‘I dislike feeling at home when I am abroad’ were words uttered by the great Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw. The concept of traveling was practised not just to click photographs, but to learn what the world consists of outside one’s own community. The difference in culture and traditions across borders is fascinating, but it can become daunting, too. In order to be a good traveler, it is best to learn some of the basic etiquette from your chosen location. Here is Culture Trip’s guide on how to travel responsibly in India.
Buy from local sources
India has local manufacturers in weaving and handicraft all over the country. There are government-run emporiums that curate items from local weavers and artisans but there are also many shops that make duplicates and sell them for five times the price! Ask your tour manager or research beforehand where to buy souvenirs from to get authentic items at a fair price.
Don’t encourage ‘voluntourism’
While volunteering has its admirable intentions, it may result in unintended consequences—especially when travelling abroad. For example, many orphanages that offer volunteer programs are, in reality, money-making scams that accept donations and visits from foreigners but do little to help the children in their care. If you want to volunteer, make sure you do some thorough research and think very carefully about where and what you will be doing.
Be mindful of wildlife abuse
The state of wildlife in India is, sadly, grim. Elephants, for example, are bred as entertainment for tourists—shackled and taught unnatural tricks from a very young age. Many places that offer the opportunity to bathe an elephant or to watch it perform tricks will also indulge in animal abuse. So, instead, support the conservation of wildlife by visiting the country’s national parks and forests.
In India, more is better. The culture of dressing in religious and conservative countries is quite different from that in European (and other Western) ones. Women, especially, do not wear clothes that show their legs above the knee. Sleeveless tops are fine, but ones with small straps—or skimpy clothing of any kind—may attract unwanted stares.
Know when to tip
Tipping in India is very complicated. It’s not custom to tip waiters in restaurants because almost every eating joint levies a ‘service charge’ that goes to the staff. However, more often than not designated drivers and local guides will depend on tips. Ask your tour manager for a better understanding, but if you are unsure—don’t tip! Sometimes offering money can be seen as insulting or inappropriate.
Respect local culture
It’s always best to blend into the place that you’re visiting. Indians are very sentimental about temples and traditions that relate to their religion. For instance, in the Golden Temple in Amritsar it is mandatory for every person to cover their head. Adhering to such rules shows respect for the place you have chosen to visit.
Take time to research
Parts of India may not have the comforts and luxuries that one might be used to back home. It is always advisable to research your chosen location before you visit and read as many details as possible. Your trip will be much better if you go mentally prepared!
Choose eco-friendly lodgings
Tourism is great for the economy; however, the toll it takes on environment and the ecological system cannot be ignored. It is a good thing, then, that India has so many beautiful eco-friendly accomodations to stay in! The Apani Dhani Eco-lodge in Nawalgarh, Rajasthan is a family-run lodge that uses local produce to make the vegetarian food they serve. This lodge is built in local style and donates a portion of its profits to community development.
If you are looking to have a responsible and adventurous time in India, check out Intrepid Travel.