Our definition of sustainable tourism is travel that respects and supports local cultures, environments and economies. Thus, it’s of vital importance that we take cultural considerations seriously. Preserving the culture of our destinations means preserving it for future generations, and allowing them to experience and enjoy the same amazing things we get to today.
Going somewhere new and experiencing different kinds of food, clothing, architecture, beliefs, world views and ways of living are all essential ingredients for a fulfilling travel experience. After all, isn’t it these differences that make travel so rewarding? But as we experience all of these wonderful things, it’s often overlooked how our actions affect local traditions and norms. So being culturally aware may be the first step to ensuring we do not inadvertently disrespect or offend locals.
We recommend doing some basic research on the places you’re travelling to. Reading up on their history, culture and politics is a great place to start. And doing just a little bit to understand their language can go a long way. Even just learning how to say “please” and “thank you” shows respect and is appreciated.
Travel with an open mind. Having western outlooks and expectations may create problems if you’re travelling to a country with a vastly different world view than in North America, Western Europe or other parts of the world. For example, revealing clothing seems normal to many of us in Canada and the United States. But wearing these kinds of clothing may violate cultural norms and even offend people, especially if you’re in a scared or spiritual place.
It seems obvious to say not to vandalize sacred monuments, artifacts or other culturally significant items. But in many cases it might not be so obvious. For example, here in British Columbia, you actually need government permission to take home a Bald Eagle feather. Bald Eagles have immense spiritual meaning to many of the First Nations people here in B.C. But tourists visiting small, coastal communities may not know this and may unintentionally offend someone should they see you pick up an Eagle feather to take home with you.
If you’re planning on taking a cultural tour to learn more about the place, we recommend hiring local guides wherever possible. Learning about the area from a local who knows the place, people and hidden gems can make the experience much more meaningful and entertaining. Plus hiring a local guide means employing a local and ensuring your travel dollars stay within the country.
Travelling gives us so much. It inspires us, teaches us and opens our minds and hearts to others. If you get the pleasure of meeting locals and learning their culture, you can show your appreciation by giving back or leaving a gift. As a kayak guide, I once had a guest give me a gift from her local culture (in this case, Hawaii) and I can certainly say that it was a much more appreciated gift than any tip could’ve been. Leaving behind gifts can serve as a reminder that not only have they (the locals) made an impact of you, but that you have made an impact on them as well.