In a time where uncertainty and terror plague our world, it is absolutely vital that we're familiar with the culture, tradition, language, history, religion, economics, and politics of each destination we plan to visit. Being an expert in all of these elements is not a prerequisite for traveling, but keeping an open and educated mind is undoubtedly crucial. In my personal opinion, there is no greater insult to a group of people than ignorance and disrespect.
Sure, we all enjoy the softer side of traveling.. the romanticism, sightseeing, socializing, fancy hotels, room service, local cuisine.. however, in order to experience something real, it is imperative to immerse oneself within the respective culture. Living like a native defines true travel.
To make light of the concept of cultural differences, it doesn't take a genius to know that you wouldn't wear the attire you'd sport in a New York night club in the midst of more conservative Middle Eastern countries. Communication is key. Understanding interactions and how they can be misconstrued between various cultures is also a factor to take into consideration. For example, in the US, a firm handshake is often interpreted as a sign of masculinity whereas in Africa, a limp handshake signifies the appropriate way to complete this action.
In our day & age, there truly isn't any excuse for lack of preparation when it comes to trip planning. With so many valuable resources available from travel guides to books to internet articles and much more, cultural information is easily accessible in today's society. Some of the more popular references include:
- National Geographic: Travel & Cultures section.
- Wikitravel: Valuable resource, broken down by country & city.
- Frommers: Community & Forums sections.
- Lonely Planet: Thorn Tree Travel Forum.
If you know of other credible resources, please share in the comments below - the more aware & educated we all are, the safer we'll all be.