Over the years I have witnessed firsthand a sea change in how we members of homo touristicus are traveling the globe. And two things stand out.
One is that we have become more fearful travelers -- especially Americans who are traveling at record low numbers since 9/11 and the onset of the Great Recession.
Yet on the flip side, we now live in the era of the Virtuous Traveler. People care more and are more socially and environmentally conscious. As the Event Director of The Global Scavenger Hunt travel adventure competition set to get underway next week, I believe that is a good thing.
Because I believe that traveling in the spirit of conscious awareness, humility and curiosity only enhances anyone's journey. And for those participating in our annual travel event, to do well they will find it necessary to trust strangers in strange lands; whose customs may be strange and effectively communicating with them may be challenging. But like all travelers, their destiny in those strange lands will be determined by the kindness those strangers extend. We tell our travelers to smile, be sensitive, understand karma...and go slow and gentle into the night.
Over the years I have expanded what I believe is a sensible and sensitive Traveler's Creed to live and travel by. Most of it is commonsense, but it bears repeating every once in a while:
Firstly: Do no harm. Minimize your impact. Pack it in--pack it out. Leave nothing in your wake. Take only pictures and wonderful memories with you. Please don't litter and never leave graffiti -- even if it appears to be a custom. Try to save precious water resources as much as possible and conserve energy as appropriate. Minimize your footprint as best you can. Use reusable water bottles.
Be patient with the people you encounter. They're not from the Big City and it may take them few moments to digest and adjust to your language. (Think for a moment how you would feel if someone out-of-the-blue started speaking Mandarin to you on your hometown street corner!) Cultivate the habit of patiently listening and observing, not merely hearing and seeing. Ask sincere questions -- accept honest replies. Be polite. Don't be provocative.
Remember that you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. Travel to meet the world openly, and relish the differences in both cultures and customs -- don't be a condescending know-it-all imperialist swine! We in the West (and America in particular) don't have all the answers to the world's problems (We just think we do!), so please don't fall into the West is Best and We're Better Syndrome. Have an open mind. Encourage sustainable old ways, and be respectful of local customs. Others are not inferior -- they're just different.
Do not expect special privileges from others just because you're a visitor. Wait until you are invited to partake in their personal celebrations and rituals (Imagine if some stranger crashed your daughter's wedding or your father's funeral!). As in your daily life, you should make no promises to local people that you are not certain that you can keep. Doing lunch means doing lunch, not just saying it! Saying you'll call or write someone later, or sending them a digital photo you took of them -- means that you really will do it. Your word is your bond still reigns supreme in most of the world!
Stay on designated paths and within designated areas. Private property laws do exist elsewhere. When visiting sacred and historic sites, take only photographs. But please adhere to posted "no photos/no flash" rules.
Dress appropriately when visiting sacred and/or religious sites. Take off your shoes when appropriate -- and please no short, caps or tank tops. Women especially, please dress modestly in certain destinations. Show respect for traditions. Take your hat and sunglasses off indoors.
Pack this mindset for your travels: make friends and listen.
Ask permission from the people you wish to photograph up close. If you're in doubt, ask before your shoot! Be sensitive.
Never remove or disturb architectural fragments, natural habitats, stones, critters or foliage -- these are always highly inappropriate souvenirs. Think if everybody did that.
Don't purchase artifacts or artworks that you think or suspect may have been taken from historic or sacred sites; or buy objects from endangered species, corals or rainforests.
Do some research once you arrive (Usually done before you go we know!). Attempt to educate yourself quickly about language basics. Learn a few useful phrases like: Hello, please and thank you. Learn about some of the local customs, taboos, art, history, religion... and about the politics of a destination you intend on visiting before you go out into their environment. Ask questions and listen.
Never touch animals or birds. And please don't feed any wild animals. Always give the animals you encounter the right-of-way and retreat if necessary. Never enter any protected areas or scientific research stations unless invited. Wildlife is, grrr, wild -- so be careful!
Remember that many historic and sacred sites are still functioning places of worship for local inhabitants--and not just for tourists to admire and photograph. Show respect.
Please don't allow your techno-gadgets and electronic equipment to get between you and the local people, their ways and nature. Turn off, unplug -- you will experience more! Look at what is in front of you -- not at the photo you just took!
Buy and eat local stuff. Support local artists and craftspeople. Spend money so that it stays in the community's economy. And please remember that the bargains you may obtain are only possible because of low wages paid to the producers. Pay the Gringo Tax cheerfully. Don't quibble over a few cents!
Take a few moments everyday to reflect on your daily experiences in an attempt to enrich your understanding of the people and things you were lucky to meet and experience.
Obey all the local laws. No matter where you are, accept the laws of the land. This means sometimes not drinking alcohol, showing public displays of affection, or even chewing gum! Corruption/bribery is illegal everywhere. It always means saying no to drugs of any kind. And it always means respecting all traffic laws.
Do not encourage begging. Of course you can be generous, but try not to encourage kids to be on the streets instead of school or create dependency with hand-outs. Encourage self-reliance by supporting registered local charities.
Finally, remember the Golden Rule -- and no, not the one about the man who owns the gold rules either -- the other Golden Rule: treat everyone with courtesy and respect!
By the way, The Global Scavenger Hunt is set to being on April 12th when we will be taking a great group of 30 travelers from Los Angeles to Toronto -- the long way. You can follow us here at HuffPost, or on Facebook, On Twitter @wmchalmers, or the official event blog PostCards at GlobalScavengerHunt.com.