There are three things that backpackers like me worry about when traveling: the budget, the destination and the adventure.
Thankfully, whenever I visit South East Asia, I think little about these things because I know that this part of the world will never disappoint me.
I can explore the pristine beaches and lush forests of this region without worrying about my budget. Best of all, the people are hospitable, and they are always willing to help regardless of the language barrier.
Unfortunately, there are tourists who abuse this hospitality and do not observe proper decorum. I’ve seen a number of them, and when you add in alcohol, they become worse. They appear on the news—sometimes they are let off just because they are “tourists.”
It is frustrating to see these rude backpackers. I am afraid that other tourists are placed in a bad light because of them. This also affects the way we enjoy our vacation.
So before it is too late, let me give advice that lightens the image of backpackers and improves our stay South East Asia.
Don’t Be Arrogant
After years of being with Asian friends, I know they hate people who act high and mighty. We might feel like we are being true to ourselves, but it doesn’t mean locals are not offended by the way we sit in public transportation or the way we talk to them. Remember, we are just visitors, so let’s show good manners.
Respect the People and Their Culture
Western culture has a 180 degree difference from eastern culture, so we have to be careful with our words and action. An innocent thumbs up sign might be offensive in Thailand and Muslin countries, like Malaysia and Indonesia. As a guide, keep hands in pockets, a stoic face, mouth shut and mind open—especially when observing cultural differences. Note what Lailah Gifty Akita said: “Cultural heritage defines the uniqueness of individuals. Appreciate cultural diversity.”
Don’t Drink too Much
We know that too much alcohol can lead to unfortunate consequences, so to avoid this, we have to control ourselves. No one wants to wake up in jail after starting a fight with random people in a bar. Drinking cheap cold beer with friends is satisfying, but we have to know our limitations.
Don’t be a Proverbial Backpacker
Tacky bead bracelets, fedora hats and fisherman pants are not a must-wear for backpackers. To avoid local vendors who harass tourists to buy their items, steer clear of this backpacker garb. It’s easier to enjoy roaming the streets if we blend with the locals and stay inconspicuous.
Take a Bath
South East Asia has a temperature that makes people sweaty no matter how small their movements. If a daily bath is not part of the norm, be prepared to change the routine when visiting. I encountered a number of backpackers who don’t bathe daily, and it does not smell pleasant. I’m sure the locals are put off as well. Also, it’s important to wear clean clothes and avoid wearing the same outfit day after day.
Learn Their Language
It is difficult to learn a language, but knowing simple words in the local language is helpful. I get better service by just saying, “Salamat kayo,” when I was in Cebu, Philippines. Locals appreciate the effort and they become friendly and helpful.
Be Thankful for the Experience
Not all travel destination suits every individual’s taste—to each his own they say. In some cases, we have an experience that irritates us or pushes us out of our comfort zone, but this does not give us any right to ridicule an entire country.
I remember the article about two Polish bloggers who would rather go hungry than eat Filipino food. That’s harsh to say the least. Can we be thankful for the experience and not belittle others? Comments so negative turn away other tourists who might have an opinion that differs from ours. As a backpacker, I often hear criticisms against a certain travel destination, but when I visit and explore, I often find it worth the trip.
This list does not apply to all backpackers, and no one can argue that there are people who misbehave in foreign lands, especially when there’s alcohol and ego involved.
The backpacking community in South East Asia is booming, and I am happy that more people are appreciating the region. But I hope that backpackers learn to be open minded, respectful and mindful when traveling.
Locals give tourists a warm welcome—it is right we leave them with a good, lasting impression in return.
Author: Lace Wanders
Volunteer Editor: Melissa Horton / Editor: Catherine Monkman