Thirteen Tips for the Accidental Travel Ambassador to Bhutan

1) BE AWARE OF WHERE YOUR MONEY IS GOING and use companies and guides that allow you to patronize locally-owned inns, restaurants, and shops. Try to keep your cash – and contribute – to the local economy, so the people you are visiting can benefit directly from your visit.

2) NEVER GIVE GIFTS TO CHILDREN, only to their parents or teachers. When giving gifts to local communities – from schoolbooks to balloons, from pens to medicines – first find out what’s really needed, and who can best distribute these items.

3) Before visiting any foreign land, TAKE THE TIME TO LEARN BASIC COURTESY PHRASES: greetings, “please” & “thank you”. It’s astonishing how far a little language goes toward creating a feeling of goodwill.

4) REMEMBER THE ECONOMIC REALITIES OF YOUR NEW CURRENCY. A few rupees, baht or Tugriks one way or another is not going to ruin you. Don’t get all bent out of shape over the fact that a visitor who earns 100 times a local’s salary might be expected to pay a few cents more for a ferry ride, a handicraft item, or an egg.

5) BARGAIN FAIRLY, and with respect for the seller. Again, remember the economic realities of where you are. The final transaction should leave both buyer and seller satisfied and pleased. Haggling for a taxi or carpet is part of many cultures; but it’s not a bargain if either person feels exploited, diminished, or ripped-off.

6) LEARN AND RESPECT THE TRADITIONS AND TABOOS OF YOUR HOST COUNTRY. Each culture has its own mores, and they’re often taken very seriously. Never, for example, point your finger directly at a photo of a high Lama or statue of a Buddhist deity while visiting a monastery or shrine or refuse a cup of butter tea along with endless offers of refills!

7) CURB YOUR ANGER, AND CULTIVATE YOUR SENSE OF HUMOR. Anger is a real issue for westerners—even the Dalai Lama remarks on this. It’s perversely satisfying, but it never earns the respect of locals, or defuses a bad situation. A light touch—and a sense of cosmic perspective—are infinitely more useful.

8) It makes an enormous difference if you ARRIVE WITH A SENSE OF THE SOCIAL, POLITICAL, AND ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUESfaced by the people you are visiting – or are interested and willing to learn about these from your guide and the people you interact with during your trip.

We can provide a list of interesting articles or local websites for you to preview prior to your trip and of course reading up on the political and historic sections of various guidebooks are especially good for this. Bhutan also offers a number of English-language newspapers and magazines (Kuensel, Bhutan Observer, Bhutan Times, Drukpa) as well.

9) LEARN TO LISTEN. The ability to listen is the essence of diplomacy, on both the personal and international levels. Travelers from both Europe and the US in particular should be aware that many people—especially in developing countries—believe that having the ear of a foreign visitor / guest is tantamount to having the ear of country he or she happens to represent. So wherever you’re from, listen well—and with respect—to all points of view.

Be especially ready and willing to listen and learn from your interactions in Bhutan; the Bhutanese have an amazing perspective and something extraordinarily special to share but are not so forthcoming or direct in their interactions especially with “outsiders”.

10) LEARN TO SPEAK. Many people from wealthy or powerful countries often express their opinions as if they are the absolute truth. Such preaching invites anger and resentment and insults everyone. We suggest tempering conversations or perspectives with phrases like “In my opinion”,  “I believe,” or “My view is,” rather than, “Everybody knows….”

11) The single most useful phrase any traveler can learn: “CAN YOU PLEASE HELP ME?” Rarely, in any country or situation, will another human being refuse a direct request for help. Being of service, and inviting others to reciprocate, is what the phrase global community is all about.

12) LEAVE YOUR PRECONCEPTIONS ABOUT THE WORLD AT HOME. The inhabitants of planet Earth – and especially those of Bhutan – will continually amaze you with their generosity, hospitality and wisdom. Be open to their friendship, and aware of our common humanity, delights, and hardships.

13) NEVER FORGET KURT VONNEGUT JR’S BEST LINE: “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.” In other words: go with the flow, and give free rein to your sense of adventure!

Thanks to Ethical Traveler for these “adapted” tips which we share with you now. Ethical Traveler’s focus is on the positive impact travelers can have by being open, informed, and willing to immerse themselves in other cultures.