Keen to travel the world? Want to make sure you remain safe and respectful to your hosts whilst having a blast?
We spoke to the 2018 Coordinator of Arc's Passports With Purpose, Clay, who is also a veteran volunteer for Cambodia’s Restore One, and chatted tips and tricks for staying out of trouble while having the time of your life.
What are you first steps when you know you’ve got a trip coming up?
I break this into 4 main steps:
- Can I leave Australia?
You’ll need a minimum of 6 months validity on your passport or risk being turned back at the departure gate!
- Can I enter my destination?
Depending on your nationality and your destination, you may need a visa. The application process is different for each country, some take a few weeks and some only require a cash payment on arrival. It's best to research this well in advance of your trip.
You might be totally buzzing about your upcoming adventure, but is your body ready to face whatever unfamiliarities await at your destination? Travel doctors can give the best advice on what vaccinations and other health precautions you’ll need. Be ready to provide your doctor with a detailed travel itinerary.
- A Plan
What sites do you want to see? What experiences do you want to have? How might you like to get around in-country? Do you want to ‘wing it’ and see where you end up? These are all questions you should ask yourself early so you can do as much research as possible.
What’s your advice for keeping culturally cool?
Travelers can unconsciously fall into the trap of purchase power. Just because we pay for an overseas holiday, doesn’t mean we have the right to behave how we want to once we get there. Having cultural sensitivity is the most important, and hardest to achieve, aspect of responsible travel.
Pre-departure, reading travel guides and forums might give you a heads up on any cultural customs you need to be aware of. When you arrive, however, the real work begins. Be an observer. Take note of peoples’ greetings, mannerisms and body language. A gesture as small as handing over your first taxi payment with two hands is likely to go a long way in some cultures.
Some big no-no’s are being a public nuisance (drunken karaoke out your hotel window is only funny to you) and wearing whatever you like, wherever you like. For example, at a lot of cultural sites in South East Asia, you’ll be turned away for wearing singlets and short shorts.
What are some of the major pitfalls you’ve seen/heard?
Partying is an important part of travelling for a lot of us. Doing it safely, however, is sometimes harder than expected. Simple precautions like watching your drinks (that goes for the bartender making your drink as well as the other patrons), not accepting recreational drugs (you don’t know what’s in them, nor do you know if the person offering them to you is a police officer), and keeping an eye on your buddies will keep you safe on a night out.
That leads us onto knowing the local laws. Often drug and sexual offences will carry much tougher penalties than here at home. Religion can play a role in local law and liberal behaviour is not always acceptable - that means no hotel nudie runs! For LGBTIQ+ travelers, it’s always best to thoroughly research the local customs, as unfortunately, in a lot of the world you can still be prosecuted for being who you are.
What’s something you take for granted in Australia that you shouldn’t overseas?
Having most of my experience in South East Asia - I’d say clean water! Avoiding tap water can be a pain but might also save you from a few days spent in the bathroom and not out exploring the sites. Also, not tipping for meals and taxis is not always ok. Nor is ignoring people on the street as we tend to do in our big cities here in Australia.
Based on your experience, what’s one way you can get the most out of a trip?
Seek the ‘local’ experience. Often hotel staff and taxi drivers are happy to point you in the direction of the best eateries, cafes and markets that don’t necessarily have the most tourists at them. Being cautious of scams, but also being open to locals giving you a personal tour can lead to some of the best discoveries. This brings me back to cultural awareness. Locals will appreciate it if you attempt the customary formalities and greetings, and are more likely to give you a helping hand!