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Top ten ways to travel without hacking off the locals

Author David Fletcher is addicted to visiting the world’s greatest ‘off the beaten track’ locations. Africa, India, the Middle East – all places of astonishing natural beauty and remarkable culture.

So what is the biggest cause of environmental and cultural problems that he sees when travelling to these places? People who travel. People just like him. In their thousands – and all ‘off the beaten track’. Here, he reveals how to get around without upsetting the locals.

When one travels around the world, especially to some of its more remote destinations, it is all too easy to cause distress without really trying. Unintentionally, one can cause consternation by not recognising that there are local sensitivities and local norms not usually encountered in places like Southend and Scunthorpe.

1. Leave your prejudices at home. Preconceived opinions not based on reason or, more importantly, on one’s own actual experiences, have no place in your luggage. Furthermore, if your prejudices are as deep-seated and as abominable as the white woman traveller in Botswana who would not sit at the same table as her black guide, then you should leave yourself at home as well.

2. Be aware of local beliefs and customs. For example, you might have some quite legitimate opinions on the manner in which animals are dispatched for the purpose of providing meat, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that you can air them safely. Criticising the production of kosher meat runs the risk of being frowned upon, not just in Israel, but in all those countries where halal meat is not just an option.

3. Be aware of the rules of a country. Whether it’s knowing how dangerous it is to drive at night or how dangerous it is to use one’s own silly little torch when observing lions in the dark, do your homework.

4. Acquaint yourself with the local currency and with the local ways of settling bills. By doing this you will not only avoid upsetting the waiter or the petrol pump attendant by tipping him the monetary equivalent of a beansprout, but you will also avoid upsetting the guy at the hotel checkout. If his credit card machine operates just in US dollars, no amount of your remonstrating with him will ever make it operate in pounds instead.

5. Learn to be patient. Many countries operate at a slower pace than that of our own. This is especially evident in any manifestation of their governments, where dealing with their bureaucrats can make dealing with our own British bureaucrats seem like an all too transient joy. Learn to live with it.

6. Don’t expect what you would expect at home. If the only working dial on the taxi’s fascia is the clock, then just accept it. If the taxi wobbles at speeds over twenty miles per hour, then relish the excitement. And if the hire car is carpeted not with carpet but with sand, then just enjoy the difference.

7. Don’t wear inappropriate clothes. That skimpy top might have looked good when you tried in on at Next, but the locals might not see it that way. In the same way, that bright white shirt might show off your tan, but it might not impress the local carnivores. When one is observing wildlife, one should preferably wear khaki-coloured clothes, even if your personal stylist has warned you that your complexion cannot manage either khaki or beige.

8. Learn to love police stops. Relish them as an opportunity for a rest – and try to ignore the fact that they are also as an opportunity for the state to impose its sometimes overbearing presence on its own people.

9. Don’t shout or even talk too loudly. You will not impress the locals and you might easily upset them. Furthermore, you won’t ever see any leopards.

And perhaps the most important point of all…

10. Know where you are. Check, before you go, whether Guyana is in Africa or South America, and if you’re going to Costa Rica, don’t fall into the (American tourist) trap of asking the taxi driver what it’s like to live on an island – in the mistaken belief that you’re in Puerto Rico.

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