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Rules to Travel By

There have been a couple of stories making headlines lately that will make even the seasoned travelers shake his or head in disbelief. You could call these examples tourism mishaps. Let’s begin in Yellowstone National Park. In early May, foreign tourists to the National Park (located in the United States) found a baby bison. Wildlife sightings are incredibly common, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that a baby bison was spotted. What was surprising - the tourists apparently believed the young calf was freezing and in need of attention. According to media reports, the tourists somehow loaded the calf into their car and then drove the animal to the nearest ranger’s station. The tourists were cited for their actions and sadly, the calf had to be euthanized.

Thousands of miles away on the other side of the globe, is Koh Tachai island in Thailand. This island is defiantly a bucket list destination, or at least it was. Officials from the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plants Conservation announced that the popular island will be shut down to visitors indefinitely. Authorities say overcrowding and the “degradation of natural resources and the environment” have forced the closure. Even the rare blue coral had been damaged by tourists.

Whether you are traveling to an International Vacation Home Exchange in a neighboring state or overseas, it is important to remember some common rules to travel by so you don’t cause any disruptions (or mishaps). This is especially true if you are traveling to a foreign country where customs and laws may differ. Obviously, you should clean up after yourself and you should probably not load up a wild animal into the back of your car. But there are other rules that you should travel by while visiting a different country so that you don’t have a tourism mishap.
Do your homework. Cultural customs differ from country to country. For example, it is illegal for me (a woman) to drive a car in parts of the Middle East. It may also be offensive for me to wear shorts in some countries. So do your homework on customary behaviors and even gestures. Some gestures that may be totally acceptable in your country may be completely offensive in other countries. 
Dress accordingly. If you are planning to visit a monastery or church, dress accordingly. I remember during a visit to the Vatican and I spotted tourists wearing cutoffs and tank tops. If you plan to visit a graveyard or church, leave the bathing suit at home. On those same lines, it is customary in many cultures to remove shoes when entering homes and religious structures.
Patience is key. If you are from the United States, you know that we tend to have a faster pace compared to other countries. Dinner, for example, is maybe a 30-minute event in the U.S. In Italy, dinner is more like a 2+ hour affair. Have patience and enjoy every minute of your visit, even if you have to wait a few extra minutes (or hours) for your entree to arrive.
Look don’t take. It is a felony in most countries to take artifacts. Here in the United States, if you are caught taking an artifact or historical item, you could go to prison. If you are touring a historical site and happen to see an artifact, look but don’t touch or take.

Avoid public displays of affection. Even something as innocent a kiss can be frowned upon in some countries. In China, for example, public displays of affection are looked down upon in that
Know the rules of the road. If you plan to rent a car to go and from your home exchange, be sure you know what side of the road you are supposed to drive on. In some countries, it is customary to drive on the left side of the road.
The most important rule is to respect and accept all culture customs. These customs may seem weird to you, but that is okay. Half the fun of traveling is that you have an opportunity to get out of your comfort zone. Just have fun and leave the baby bison alone (if you happen to stumble across one). And as always, safe travels.
Thank you to guest travel writer Carla Pruitt, follow Carla on Twitter at @crobscarla 


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