If you've travelled enough, chances are that you've encountered at least one of them: the traveller that leaves you embarrassed to be a traveller. And no, I'm not talking about the one that dances on the tables after drinking too much on a night out. I'm talking about the moron that finds a way to disrespect the local people, their culture or religion. The ones who don't seem to understand etiquette or somehow think it doesn't apply to them. Yes, one of THOSE travellers.
Let's have a quick look at what these people do and for the sake of your own reputation and future travellers, what you should avoid doing...
I am sickened when I see needless littering, especially when it is a beautiful natural environment. Unfortunately for many cultures it is acceptable behaviour and not frowned upon. Regardless of what the locals do though, it doesn't give a traveller the right to do likewise. On the contrary, it's the opportunity to set an example and teach them a better way. Treating a travel destination with respect often isn't about what you do; it's what you don't do.
There always seem to be a few travellers to feel that they are immune to local laws. Regardless of how silly, insignificant or outdated we consider the laws, they are applicable to tourists and locals alike. If they prohibit you from smiling at dogs then don't do it. Ever. No matter which part of the world you are in, ignorance of the law is no excuse and don't assume that if you do smile at a dog your embassy or consulate office will be rushing to help you out.
Unfortunately, a cultural blunder is something that can happen inadvertently or unwittingly and everyone can forgive an innocent mistake. Sometimes it's simply a misunderstanding brought about by a language barrier. But when it occurs blatantly and knowingly it's embarrassing for other travellers and uncomfortable, if not humiliating for local people. Following cultural protocol is not difficult especially where there is signage or other people's actions to follow.
Showing disrespect at a place of religious worship can be upsetting for local people and potentially cause a lot of trouble. They can be especially sensitive to things like shoes being worn in a Buddhist temple or shorts being worn in a Muslim mosque. It's a very quick way to make yourself unwelcome and create a general distrust of future visitors. If you are unsure what is acceptable then the best option is to either ask someone or just be conservative in your dress and actions.
In markets around the world, the art of bargaining is practiced every day. It's often expected and ideally results in the purchase of an item for a price that is satisfactory for both the vendor and the buyer. But when bargaining is done too hard it becomes embarrassing and a waste of everyone's time. If some tourists paused for a moment to consider what they are arguing about in their own currency I'm sure they would most likely agree.
Being able to steep yourself in a foreign culture where customs and traditions are quite different to back home is a thrilling travel experience. It may even be confronting but the key is to repect and embrace it. Researching about your destination can be useful preparation in what to expect. Even if you know little about where you're going, using common sense and these simple guidelines will ensure that you aren't remembered as one of THOSE travellers.