Sure, tourists boost local economies, but unless it’s done respectfully, you’ll never be truly welcome.
1. Go for as long as possible.
Also known as slow travel, this is a tough one for many North American travelers who get considerably less vacation time than Europeans, but it’s important. I don’t want to go anywhere on holiday for less than a month now. If this means banking vacation time and holding off a trip for several years, so be it. One should stay long enough in a place to make friends.
2. Choose accommodations carefully.
I steer clear of resorts and big chain hotels. Instead, the goal is to seek out small inns, hotels, or bed-and-breakfasts owned by locals, where I know my money will go directly to residents of the country, not a big international corporation.
3. Get off the beaten track.
It’s a fair bet that tourists are more warmly welcomed by locals in unusual destinations than in popular ones, since they haven’t worn out their welcome. This spreads the valuable tourist dollars further afield, instead of pouring them into an already-saturated market. Future off-the-beaten-track destinations on my list include the country of Georgia, Jordan, Corsica, and Basilicata in southern Italy.
4. Put down the camera.
Few things irritate me more than traveling surrounded by people snapping pictures. Since I’m not a professional photographer, I figure that unless I’m taking a picture of my family, there’s always going to be a better shot out there of the same historical site or famous vista. So I consciously try to leave my camera in my pocket and pay attention to what’s going on. It’s amazing how a camera distracts from other sights, sounds, and interesting encounters that could otherwise happen.
5. Learn some language.
The most respectful thing one can do, when planning to visit another country, is to study the language. This is more than learning key phrases or reading them phonetically from a guidebook. This is about learning how the language works. Study the grammar, build a vocabulary, and practice. It goes a long ways toward making a tourist stand out in the crowd and is almost always appreciated by locals.
Regardless of how much you learn, always talk to the locals. I know how much my parents appreciate this in their line of work, when they’re treated by seasonal visitors as respected members of the community, rather than mere service providers and vacation-enablers.
6. Rethink what’s truly relaxing.
With international travel being so cheap, there’s a tendency to assume one should go far afield during vacation – but why? Sometimes there are better options closer to home that are easier to reach, cheaper to visit, and far more relaxing. For example, I regret jetting off to Costa Rica for our honeymoon seven years ago, when, really, all my husband and I wanted to do was sleep and take a break from parenting. We should’ve gone to a rustic Ontario inn for a week, paid a fraction of the cost, eaten like royalty, and not felt like we had to do a million touristy things just because we were there.