As I prepare for my semester in Italy I find myself thinking back to my recent trip to Thailand and Cambodia. In the midst of a politically, socially, and economically scarred Cambodia, I found myself reflecting on my role as a tourist. I don’t like being a tourist. I find it awkward and isolating, so I reasoned with myself that I was traveling to Cambodia as a student…an open vessel for cultural knowledge. That sounded a lot better than a tourist. Yet, no matter how much I tried to reassure myself, I had to accept that I was an outsider carrying around an unnecessarily large and expensive camera, stopping at every market I could find, and complaining incessantly about the heat.
So here are some tips on being a good tourist:
- Accept the fact that many of the cultural activities you do were made for tourists and tourists alone. What is advertised as a “traditional” dance may be carelessly thrown together because a foreigner can’t tell the difference. To avoid this, follow the locals, not the tour busses.
- Ask where/who made a product you’re about to buy. Big markets are known for having lots of inexpensive pieces of art, jewelry, and other decor items, but you may be leaving Phnom Penh with a piece of Indonesia instead of Cambodia.
- This one’s tricky: don’t give money to begging children or those selling trinkets. The money doesn’t always go towards what we would hope we’re supporting, such as school supplies or food, and actually keeps these kids out of school. By supporting them you may be supporting someone who uses these children for income.
- DON’T GIVE IN TO POORISM! *A post to come about my experience with this
- Do your research and look for organizations that help street children or at-risk families find work. For instance, those of you going to Cambodia should definitely go to Friends the Restaurant, where all employees, including the cooks, are former street children. Read more at http://friends-international.org/shop/friendstherestaurant.asp?mm=sh&sm=fr
- When crossing the street in cities with lots of traffic and few stop signs/lights, follow the locals because they’re used to how the vehicles stop for no one. A great piece of advice given to me: follow an old lady.
- In line with poorism, don’t visit orphanages. You should know somethings wrong if an orphanage has a sign that says “come in and pet the children.”
- Register your trip itinerary with your country’s embassy in the place you are visiting. And know where this embassy is in case of an emergency.
- Don’t touch the animals, no matter how cute they may look.
- Learn basic phrases, especially “hello” and “thank you.”
- Learn etiquette and tipping norms.
- I love a good restaurant but when eating out avoid the tourist congested areas and head two streets over for a less expensive and equally delicious find.
- Simmer down on looking like a tourist. This includes not looking lost, even though you probably are. You don’t want to be a target for pickpocketing.
So there it is ladies and gents. Happy traveling!