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Gap Year Etiquette: How to be a Responsible Traveller

Taking a gap year before you start university can be a great experience. Not only will you learn about new cultures and meet new people, but you’ll gain some incredible perspective on life in general. In order to ensure that you make the most of your time abroad, we’ve put together this post on gap year etiquette to help you learn some of the dos and don’ts of travelling in a foreign country.

Support the Local Economy

Buy local food

Buying locally on your year abroad helps support the economy of your host country. If you can, try to eat at local restaurants and cafes rather than at larger chains. We all like a bit of the familiar every now and then but going the extra mile to seek out local delicacies lets you experience authentic cuisine.

Use local travel companies

When it comes to transport, try to use local companies or look for alternative ways to travel. Part of the excitement of going on a gap year is travelling to new places in unusual ways. I mean, why would you want to take the bus when you could get there on horseback or by camel?

Many countries rely heavily on tourism for their economy and the more you embrace local, independent retailers on your gap year, the more you’ll help their economy and enjoy an authentic foreign experience.

Embrace Foreign Culture

Being a responsible traveller means embracing foreign culture as much as you can. Many non-European countries have customs that will seem strange to people from inside Europe but these are all part of the culture, history and traditions that make a country interesting to travellers.

Try to fit in

Where possible, try your best to fit in to your new environment. If the country has specific clothing laws, make sure you’re aware of them and dress in order to blend in with the locals. You should also be aware of the current political landscape in the country and how it impacts you as a traveller.

Learn about the culture

It’s also a good idea to learn a bit about the country’s religions and practices so that you know what to expect before you arrive. It’s important to be aware of religious boundaries and know when religious holiday and festival periods are. In some countries, shops and restaurants close at specific times throughout the day to allow for prayer and worship.

Learn Some of the Local Language

It will help you build bridges

Regardless of what country you’ll be spending your gap year in, people like when foreigners make an effort to communicate in their language, even it’s only a few words. Learning key words and phrases can really help you integrate into local communities better, plus it’ll help you get by more easily in the country.

It will help with the practicalities

We all know how complicated it can be completing paperwork, so imagine trying to fill out a form in an unfamiliar language! Having a basic understanding of the country’s language will also help you with travel, finances and socialising.

It can help you avoid offense

You should also be aware of which phrases to avoid. In some countries, the same word can mean two very different things depending on the context. Having a guidebook of the country you’ll be travelling to will provide you with useful information about the most appropriate way to ask for things as well as giving you a head’s up on what phrases to avoid.

Be Aware of Current Affairs

A responsible traveller will be aware of what’s happening in the country they’re visiting. Not only does this give you a better cultural and political awareness but it gives you things to talk about with the people you meet and the opportunity to brush up on your language skills.

Avoid controversial issues

Where possible, try to avoid talking about issues that might strongly divide opinion as you don’t want to end up in a heated debate that might offend the locals.

By being a responsible traveller and being aware of gap year etiquette, you’ll be able to make the most of your time abroad. To end this post, we’d like to leave you with a choice phrase that should see you right, throughout your gap year:

‘Take nothing but photographs; leave nothing but footprints’

What do you consider to be good gap year etiquette? What other ways can students ensure that they are responsible travellers?

For more useful gap year advice for students, check out our other posts on the Success at School website.

Related posts:

What Should I Pack for my Student Gap Year?

Why Should I Take a Student Gap Year?

Image credit: Shankar S. - https://www.flickr.com/photos/shankaronline/6975053966/