. This is amazing. You are already a sensitive traveler in the making. And, if you make a mistake, that’s also OK. It’s how we learn and grow. Simply apologize graciously and take note for next time.
Research the local religion and cultural norms. This is important, as we all like to feel prepared before travels.
We are here to guide you on what may be culturally sensitive in a particular region or country. If you are adventuring through a Muslim country, we suggest being mindful of your dress code. Women should wear loose-fitting clothing which covers their shoulders and not wear anything shorter than knee-length. Men must also show modesty and cover up—typically from navel to knee and also their shoulders and torso if possible. Men’s garments should be above the ankle to avoid dragging on the ground.
In some Asian countries, it is rude to point with your finger, so instead, you can wave and smile. If you are in a modest African village and the women are wearing headscarves – throw a fabulous bright scarf over your head and join the fun – they will undoubtedly comment, and you’ll have instantly created a new friend or three.
3. Be Mindful And Respectful Of Different Religions
OK, let’s talk about religion, which has always been a sensitive subject. Negative views on various religions are painted across the news, we decide how to interpret each one and how to guide you with expert advice.
In our experiences as seasoned travelers who monitor current events daily, these negative views almost always represent a minuscule minority and certainly don’t reflect an entire country, their people, or their practical religion. Learning about other faiths can be fascinating as this is a crucial part of understanding many cultures.
Africa is a mix of nations practicing Christian and Islamic faith, both of which are centuries old and contribute to some of the most significant events in history. Contrary to media images, anyone who frequently travels to Islamic countries finds that religion inspires some of the most caring and kind people we’ve ever met, along with incredible architecture and food!
Regardless of your destination, we always recommend treating everyone equally, irrespective of religion, or belief. This is the fastest path to happiness and enriching travels.
4. What About The Negative Impacts Of Travel?
As more travelers explore the corners of our earth and venture further than ever before, we increasingly notice the impact of tourism. The overall effect might be positive, with a boost to the economy. However, there is a flip side.
Adapting to an influx of tourists may create a demand that forces modernization and misplaces traditional village life, values, and culture. Re-creating or ‘staging’ a once authentic experience is now all too common. Camps in Africa which have no respect for the local communities, wildlife, or environment and may do more damage than good pop up yearly. This leads to poverty, which often results in an increase in begging, petty crime, and hunting for bushmeat.
This is why, at Rothschild Safaris, we are continually researching and spending time on the ground to bring you genuine experiences and accommodations that have maintained their authentic feel while giving back to local communities and national parks, supporting them sustainably, and with respect.
5. Learn the lingo
When you don’t know the local language, learn a few keywords (hello, yes, no, please, thank you). Incorrectly trying to pronounce a strange new word is a hilarious icebreaker in any country, and people appreciate you trying to connect with them.
6. Say thank you and you are unique, in a different way
We all know how to say thank you, it’s so over-done these days that unfortunately, it has lost its value in some places. How do I say thank you? I get creative with an act of kindness. It might be a banana or bag of nuts for the lady who has been working all day in the field without lunch. I could write a note to leave on my bed for the cleaning person who designs adorable creations out of my bath towel each day and leaves a flower on my bed. It might be simply asking how my tour guide is today and if he slept well, what he ate for dinner etc. or helping the little old lady across the road with her groceries. And if you are an animal lover like me, give the tiny kitten some water, or pet the donkey if he looks sad (they love affection).
Those little things don’t cost much but leave a chain of smiles behind.
Tip – this one can be used at home, too!
7. Pack For A Purpose and other local non-profit charities
We know that the world is unfortunately not created equal, and not everyone benefits freely from education, having food on the table regularly, and sleeping under a roof every night.
Many charities in Africa support the conservation of wildlife, which is crucial. But did you know you can also support local schools by bringing children pencils, soccer balls or calculators?
I recently visited a remote nomadic camp in Iran, and while Western children would have asked for candy or a mobile phone, what these children wanted more than anything was colored pencils. So, I pulled out a wad of cash at a tiny stationery shop in the middle of nowhere on my way to the desert and said ‘Hello Big Spender’ to myself. I came away with colored pencils, erasers, coloring books, story books (in both the native language and English – effectively teaching both languages). My grand total for 32 items was… $7…
Yup, I couldn’t believe it either.
And so I visited the nomad camp, books in hand. When my guide translated in Farsi that I had books to give the children, they were confused. Foreigners come here to take photos and leave. Why were they getting such magical fairy-tales and so many colored pencils they’d need a week to choose a color?
What happened next? We spent 2 hours playing soccer, laughing, running around, and had a class photo. Me in the back.
It is crucial to note that in many places, giving children gifts will lead to begging. Please be culturally respectful and always ask your guide’s advice first. Rothschild Safaris always ensures that all our guides know exactly how to handle this situation to the long–term benefit of the entire community. If you do purchase a gift, make it educational or nourishing, and avoid anything that will contribute to the rubbish pile (eg, plastic toys). We recommend this fabulous charity to take all the confusion, stress and decision making out of gift giving – https://www.packforapurpose.org/
8. Our final piece of advice
We are here to guide you on your journey, provide information on what to wear and how to be culturally sensitive. So, once we have all the bases covered and you arrive, fully prepared, our ultimate instruction is to immerse yourself into the local culture, as profoundly as you can.
Listen to the locals tell their stories, smile at them, taste their food, laugh with them. Above all, appreciate all they have to share with you – for, in 30 years, these authentic stories may be distant memories as a result of our ever-changing world.
The time to travel is now.