By Mae Rymer
What are the usual questions that most people ask when they travel somewhere new or out of the ordinary? I would imagine the usual things: When are we going? How long are we staying? How are we going to get there? Where are we staying? What are we going to do during our time there? Where are we eating? When are we eating? (These last two are my favorite personal travel questions for sure). But how often do we account for other things like getting to know the town and the local culture of our destination? How often do we investigate what other languages the locals might speak? Do we actively make it a point to learn the bare minimum of communication skills (eat, bathroom, ATM) within the predominant language? How often do we purposefullly research the societal and cultural norms of the area to learn how they may greatly differ from our own?
Unfortunately, the second line of proposed questions are not as sought-after for answers as the first round and often causes a lot of unease and discomfort for those traveling. Even more so for those who live in the destination’s main tourist communities. Living in a tourist community that has thousands visit it on a monthly basis, I’ve had firsthand experience as to what it’s like for the locals that come in contact with those who do not mindfully seek out answers to the second round of questions above, and frankly, I am extremely motivated to share some simple and straightforward Do’s and Don’ts of Mindful Travelers:
Make sure you learn the overall tone and vibe of your destination, and respect the cultural differences. A good example of this is the polar deltas in culture between how people from New York may operate (the hustle and bustle of the big city), differs to that of New Mexico, whose overall atmosphere and flow goes at a much more relaxed and slower pace. Both share an incredible arts and culture vibe, but they are experienced much differently.
Expect your destination point to adjust themselves to your “usual way of life and expectations.” I’ve experienced a lot of people coming to New Mexico to “get away from it all,” leaving their day-to-day life of “somewhere else” just to turn around and complain about, “Well, if New Mexico did things like [insert state or city here], things would be a lot better!” You came to New Mexico to get away from your usual residence; why request or expect it be the same as the place you’re temporarily relieving yourself of?
Make sure to understand if there are any cultural rules and procedures of how the local society expects everyone within it to operate, and yes — that includes those who visit as well. A good example would be if you were to visit the church of Notre Dame, it is important to dress accordingly. Women are expected to wear a dress that does not expose your chest or shoulders and men are expected to be dressed in their nicest clothes (a suite is preferable) and not show up in JORTS (jean shorts if you will) and a Hawaiian T-shirt.
Assume that the society that you’re surrounded by in your day-to-day life is a universally known or experienced thing wherever you may go. Even within the U.S., the different regions have different points of view and experiences in life and how they operate based on their understanding and surroundings. What is culturally and socially acceptable in New Mexico may not be accepted or tolerated in Texas, and often for safety reasons primarily — it is good to be armed with that knowledge ahead of time.
Look into what main language that is spoken wherever you travel. It’s disheartening and sometimes insulting to the local culture you’re visiting to expect them to know English (even though it’s the main business language of the world, it shows great common courtesy and care to learn someone else’s language and more often than not when you do, the community may open doors and show you things that you’d never get the chance to see or do without making that mindful effort to learn their language).
Assume that everyone speaks English (or even in some cases where some regions speak multiple different languages) that the locals speak one language over another. It is always preferred that you ask!! I cannot stress this enough: if you mindlessly assume someone speaks one language over another (based on their skin tone, their clothes, or how they look) it can be extremely embarrassing. Be polite, introduce yourself and your tourist status, and ask for help in getting help.
These are just a few recommendations that I know have helped me. Who knows, if you make it a point to be a mindful traveler, you may just make some friends, and those relationships can open doors to beautiful experiences and places that you would have never imaged or experience without them. Can you remember a time where you were a mindful traveler and if it helped you during your time of travel? Leave a comment below!