Be A Sensitive Traveller

I was standing in the lobby of an upmarket jungle camp in a tiger national park in India, and a fellow traveller was yelling at the top of his lungs with choicest of abuses about how he was being taken for a ride, because he hadn’t been able to spot a tiger. The entire hotel staff was at their wits ends. I wanted to give the fellow a piece of my mind, but decided against it, as it may only make matters worse. But such people are very common and sometimes I wonder if there is a way to filter them out.

One of the things about travelling is having to meet other fellow travellers, and on every trip we meet at least one group which is obnoxious. And often I am reminded on how some ‘tourists’ need lessons in sensitisation. When they are visiting a place, they may be paying for the services but they don’t own anyone. They must learn that all humans are equal and hotel staff are just doing their jobs and aren’t anyone’s servants.

With this post, I am trying to compile some obnoxious and some perhaps unwittingly wrong tourist behaviour, with the hope that it will sensitise at least some people.

In a recent trip, after the Corona Virus lockdowns started getting easier, we were visiting a place where we made it very clear we wanted to be sitting alone and distant from everyone. One traveller, without a mask, kept wanting to sit at our table, chat with us, that too while refusing to wear a mask. We had to be very stern about Corona Virus Manners, something which evidently pissed off this person. If someone isn’t comfortable without masks, don’t force them.

Like the person with the expensive gym body who can’t lift his/her luggage but gets an elderly hotel staff to carry the heavy bags while he/she lifts an itsy bitsy iPad. And such a person will boast on social media about how much weight he/she lifts in the gym.

Or the people who don’t bother to arrange for rooms or meals for their drivers. I am always heartbroken to see drivers sleeping in extreme weather in the cars and struggling to get access to washrooms and meals.

And then there are people who bring (often) under-aged ‘nannys’ for their misbehaved toddlers and enjoy their lavish meals while the poor impoverished ‘nanny’ doesn’t even get to sit, but hold the tantrummy brat at a class-safe distance, and perhaps wondering if she will ever get to even try such exotic aromatic dishes, with her stomach growling in hunger. And while they are having their meals, they will be loud and rude to the staff too.

We have also come across tourists who, in a 3 hour safari, will be munching on potato chips (it is illegal to carry food inside the National Parks), and talking loudly, when everyone is waiting patiently for the rare animal to emerge from the tall grass. I once even photographed a tourist catching a smoke inside a national park, when the safari stops for a toilet break.

As if that’s not bad enough, a friend once experienced someone carrying an infant to a safari. Throughout, the infant cried her lungs out, ruining everyone’s chances of seeing the tiger (or any other shy animal) who was sitting in the grass, and wouldn’t come out.

There are many photographs of tourists feeding biscuits and what not to Himalayan Marmots. Not only is it illegal to feed wild animals, it is also unethical as the tourists introduce these beautiful wild creatures to disease and loss of survival instincts.

The stories of tourists stealing towels and toiletries from hotel rooms has done its round on the social media. What isn’t as much spoken about is tourists stealing natural products like stones, flowers, plants etc from locations like pristine riverbeds, valley of flowers etc. A friend once stole plants from a wild location and called it ‘eco-piracy’. As was nicely put on a poster at Death Valley National Park : “We get more than 1.5 million visitors annually. If each of them takes a small pebble away, soon there will be no Death Valley National Park. Please do not take any stones, pebbles, plants from here”.

I have often seen in places like Mahabaleshwar, Coorg district etc, some locals sell ‘wild honey’ from the jungles. Please don’t ever support it. Such wild honey is unsustainable and to get a liter or bottle of honey, they destroy many honeybee hives with all bees, eggs, larvae and queen bee inside. Entire colonies are destroyed (most colonies may contain upwards of 50,000 bees). Once the hive is broken and squeezed to extract the honey, all the worker bees who would have flown to escape the smoke, would soon die, as they cannot survive without their hive and the queenbee’s pheromones, which binds the community together. It is always better to buy honey from a company which ethically farms bees and collects honey from bee boxes without killing the bees. Under The Mango Tree (UTMT) is one such organisation and you can buy their honey online or from stores like FabIndia.

Years ago, we were in Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary to spend a peaceful year end. The hotel guys told us they hadn’t received too many guests (a fact that thrilled us, as we wanted to avoid the crowds). But come 31st night, a group of tourists staying there took out music boxes, playing loudly and getting drunk. Similarly another bunch of tourists started bursting crackers on an otherwise quiet and serene Diwali night at beach near Mahabalipuram. If people like loud music and crackers, why don’t they stay in the cities on such occasions?

Also, avoid plastic water bottles as much as you can. We have collected over 6 aluminium thermos type bottles in which we carry our water. Have saved us 100s of plastic bottles every year. It’s sad to see so many totally avoidable plastic bottles ending up in our beautiful waters and landscapes.

These (and many such) are the reasons we avoid crowded locations and crowded days. There is always someone who will spoil your trip.

Man Smoking
This tourist was photographed smoking a cigarette during a mid-safari break. Not only is it illegal, it can also burn the forest down.
The basic rules in a Jungle Safari.
The basic rules in a Jungle Safari.
Safari Jeep Off Trail
This tourist and his ‘guide’ were photographed off the permitted trail in a jungle safari, trying to get a better shot of a tiger. It is not permitted top go off the designated trail in forests, please don’t push your drivers.
Then there are picnicers who leave a beautiful outdoor spot full of plastic trash and smashed alcohol bottles. These broken pieces of glass can severely injure wild animals. Also please carry your human trash back with you.

6 thoughts on “Be A Sensitive Traveller”

  1. Oh I can definitely feel your frustration! There were times when I also stumbled upon this kind of tourists, those who for some reason seem unable to come to their senses. Some people are just ignorant — the only thing they care about is taking good photos of themselves in the places they go. They don’t care if their behavior is detrimental to the environment, or offensive to the local culture, as long as they get what they want. That’s why they can turn into monsters when they don’t get what they want.

  2. I’m glad someone wrote this post. You have highlighted some of the obnoxious tourist practices that disturb the environment and ruin the idea of travel.

    People don’t understand that travel is a privilege and we must respect it.

    Thanks for writing such a relevant post!


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