The Responsible Traveler

July 25, 2024
Today´s Paper

The Responsible Traveler

The Responsible Traveler

The Responsible Traveler

We all do it. We set our sights on our next vacation destination, gather up our friends and family, and start looking at flights and accommodation options. The more we look, the more excited we get. The departure date approaches, and our excitement grows! The things we’ll do! The places we’ll see! The warm and inviting ocean! The cenotes! Just keeping up with our trip ambitions consumes our entire mental bandwidth.

But for today’s traveler, there are other important considerations we must keep in mind. Considerations such as: what is the impact of my travel? How do I want to “show up” in a foreign and unfamiliar environment? How does my experience converge or conflict with the experiences of the people who live and work in my travel destination?

The Responsible Traveler

Fortunately in our connected world, answering those questions in a respectful and responsible way is easier than ever. Here are just a few suggestions for making your trip to Tulum (or wherever) a richer and more rewarding experience, for everyone involved:

Mind Their Business

Be respectful of locals trying to make a living. Don’t try to usurp or interrupt their businesses. For example, if you visit a place where locals are engaged in a “show” for visitors, and they are offering photos of themselves for a fee, please don’t jump in and start snapping your own photos. It is disrespectful of the efforts that the locals are putting in, and it is interfering with their livelihoods. Especially in tourist zones, locals need to get creative about how they are going to make a living. And they will inevitably find themselves competing with the buying power of foreign visitors whose buying power might far exceed their own. Be respectful of this economic imbalance, and allow locals to pursue their legitimate business interests unfettered.

The Responsible Traveler

Buy Local

Try to shop and buy local whenever you can. Support the local community in Tulum, or wherever you are vacationing. People work hard to keep these tourist hotspots functioning and thriving – thank them with your support and patronage of their local businesses. This might look like buying fruits and vegetables from the local verdurería. Or buying eggs at the pollería. Or shopping at the mini-super instead of Walmart. Of course, sometimes what you need can only be found at the larger chain stores. But stray off the beaten path when your shopping list is small enough to allow it.

Find a Ride

If you’re visiting an area where Uber operates, that’s great. Uber offers a safe and efficient way to find rides, and the cashless payments system means you don’t have to worry about having the right amount (or any) pesos on hand in order to get a lift to where you’re going. But Uber takes a big chunk of your ride dollars – more for Uber means less for your driver. Chances are, your Uber driver also uses inDriver.

While not as popular or well-known in the U.S. or Canada, inDriver is a ride-hailing app wherein you offer a price for a ride, and drivers can accept it, or suggest a different price. Once an offer has been accepted, it works like any other ride-hailing app – except that you pay the driver directly (there is also a non-cash option, but chances are that you don’t have the right kind of account to use this option). The driver gets to keep a much larger percentage of the trip cost when you use inDriver. Besides, bidding for a ride can be a fun new experience for you!

Rules? What Rules?

Respect the rules. How many times have we said to ourselves: it’s Mexico – no one cares what we do! While “just do it” works for selling shoes, it shouldn’t be our go-to attitude when interacting with a foreign environment. Recently a visitor at Chichen Itza was verbally and physically attacked by locals for ignoring the posted prohibitions and climbing the steps of that sacred structure. He didn’t sustain any permanent injuries, except perhaps to his ego. And that he’ll forever be “that guy”. Don’t be that guy.

The Responsible Traveler

Say The Right Thing

Unlike much of the U.S. and Canada, where formalities have largely given way to minimal effort and maximal practicality, Mexico retains traditions of behavior and etiquette that are ingrained in social interactions, whether between acquaintances or strangers. Some of the most important of these are the exchanges of greetings before getting to the practical point of any interaction. In Mexico, this means saying “good morning”, “good afternoon” and “good evening” when beginning a verbal interaction, or to acknowledge another’s presence – such as when entering a store and acknowledging the proprietor or sales person, or even when passing someone on the street. And even if you are not fluent in Spanish, learning enough to exchange these pleasantries requires a fairly small effort. Here is a quick cheat-sheet:

  • Please: Por favor
  • Thank you: Gracias
  • Good morning: Buenos días
  • Good afternoon: Buenas tardes
  • Good evening: Buenas noches
  • Hello: Hola

Simply starting an interaction with “hola, buenos días” goes a long way toward demonstrating to your hosts that you care about and are sensitive to their culture.

The Responsible Traveler

Check Your Expectations

There are so many cultural differences between Mexico and the United States and Canada, etc. And sometimes visitors will misinterpret these differences. For example, we might look at dogs in the street and think “why do Mexicans mistreat dogs?” Well, they don’t! There are economic imperatives going on behind the scenes that contribute to the presence of street dogs; that make it impractical to ensure dogs are spayed or neutered and that they are all well-fed and have a home. This is just one of many examples that often cause visitors to scratch their heads wondering what is going on, and jump to wrong conclusions.

Get in the practice of putting down that lens you bring from your home and through which you view and judge things. Understand that there is a different lens you must use in order to understand and appreciate what is going on in Mexico. While you won’t be able to see clearly through this new lens at first, use if for a while – things will eventually come into focus.

The Responsible Traveler

Journeying On

Mexico is a beautiful and vibrant and exciting place – this is why you’re here! But it is different. It is a culture many thousands of years in the making. It is composed of elements of the European world, and elements of the indigenous world. It is a multi-faceted and nuanced place, rich in tradition and veiled in mystery. Take the time to appreciate the differences. Recognize the traditions, wonder at the mystery. And most importantly, enjoy the journey!

By Mike Leavy
www.mexicolisto.com

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