Planning a gap year, a few months away or even an epic summer holiday?
Ensure you are a responsible traveller with our handy hints...
Going travelling can be a truly amazing and life-changing experience. Not only will you learn about different cultures and meet new people, you will gain some incredible perspective on the world and recharge your batteries ready for the next exciting chapter in your life.
But there are lots of different ways to go about it – from mass tourism to sustainable travel. Being a responsible traveller not only benefits the local people, it will also mean you get the most out of your time abroad.
To help you, we’ve put together some advice on gap year etiquette.
Ditch the burger chain - support the locals
Think local. Buying things like your food, drink and clothes locally helps to support the economy of the country you’re visiting.
Try to eat at local restaurants and cafes rather than at larger chains. We all like some chips that remind us of home every now and again, but going the extra mile to seek out local specialities means you’ll experience authentic cuisine, meet some wonderful new people and learn about their culture.
When you’re planning your route, try to use local companies or look for alternative ways to travel. Part of the excitement of going on a gap year is travelling to new places in unusual ways – horseback trek anyone?
Look for ways to give something back to the community, for example volunteering on a local project or choosing a homestay over a hotel.
Many countries rely heavily on tourism so you really will be helping the local economy, while having a truly authentic experience you’ll remember forever.
Embrace foreign customs
Research and embrace foreign customs as much as you can. They may seem strange to you, but they’re all part of the history and traditions that make a country interesting and exciting.
Try to fit in to your new environment
The country may have specific clothing laws or rules, so make sure you’re aware of them and dress so that you blend in with the locals and don’t cause offence.
By mindful of other things too – for example in Thailand, feet are considered to be the lowest and least clean part of the body, so it’s offensive to point your feet at someone or put them up.
Be aware when taking photographs
Check that you’re allowed and ask for permission if you want to take a picture of someone. Always seek permission from a parents or guardian if your photo is going to include a child or children.
Think about the current political landscape in the country and how it impacts you as a traveller. It’s also a good idea to learn a bit about the country’s religions and practices so that you know what to expect before you arrive.
Consider religious boundaries and when religious holidays and festivals are. In some countries, shops and restaurants close at specific times throughout the day to allow for prayer and worship.
Learn the lingo
Most people love it when tourists make the effort to speak their language, even if it’s just a few words, like thank you and please.
Buy yourself a phrasebook and learn a few useful words. Not only will it earn you some smiles of delight from the locals, it’ll also help you to get around more easily. *
Also be aware of phrases to avoid. In some countries, the same word can mean two very different things depending on the context!
Having a guidebook of the country you’ll be travelling to will provide you with useful information about the most appropriate way to ask for things as well as giving you a head’s up on what phrases to avoid.
Keep up to date with the political climate
Be aware of what’s going on in the country you’re visiting, including where it’s safe to travel to and where not to go.
Try to avoid talking about issues that might divide opinion as you don’t want to end up in a heated debate that might offend the locals – unless of course they bring it up and want to talk about it with you.
By being a responsible traveller and making sure you’re aware of gap year etiquette, you’ll be able to make the most of your time abroad.
“Take nothing but photographs; leave nothing but footprints.”
For more information and advice about planning a gap year, studying or working, visit www.successatschool.org.
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Natasha Boydell is editor at Success at School, which provides careers advice to young people aged 13-19 and helps them to make informed decisions about their future. She has a Masters Degree in journalism and over 10 years’ experience of writing for national newspapers, magazines and websites worldwide – covering topics from apprenticeships to zoology.
* Editor's Note: On my first trip to France, I found carrying around a little phrase book very handy. Although I had learned enough French in school many years earlier, I was by no means fluent in the language, bu the little phrase book helped trigger things I knew and the mere fact that I at least tried to speak French, even with referring to my phrase book, made a huge difference to the way in which the locals responded to me. It helped me so much that I was was able to help other tourists who had not made the effort and they were quite surprised at the different way in which I received warm responses in comparison to their cooler experiences.
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