Guidelines for a responsible travel with Travel Authentic
Respecting Cultural Differences
Assisting the Locals in their Understanding
of Western Culture
Experiencing cultural diversity is one of the main reasons why we travel to far
flung places and we need to make sure that these differences are respected and
maintained. Things are done differently in Asia,
which is one of the reasons why it is so appealing! In general, it is essential
that we respect the cultural rules in the areas that we are travelling in.
Please accept the differences in these areas and do not try to change them for
the benefit of your own comfort. The traveller who wishes to have a happy and
successful trip should keep as calm, cheerful and friendly as humanly possible.
Patience and courtesy are virtues that open many doors. Demanding tourists do
not get smiles, service or respect.
The flip side of gaining cultural understanding when travelling is helping the
locals to gain a greater insight into Western culture, and beyond the
superficial attractions of money and wealth. Recognise that as a Westerner in
many parts of Asia you are probably richer
than the locals you are meeting and you are a world traveller - something most
of the locals you meet can only dream of. When dealing with locals respect that
they may wish to develop economically and have access to material possessions
that you take for granted. While this undoubtedly changes villages and makes it
less "unspoilt" for tourists, it is something that we should respect
and understand. Everyone has a right to development and a better standard of
living. A role you can play is to help assist local people to gain a balanced
view of development by sharing not only the advantages of your culture but also
some of the negative influences that come from increased material wealth, on
both the family and the community.
Asian people in general, dress modestly and as a rule you should dress as the
locals do. Dress standards vary from place to place, with rural areas tending
to be more conservative than the cities. In major cities, such as Hanoi and Saigon, mini
skirts and such like are becoming popular with the younger generation. You will
find that the older generation frown upon this and are more conservative in
their dress. For women, singlet tops, not wearing a bra and tight body hugging
attire can be offensive, as well as attracting unwanted male attention!
Modest clothing goes a long way towards making a good impression with the local
people. You will find them far more willing to approach you if you dress as
they do. Long pants/skirts and sleeved shirts are seen as appropriate. This is
not to say you cannot wear shorts, but there will be situations where they are
inappropriate, especially for females. Shorts should never be too short and
lycra is best left for the gym.
More formal dress codes apply for temples, mosques or any other religious sites
you may visit, and to prevent the wrath of the gods as well as the locals these
should be closely followed. In general, both men and women should have covered
shoulders and legs, plus shoes and hats should be removed.
Swimming & Sunbathing
There are no areas of Asia where nude
sunbathing or swimming is acceptable, despite what other travellers might be
doing. In some places Asian women will swim/bathe wearing all their clothes. If
this is the case, then a good rule of thumb is to swim/bathe in a sarong or
T-shirt where necessary.
Etiquette – the all important ‘Saving Face’
There are a few general codes of behaviour that apply throughout the areas in
which we operate.
- Crooking your finger to call somebody is
considered impolite. Asian people generally use a subtle downward waving
motion to summon someone.
- Showing affection in public is considered
quite offensive - definitely no kissing! Away from the major urban centres
it is extremely rare to see couples holding hands, though it is quite
common to see friends of the same sex holding hands.
- It is polite to remove your shoes before
entering a house. Look for shoes at the front door as a clue and follow
- Criticism should only be used when put among
- It is inappropriate to express anger in a raised
voice. Becoming angry is embarrassing to the local people with whom you
are dealing - they will not be embarrassed for themselves, but for you.
"Saving face" is a subtle but important standard of personal
dignity. Personal candour in Asia is
largely a matter of sensibility and face Top
Photography –Still & Video
The ideal demeanour for the Asian traveller is friendly and open and ever ready
to answer questions like where you are going? Are you married? How old are you?
You will likely be asked questions like these that in a Western society may be
considered personal. While you might find such a barrage of questions
disconcerting, remain patient and remember to recognise that people are just
being friendly and curious. Asian people often ask what your religion is. They
have a general concern that everyone has a religion, though it doesn't
particularly matter which one. If you reply that you do not have a religion,
you might find a look of horror on the faces of your local hosts! The same
attitude extends to the area of marriage and children. If someone asks you if
you are married or have children, and you are not/do not, a good response is
"not yet". If you are feeling uncomfortable with such questions, try
to be patient or subtly change the subject!
Bear in mind also that attitudes toward privacy differ greatly between the West
and Asia. Asian people often have an interest
in our books, writing or photographs, things that the Westerner considers to be
‘private property.’ Concepts of property, private ownership and privacy are
very different for the rural Asian, who is accustomed to living and sharing in
a close-knit community. Be prepared and understand that your local hosts are
not being ‘nosey’ but politely interested.
Sensitivity is the key when it comes to photography. Always ask permission
before taking photographs of people and respect their wishes if they refuse.
Minority groups in particular are often unhappy to have their photo taken. They
may think they do not look attractive (wearing their work clothes rather than
festival clothes), while other groups believe that part of their spirit is
taken away if they are photographed. There are occasions when you will meet a
lot of porters carrying anything from bottles of beer to beds. Please respect
that this is their job and that they may not like having their photo taken in
these circumstances. Travellers should avoid paying for the right to take a
photo as this has been found to encourage a begging mentality in the locals.
Instead you can send back copies via your tour leader or directly to the people
themselves. The locals gain a great buzz from seeing themselves in photos and
it encourages a ‘sharing’ rather than ‘taking’ attitude towards photography.
Also in many cases the locals could never afford to take photos themselves.
While you are welcome to pack your video cameras, there are some places that we
request you not to film. In some small villages, homestays and remote
communities, the local people consider filming to be too intrusive and
recording aspects of their private lives. In these communities we also request
the utmost courtesy and discretion with still cameras. Your tour leader will
advise you in this regard.
Drugs & Alcohol
Travel Authentic do not allow travellers to use illegal drugs while on a trip. The
laws of most Asian countries carry harsh penalties for drug possession or
usage, including the death penalty. Foreigners are not exempt from such
penalties if convicted of such a crime. It is not acceptable to indulge in
opium, marijuana or other illegal drugs whilst on trips. Your group leader has
grounds for asking you to leave a trip if you are found to be using or carrying
The use of alcohol also needs to be carefully considered, especially in smaller
villages and tribal regions. In these areas our 'privileged' status brings with
it a responsibility to promote the good in our cultures and not the excesses.
Many village people cannot afford to purchase alcohol and so see our sometimes
excessive consumption as a sign of affluence and elitism. For some the lure to
taste that influence causes them to ignore family responsibilities and spend
their income on alcohol. This is not something we wants to be
responsible for, particularly in hill tribe towns where drug addiction is
already a major problem. Furthermore, out of control drunken Westerners can
damage our positive relationships with locals and negatively change the group
dynamics. In towns and larger urban centres where there is increased local
wealth our influence has less impact and the use of alcohol has wider
Avoid giving Western medicines to our Asian hosts. They may not understand the
medicine and the concept, say of taking tablets 3 times per day, may not be
understood. Unpredicted side-effects could also be a problem. In addition, we
don't want dependence on medicines to occur especially when natural and
traditional treatments may be just as effective. If a local person approaches
you for treatment, encourage them to seek traditional cures or assist them to
the local clinic/hospital. If you are a medic, it may be better not to reveal
your profession too readily, as you might find yourself with a queue of
patients and be left in a dilemma.
Of course there are exceptions to this rule in the case of emergencies. If a
local is seriously injured and in a potentially life threatening situation then
they should be given the appropriate first aid treatment which may include
medication. However, remain aware of the potential dangers of reactions to
drugs and try to get them to medical help as soon as possible.
2. Social Issues
Relationships with People in Visited
Be aware that it is taboo in some of the communities we visit to conduct an
intimate relationship with a local person. If you find yourself in a situation
where a relationship with a local could develop, seek the advice of your group
leader who will find out, with the assistance of other locals, the correct
courting process! Failure to do so could lead to compromising the credibility
of future Buffalo
trips, not to mention the heavy fines levied in some communities, while in
others it can be punishable by serious injury. Be aware too that the
well-being, social standing and reputation of the recipient of a foreigner's
attention can be seriously affected within their local communities. Homosexual
relationships have gained much wider acceptance in Western communities in
recent years. Be aware, however, that this is not the case in some parts of Asia and if a local is found to be engaging in a
homosexual relationship they could be totally outcast or shunned by their
families and community or worse.
The prevalence of prostitution is an unfortunate element of Asia
today and it is an aspect that we want to have no part of in running
our trips. Our philosophy is one of mutual respect towards everyone we deal with and in particular the
local people who make the region as special as it is. The use of prostitutes is
completely contrary to this philosophy and we are strongly opposed to any of
our travellers visiting prostitutes while in Asia.
there is a risk of contracting HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, there are
other wider social implications. Unlike prostitutes in some developed
countries, many Asian women are not prostitutes of their own free will but are
in fact bonded labour. They may have been lured into employment in the city and
end up imprisoned in brothels. Many face condemnation and being ostracised by
their communities and may not be able to return, while many more end up with
drug problems and become infected with HIV or other STDs. On this basis we
strongly condemn any person who supports prostitution in Asia.
It is not an acceptable excuse to say that it is ‘part of the culture’.
Donations & Gift Giving
Child prostitution or sex tourism is an abhorrent and illegal act that we
strongly condemn. Any incidences of this will be reported to the local and
international authorities, who have links with Interpol and will ensure that
the person involved will be questioned - and if appropriate - charged.
This is a difficult issue for many travellers who want to assist the local
communities but are unaware of the larger implications. There are many ways in
which you can have a positive input into the communities that you visit:
We supports a number of local projects and charities. We collect clothing, first aid items, stationery and children’s
books and ensure that they go directly the requested charity or project.
Do not give to begging children as it reinforces that begging is an acceptable
way to make a living for these children. It is best to follow the guidelines
set by local people in how they treat beggars in their community e.g. in many
places it is considered acceptable to give to the elderly and disabled as there
is no social security or other way these people can earn money. Buddhists
believe giving to beggars will earn them ‘merit’. Your tour leader can advise
you further on this.
Ways not to give!
Giving money and goods away at random to individuals accentuates an unequal
relationship between locals and visitors, with tourists being seen as purely
‘money givers’. It also strips self esteem away from people when they get money
for simply being poor rather than having to solve their own issues of poverty
through community action. We also need to be careful not to pay for acts of
kindness in monetary terms (eg. paying kids for photographs). We do not want to
encourage the development of a society that equates every human action as a
potential money making scheme.
Do not give sweets to children in the villages that we visit. Local people do
not have access to dentists, nor can they afford them and again there is the
issue of turning children into beggars. Pens, toothbrushes, clothing or other
perhaps ‘worthwhile’ items are best distributed via a local charity, school
teacher or community leader.
Avoid feeling that you necessarily have to give ‘material‘ things. The best
giving can sometimes be shared interactions like a smile, joke, sing-song,
dance or playing a game. Giving something of your friendship, time and interest
to interact with locals can be the best gift of all.
Shopping & Dining
Please refuse to buy any souvenirs, food or products made from local wildlife -
this includes snake-wine, bear, bats, frogs, turtles and sea horses. Though a
local delicacy, both bears and frogs, for example, are highly endangered and we
should not encourage their demise. Where possible avoid restaurants that make a
feature of wild endangered animal species on their menus. If you see an abuse
of animals or wildlife, report this to the Education for Nature Vietnam’s (ENV)
toll free hotline on 1800-1522 or e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alternatively, advise your tour guide who will refer it to an appropriate
organisation who can best handle it e.g. ENV, WSPA – the World Society for the
Protection of Animals, TRAFFIC - the wildlife trade monitoring program of the
World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) and the World Conservation Union (IUCN).
3. The Environment
Environmental Responsibility &
In Asia, the enormous economic growth of the region has been at the cost of the
environment. Analysts are only now beginning to recognise the extent of the
damage and the true cost to the environment and the welfare of its inhabitants.
Debris-choked waterways, open sewers, excessive air pollution and plastic
littering the streets are an obvious result of unrestrained economic growth. We
don’t want our presence in Asia to add to this
problem and need to minimise our impact on the places by practising waste minimisation
initiatives whilst on holiday. We can also assist our Asian hosts in making
informed decisions in developing social and environmental programs that will
benefit future generations.
We are looking to adopt preventative actions on our trips by adopting practises
that are commonly recognised as the three R's: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
Try not to use plastic covered or wrapped foods when fresh options are
available. The disposal of plastic and styrofoam is a major problem in Asia, and the more we can do to reduce its use the
better. Buy in local markets where little packaging is used, the food is fresh
and the money is benefiting the local producers. Take your own bags with you
when shopping - “say no to plastic”.
Whenever we are away from towns or cities we must not leave any rubbish we take
in with us. Tampons and sanitary pads should be taken out of the area and
disposed of appropriately. Pick up any rubbish that you see left behind by
other travellers, so that we leave a place cleaner than we found it.
Organic waste such as food scraps should not be dispersed or buried in national
parks and other protected areas. This practise may introduce exotic seeds and
is not the natural diet of the native animals. Take it out with you again. You
guide will advise you in this regard.
Bottled water is for sale in much of Asia, but
unfortunately there are few facilities for recycling the bottles. Actively try
to reduce the ‘consumption’ of plastic bottles by using alternatives. Your
- in hotels ask if you can refill your bottle
with purified water for free or for a small fee
- bring your own water filter, water
purification tablets or iodine to purify drinking water. 2% tincture of
iodine is used at 4 drops/litre of water and leave for at least 30
minutes, 1 hour if very cold water. Povidine-iodine solution can be used
in the same proportion and left for 1 hour.
Energy & Water Conservation
When trekking or in remote areas use the toilet facilities that are provided.
If none are established, find out a suitable place which is at least 50m away
from water sources and people’s homes. Bury faecal matter, carry toilet paper
in a plastic bag for appropriate disposal later, or burn it. On all regular
trekking routes most homestays will have an established set toilet for the
Be prudent with fuel and water. Pollution, greenhouse gases and other problems
of fossil fuel use are escalating as developing countries strive towards having
modern Western appliances, vehicles and production methods. Clean water
supplies are diminishing. Some ways to cut energy consumption:
- Air-con in hotel rooms: don’t use
unnecessarily or leave on when out of the room. Turn down to ‘fan only’ or
off overnight. This is better for avoiding sore throats and colds too!
- Air-con vehicles: short journeys are easily
managed with windows open
- A cold shower may be more refreshing than hot
in the tropics. Avoid hot showers where the water is being heated with cut
timber or other non-sustainable methods
- An empty room does not need light. Many newer
hotels have the key tag socket systems that prevent this
- Walk, cycle or use human powered rickshaws for
sight seeing. Avoid taxis when there is a fuel free or shared transport
option like a public bus
use existing tracks and stay on them. This is especially important during the
wet season because it is all too easy to create new tracks in order to get a
better footing. If people don't adhere to this, the trail soon becomes a series
of footpaths that turns into erosion gullies. This impacts on the vegetation as
branches are reached for as handholds, broken off, and added to the topsoil
that has been dislodged to silt up the waterways.
Snorkelling – remember that touching coral formations can hinder their growth.
Coral cuts can easily become nasty infections too. Do not take any coral or
shells, as even though they may be dead, it encourages locals to think that
they are desirable souvenirs and that there’s a market in these items. Stick
with the “Take only photos, leave only footprints” adage but add sensitivity
into the equation!
Limestone caves – do not touch formations, as natural body oils from the
fingers hinder the formations’ growth and will discolour the limestone.
Fires – reduce deforestation by avoiding unnecessary use of scarce firewood.
Fuel stoves should be used for cooking on camping trips and we do our best to
choose accommodation that uses kerosene, gas or fuel-efficient firewood stoves.
Put on warmer clothes rather than stoking a wood fire for warmth. Avoid
lighting fires on those beautiful white sand beaches - the charcoal works its
way through the sand, which in time ends up not so beautiful. Bonfires are not
to be encouraged.
Soap – On treks when you need to bathe in streams or lakes try to forget about
soap for a few days and harmonise with nature! A soapless bathe will still
remove sweat! A nail brush and flannel may help! Conventional body soap and
shampoo are degradable but it takes time for them to break down and in the
interim they may be contaminating water quality for people downstream. The
bigger problem is actually products like washing powders which contain cleaning
agents that will damage the soil and vegetation if not disposed of in a
controlled manner. While it might seem difficult using no soap when the locals
have their big bags of Omo on the riverbank, it is important that we don’t add
to the problem, as we are visitors and are an additional ‘load’ on the
When visiting national parks or reserves where you will be in contact with
wildlife, please ensure that you follow the appropriate park regulations that
ensure that wildlife is protected. Respect this even if you observe that other
tourists don't. Don’t respond to local rangers offering to bend the rules for
tourists. Sometimes local people will try and sell protected species to
foreigners. While you wish to do this so that you can set the animal free, this
actually can be a money making scam for locals and it is a better policy to
refuse to pay money and encourage the local to release the animal. When they
realise there is no demand for the animal then the practise may eventually