I feel like I’m playing cliché bingo with these posts at times… but seriously, are you a mindful tourist? No, I am not asking if you meditate each morning, but rather are you conscious of your surroundings, mindful of your responsibilities as a guest of each location you visit, and maximising your travels?
I think it’s safe to say that when any of us go travelling, we take at least a few photos at standard tourist landmarks – like me above at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens. Whenever you visit sites like this, there are countless boards and signs either at the entrance, or all around the site making clear the specific rules for that location. But are there any general rules we should always follow when travelling?
My number 1 rule is to have a cultural awareness of the city / country / region I am visiting and exploring. Taking some time to research prior to travelling benefits everyone – it means that you get a more authentic experience and you can plan your trip accordingly, and it means that the local environment is impacted as little as possible.
For example, if I am visiting a country in the middle east it is likely that the weekend will be Friday & Saturday whilst Sunday is a normal working day and I will adjust plans accordingly. The working week as we know it – Monday to Friday – is based on Christianity, with Saturday a day of rest and Sunday a day of worship. Different countries with different official religions therefore follow slightly different working weeks.
In countries where religion is still a strong part of society, holy days often see shops and restaurants close for at least part of the day with only skeleton services operating. Plan your trip with this in mind, and be respectful of religious customs.
Seek Out Authenticity
Naturally, locations with high tourist footfall cater for those tourists with standard food & drink (e.g. pizza & burgers), and souvenirs – the vast majority of which will likely be drastically over priced and poor quality.
So whilst visiting the tourist attractions is likely going to form part of any trip – they are normally tourist hot spots for a reason – I will avoid eating and drinking in these areas, and search out restaurants serving local cuisine and bars frequented by the local population. Are souvenirs a necessity? For some, yes – a magnet or a shot glass maybe – shops throughout each city / location will sell almost identical items but often far better value for money the further you get from the attraction itself.
I know the point re food is potentially a little contentious, but for me personally I cannot understand why anyone would travel to a foreign country to eat the same food they do at home. I will avoid “English” or “American” foods as much as possible, and opt for local dishes. You don’t know if you like it if you never try it!
Plan Ahead… Be Prepared To Change
This one sounds a little stupid, but it’s one of the most important to maximise the experience. I will always make plans well before I arrive in a location – from day trips & restaurant reservations to the approximate route I will walk (or at least an order of certain landmarks I will visit). Despite this, I will also be prepared to change and cancel the plans I have pre-booked… and here is why;
No matter how much research and planning goes in to a trip, until boots are on the ground and the experience is being lived, you don’t really have a genuine feel for the place. Often when you are in a location new opportunities arise – maybe you get talking to a local and get invited to a gig or for a meal, you see a day trip to a location you hadn’t considered, you get told about a must see location off the tourist trail. Whatever it is, be prepared to say YES!
I have often found the best experiences come in these spontaneous moments. Even the ones that aren’t what you expect can provide a laugh and a great memory – if I hadn’t said yes, I wouldn’t have been driven around Bucharest in an old Lada in the middle of the night, with a guy who had a photo in his wallet of him with Pablo Escobar… it’s a long story.
Make The Most Of It!
Whenever I travel to a location I know the likelihood is I will not return there – no matter how much I love it. I just have too many places on my travel bucket list – and whilst maybe a little unrealistic, I want to travel the entire world before I go back to revisit locations.
Whether or not you share that ethos, the chances of you returning to that same city or location are pretty slim. So make the most of your time there! I travel with the sole intention of exploring, so I aim to maximise every moment I have there;
Need an early start a couple of mornings to fit things in? DO IT.
Have a couple of late nights to get the full authentic experience and don’t get a full 8 hours sleep? DO IT.
Get invited to spend an evening with locals? DO IT.
Life is uncertain – as we have seen over the last couple of years – so I live each trip as if it’s my last & do everything I ever wanted to do in that city or that location. If you have planned a holiday to relax, then do just that – chill out and don’t plan anything in. It’s not something I do anymore, but each to their own! To be honest, if you are booking a holiday to chill, I doubt you have got this far through the post…
English & Irish Bars
Here we go. The only ‘negative’ rule on my list. Do not go to an English or an Irish Pub unless you are in… England or Ireland!!!
As a young kid I used to be really confused as to why English tourists had such a bad name… and then I discovered English bars, such as The George and Dragon in Prague’s famous old town square and Irish Bars, with a variety of generic Irish names and often the image of a Leprechaun or 4 leaf clover. Normally frequented by people wearing English football shirts with either St George’s cross flag or bull dog tattoos.
Just no. Under no circumstance is it ever ok to go in any bars like this. If you see one, you are probably in the wrong part of town!
What are your travel do’s and don’ts? Leave a comment and let me know!