Show a Little Kindness on Your Travels

How graciously you treat the locals you encounter when you travel – whether taxi drivers, hotel staff, porters or guides – speaks volumes.

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Smiling lady in Bhutan Photo © Getty Images / Tim Graham

The people we meet on our travels often determine whether we love a destination or find it a bit ho-hum. Just as we love meeting kind and friendly locals, don’t forget about the many tourism workers looking after us – serving us food, cleaning our rooms, guiding us, or driving us around. Just because someone is ‘working’ for you, doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the same respect as the other locals you encounter. Here’s a universal truth – everyone just wants to connect. 

Prepare for success

Before you leave home, only pack what you need; think of the people who are potentially going to be schlepping your bags around for you – a porter or a taxi driver, for example. Learn a few key phrases in the local language before you leave home, too, especially how to say ‘thank you’. People love to feel seen; making an effort to speak their language is an easy way to achieve this and it doesn’t cost a thing. Also, have appropriate amounts of cash on hand to leave tips for porters, housekeeping, drivers, servers and whomever else may help you. They rely on your generosity.

Stop and chat

Showing an interest in someone’s local culture and community is an easy way to connect. Tamara Jacobi of Tailwind Jungle Lodge in the Mexican Pacific, says her staff appreciates when guests engage them in conversation and “ask questions about their lives, practice their Spanish and ask for help with words and pronunciation”. Much Better Adventures Director Sam Bruce agrees. “Ask about family and be genuinely interested, it helps break down barriers,” he says.

Be a good guest

Jessica Blotter knows a thing or two about kindness. As CEO of socially conscious hotel booking platform Kind Traveler, her company is built around creating mutually beneficial travel experiences. She suggests something all of us can do: “maintain a well-kept room. It’s basic human kindness to clean up after yourself”. Tidy up, put things in the proper bin, and keep towels off the floor unless specifically making it clear you need them laundered.

Acknowledge great service

Giving a compliment, both directly to the person who helped you as well as to management, can make someone’s day. Compliments are terrific conversation starters, and research shows that receiving praise lights up the same part of the brain as monetary rewards. By all means, tip away, but don’t forget the human aspect of direct communication. For those who really want to go the extra mile, Blotter suggests leaving a thoughtful thank-you note for housekeeping staff in addition to your tip. 

If someone you’ve met on your trip has enhanced your experience, be sure to name names and give credit where credit’s due on review platforms such as TripAdvisor – it could be the best thank you that staff member has received all year.

Leave something of value behind

It’s a sad reality that many people lack access to basic necessities, particularly in the developing world. Although it’s important to pack lightly, Bruce recommends bringing one or two extras you can leave behind; things like personal hygiene products, school supplies, flashlights or batteries. Jacobi says her staff members treasure small token gifts like maple syrup (very exotic in the jungles of Mexico) and that one worker collects Canadian five-dollar bills because he’s crazy about the color! Travelers have also been known to bring and leave essential first-aid products and veterinary medicines.

Use social media to their advantage

Bruce also suggests staying in touch with the staff you’ve enjoyed connecting with via social media – if that person ever comes to your part of the world, you may have the chance to show them some of the same hospitality they showed you. Take the time to leave reviews for great service and tag businesses on your Facebook or Instagram posts when you share your experiences with friends and followers. “Word of mouth is so valuable in travel,” Bruce says.

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