Those girls. You know the ones I’m talking about. You’ve rolled your eyes at them, kept your distance from them for fear of association, and you’ve been one of them. I’m talking about the girls who are wasted in public, talking too loud, asking dumb questions. Those girls who are making out, downing shots, and dancing on the bar that can be found at any travel site in the world.
The girls who seem to have done no research on the places they are visiting, and act out against every single local custom. These are the girls wearing the too-small bikinis while everyone else at the beach is fully covered. The girls in Goa, who decide, rules be damned, I’m sun-bathing topless. The girls wearing a low-cut tank top and booty shorts on a visit to a mosque in Egypt because it’s too hot to cover up.
The purpose of this post isn’t to shame our fellow travelers, but to make us conscious of the way we behave while abroad. Because to one degree or another, we’ve all been there, and we’ve all made mistakes while abroad. As witnesses to, and participants in those girls’ paradigm, we should critically analyze why girls act this way. Why do we, as travelers, and especially as women, so often downgrade ourselves when we go abroad? Why do tourists feel entitled to behave in such a manner? What does it all mean?
We cannot discuss how we morph into one of those girls, and why we recoil from them without discussing privileges. The privilege of growing up in a Western country, of having the economic ability to travel, and the political right to freely cross borders. When we act like one of those girls, when we act recklessly and selfishly, our privilege is completely unchecked. When we feel entitled to disrespect local customs, we carry our Western sense of subjectivity, and an overwhelming sense of entitlement. In essence, we are conveying to the locals of the communities we visit that our freedoms translate to cleavage bearing clothes and shaking it on the bar. Those girls are not concerned by the local gaze – they laugh at it. Customs, and even laws, are disregarded because they are not respected, with behavior at home taking precedent.
Would you wear a small bikini top on your flight from New York to Miami? Then why wear one on your flight from Bangkok to Phuket?
As travelers, we need to shed the mindset that enables those girls to engage in egregious behavior; by recognizing this mindset, we are immediately uneasy about seeing it in action.
While we may have good intentions, it is always possible to fall into the trap of those girls. Here are simple simple tips we can do to avoid this stigma:
- Do your research ahead of time. Think about the culture you are visiting. Take your cues from those around you.
- Dress conservatively. Even if you have no problem showing off your body. Even if you think it is sexist or misogynistic to cover up. Even if it’s 100 degrees out. Just do it. You will save yourself a lot of unwanted attention, and find that light-weight linen pants and scarf can be surprising comfortable.
- Do not toss around local money around like it’s monopoly cash. The hundred bucks you just dropped at the bar might be someone’s salary for a whole month. When purchasing something, act respectfully and discreetly. In addition, don’t engage in bargaining if you are not interested in the item, or haggle the price down to pennies and be loud about it . That is time that could be used to make an actual sale.
- Be polite. It’s simple. Be gracious. Don’t roll your eyes at the food on your plate or whine about not having wi-fi. Learn a few words of the local language. A smile and thank you goes a long way.
Especially for new travelers, its easy to lose our inhibitions because we are in a new and exotic place, and remain anonymous. It is understandable how one could translate the freedom they earn through travel into the confidence to dance on the bar or to make-out with fellow backpackers. We may not be Snooki at home, but in Thailand, or Mexico, or India – freed from the gaze of our neighbors and friends (and, as noted earlier, ignorant of the opinions of locals) – we behave in new ways. That being said, when we travel we’re not on our own turf. And so we should act cautiously; be aware of ourselves, our surroundings, and how we come across. No one wants to be branded as one of those girls – much like we don’t want to be seen as an Ugly American, or fanny-packed tourist.
If you travel to a new place, and hang out with people from your own country, eat only your type of food and behave in the same exact way you would at home, then what is the point of travelling at all? Check yourself. Respect and learn about your new culture and celebrate new ideas and ways of seeing. It may not be comfortable, and that is ok. Wander out of the drunken tourist traps, and listen to the people, and environment around you. This is paramount to experience. In this way, you build relationships, become part of a community, and embark on new adventures. The potential to learn and grow is unsurpassed, when we stop acting like those girls and start living.