What Would We Never Do Again When We Travel?

Learning how to be better travelers doesn’t happen overnight. We asked our staff, scholarship mentors, filmmakers, and affiliate partners to share their biggest travel regrets and faux pas.

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The coronavirus pandemic has caused us all to rethink the way we travel, and plan to travel more mindfully, respectfully, and wisely in future. Here are some lessons from the past that we’ll take with us.

What is something you would never do again when you travel?

“Eat dog soup. It was a “when in Rome” situation, except Rome was Pyongyang, and I’m fine never going there again.” – Tim Neville, travel writer and World Nomads Travel Writing Scholarship mentor

“I once ended up in a Tuk-Tuk in Thailand with two friends when the driver insisted on taking us to a ping-pong show. We had no idea what a ping-pong show was (yes, we were young and naïve), but we tipped the driver for delivering us to the door. I don’t know if the women in the show had been trafficked or not, or were there by choice (I don’t judge those there by choice), but something just didn’t feel right as I watched them start to perform. None of them were smiling. They just performed their routine as if they were robots. I felt sad for them and sick to my stomach.” – Emily Willis, Head of Content, World Nomads

“I would never leave all my bags on a train, with less than three minutes to departure, and run back to the retrieve a credit card that I suddenly realized I had dropped at a vending machine. I still can’t believe I did that.” Richard I’Anson, photographer and World Nomads Travel Photography Scholarship mentor

“I would never again trust someone that I can see I should not trust, no matter how wealthy or known they are, and no matter how many Hawaiian islands I'd get to sail around.” – Kristen, Omventure

“Since joining World Nomads, and hearing amazing traveler stories, I realize how much of a cliché traveler I was, in only visiting the largest cities for a long weekend, following the popular to-dos and eating at the highly rated (tourist) markets. But, in recent trips, I’m proud to say I’ve ventured off the beaten path, which definitely gave me a more realistic impression of that country, and will continue to do so. Also, I now enjoy spending more time on the road, as opposed to in the air, to make those local connections.” – Dianne Damour, Email Marketing Manager, World Nomads

“Just showing up at an indigenous community or village and starting to take pictures. Over the years of making mistakes and storytelling, I've learned the importance of getting the right consent and bringing the subject on board to your project before bringing out the cameras.” – Jigar Ganatra, filmmaker and World Nomads Film Scholarship winner

A wild elephant in Thailand. Image credit: Getty Images / David Trood

What are some sustainable travel faux pas you’d never make again?

“In the early days of our travels, we didn't put too much thought into the sustainability side of things. We never actively did anything to harm the environment, cultures, or animals, but we also didn't do any research on responsible travel before we went somewhere. All it takes is a few minutes of online research to find out how to behave in a responsible way and focus on sustainable tourism, and you can make a hugely positive impact on the places you visit.” – Alesha Bradford and Jarryd Salem, Directors, NOMADasaurus and Van Life Theory

“When I visited Bali Zoo, I walked through all the enclosures – including the tiger cave. As I walked toward the sedated tiger (after paying a few Indonesian rupees to get through), it dawned on me that Id literally just funded another few hours of sedatives for that poor animal.

A few years later, I went to Chiang Mai. We'd heard so many good things about the elephant sanctuary – until we went there to see it for ourselves. We witnessed the mahout (elephant trainer) beating the elephant's head with a sharp stick, while we sat – mortified – in the wooden box on its back.

I'm a huge believer that none of us seek these unethical experiences on purpose – but unfortunately, for as long as we continue to fund these attractions, they'll stick around. Safe to say, any animal tourism is totally off my list.” – Milly Brady, Content Producer, World Nomads

“Going on the cheapest dive boat with heaps of other divers. I would rather spend the time with fewer humans in the water to enjoy the wildlife and environment and support the smaller dive operations. We have seen people in the water nearly drowning, since they weren’t qualified and were put in a dangerous situation, plus seen unexperienced divers standing on coral and harassing fish.” – Ulrike Eulenfeldt, UX Designer, World Nomads

“I wish I had never taken my young children to a dolphin show, where they were “kissed” by dolphins who were trained to leap from the pool and touch the side of their faces. At the time, I had no idea how these beautiful animals are often stolen from their mothers and mistreated in captivity.” – Kate Duthie, Managing Editor, World Nomads

“Over the years, I’ve increasingly become concerned about animal welfare and how this relates to environmental degradation and depletion. There are two things I’ve done that have haunted me 1. Riding on an elephant in Thailand while filming a doc about the early days of internet dating. 2. Eating turtle soup in New Orleans while filming a food story. I’d become vegetarian by that time, but made an exception that night, and I still think about it.” Brian Rapsey, filmmaker and World Nomads Film Scholarship mentor

I would never travel without my own reusable shopping bag. Especially in Japan, where everything is wrapped in plastic, then packaged in more plastic, then put in a plastic carry bag. – Jo Tovia, World Nomads

How has COVID-19 changed the way you plan to travel?

“I guess I’ll wear a facemask more than I ever would before. I’ve already been a huge advocate of hand cleaning and sanitizer when traveling. I’m applying more of my travel hygiene when I’m at home now.” Alison Wright, travel photographer

“I love visiting markets – wet markets included – when I travel, but I may reconsider depending on what the health advice from WHO is.” – Isaac Entry, Social & Content Marketing Manager, World Nomads

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9 Comments

  • Kelly said

    Whilst in Thailand years ago I put my foot on a paper money that was blowing away by the wind. A local starting yelling at me. Apparently putting my foot on the face of the King is a huge no no!? You can be jailed for this in Thailand.

  • Crose said

    Interesting to reading these because always good to respect the local etiquette and surprising how many don't do research. 99% there is no ethical animal tourism but I had different experience in Chiang Mai, the group I was with we went to is Elephant Nature Park and is the one place that everyone praises because of its work to recuse and provide sanctuary to abused elephants through riding them of or hard labor. It a place that should be supported and of course people do the later do not like this place. I can't say for certain but having you went to place trying to pretend to be this place.

  • Marg Breuer said

    The Vietnamese are very forgiving of cultural faux-pas'. If you just understand a few cultural differences it makes for a much better experience.
    They may ask your age, this is for them to know how to treat you, older is better in Vietnam.
    Never give flowers to a local, most flowers are for the dead if you want to give a gift, honey in an earthware or glass is a good choice.
    Never finish all the food on your plate, the locals will think they have not given you enough.
    Vietnam is not only Buddhist, the temples in the old city in Hanoi are mostly for ancestor worship, do not barge in to pray!
    Ask the locals how you should behave, they will be happy to share their culture, and remember there are over 50 ethnic groups in Vietnam, so you will not get it right with everyone!

  • samiamco said

    Anywhere that you RIDE elephants is inherently unethical, so Milly did not do her research. Crose is absolutely correct: Elephant Nature Park (http://elephantnaturepark.org) in Chiang Mai is the famous, legit rescue & preserve – Milly wound up at one of the posers piggybacking on their reputation, who hope that tourists will get confused by similar-sounding names, like Milly did. This is easily avoided by a few minutes of online research. And just remember to never, EVER, support a place that offers elephant rides. Just, NO.

  • AmeliaMcGrath said

    Samiamco, you're right. This was a few years back (try, 5 to be exact). I was young & unaware of the complications surrounding elephant riding. But, now I know better, and I hope others take the time to do their research before choosing to book.

  • Byngo Star said

    Isaac Entry, no one should love visiting wet markets. No one.

  • Nattha said

    I’m from Bangkok and I love wet markets. I mean... they’re just markets. I love the markets in tropical countries like Indonesia, Ecuador, Colombia, Taiwan, and Peru. Maybe only in China are there illegal wild animals for food or medicine, but I really have not seen any in these countries. None. Markets are cool. Lots of biodiversity. Lots about how the locals live. You can see the typical lunch and desserts that the locals eat, and it’s really cool. No need to give it a bad rap. It’s true if the hygiene standards are bad then it is bad but even in remote places most of these markets are well kept.

  • Elizabeth said

    A group of us went to Romania 25 years ago, bringing medicine and supplies to a hospital and orphanage. We stayed with a local. Before returning home we had some Romanian currency left so we decided to buy a few things. The shops were sparse, it was hard to find anything decent, so as the currency was worthless to us we just bought anything to use it up. The items l remember buying included some little drink glasses, batteries, post-it notes, highlighter pens. Later that evening we were talking with our hostess and she mentioned the average wage of a person in Romania, I remember the shame we felt as we realised that collectively we had just spent a months wages on nonsense. I still feel that shame to this day that we hadn't left our useless spare currency for our hostess instead.

  • Lesley said

    We always look for wet markets when we travel. We don't always buy anything, but we chat (as best we can) with the vendors. Most often we're looking for fruit. In most places the people are happy to chat, especially as we go after the busiest time of day and are more than happy to have their photograph taken.

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