A lot of times I heard people who never travelled themselves saying that those, who dare to quit everything in their life to be able to go to other countries for a longer period of time are irresponsible. They think that backpackers are running away from commitment, from reality. But what if I told you that there’s actually more responsibility in visiting other places than they think?
One of the differences between a tourist and a backpacker/traveller is that a backpacker will always try to avoid the easy way (mainly because it’s the expensive way too). So instead of going on private buses, tours, 4 star hotels or eat at expensive restaurants in the city centres, they would more likely choose to use the public transport, get the cheapest bungalow in a local village, buy their food from a shack where you spot the locals eat themselves.
By doing this, backpackers are exposed to the natives of the country they are in a lot more than the tourists who will spend the most of their time near the pool of their hotels. It means that not only the backpacker gathers the information about the area and people he is visiting, but the people of the area are usually as curious if not more curious than the traveller himself.
What I mean to say by this is whether you like it or not, if you are travelling, you are representing the country/region you come from. So you have to take responsibility for how you will present the knowledge about it to others. And by others I mean not only the locals, but other backpackers as well.
The question “where are you from?” will be in the top 5 questions you’ll be asked every day of your trip (if not number 1 of them all). And to be honest, sometimes you do get tired of it as you will probably have to tell the same story about where you come from, what were you doing in your “normal life”, what brings you here… But it’s essential, people want to know. And I’ve noticed that some people really like this part of the conversation as others try to skip it as soon as they see a chance. When I told people that I’m from Lithuania, I was always suspicious when people showed a lot of interest in it. I thought countries like New Zealand, USA, France, Australia and the other famous ones are the only ones people would be really interested in. But I was wrong and every time someone asked me about my nationality, I was really happy to tell them everything I knew about my country.
As a Lithuanian, I had less opportunities to meet people from other countries than say if I would be English. That’s why I always loved to ask people from different places a lot of questions about their life, politics, views and everything I could think of. Now I think the less tourists you get to your country, the more you are interesting to others, as there are still more rumours about some of the places than truth. But the rumours are often negative as well.
Rumours and stereotypes travel around the world a lot wider than the backpackers do. Often the stereotypes about different nationalities and countries are negative. This is why, I think, it’s one of the responsibilities of a backpacker to share the real information about your country and show a positive example of your countrymen.
Although I sometimes still have to answer weird questions of rumours about my country, I also have the opportunity to present the real picture of it. I always encourage to visit every country the person is questioning me about (if I know that it’s safe in there). And every time someone looks up the pictures of that place, reads about sights to see, things to do, gets to know at least a little bit of history about it, makes me feel that I have done something good.
That’s what the responsible travelling is all about – you are increasing the awareness of the place you represent. You are giving information about it and serve as a real living example of your nationality. By doing this, backpackers are helping their country’s tourism sector, business, hospitality sectors and a lot more. (Or at least they are helping someone to be able to point to a new country on the map.) And how is that not being an ambassador?
It’s very easy to destroy a good image of your country if you act inappropriately. I always keep in mind that every place has good people, but there will always be a few rotten eggs in the basket as well. After someone treats you bad, you can’t just assume that every one in this (from that) country is exactly the same. I met people who got robbed in Asia and said “that’s it, it’s too dangerous, people here are bad, I’m leaving”. So because of one bad human being this person will always assume that all the rest are the same, and not only that – he will spread this information to others too. But it’s not true. Bad things will always happen in life. I’ve met people who were robbed in almost every country they were in, and never have they blamed the place for it. They kept going, met great people and enjoyed the rest of their travels there. This is why we cannot paint all human beings with the same brush. We can’t embrace the bad stereotypes because of a few bad examples.
So I encourage you to be that responsible traveller – to carry your country’s flag high, increasing awareness about it. And don’t you ever think that your country is not interesting. There will be people who will see your country as a complete opposite to their one. Every culture is beautiful and interesting in its own way. So be proud.