There has always been some in the backpacking community who will act like assholes. But then there are some who just don’t seem to know any better and come off as assholes, but are just not aware of their situation. Or maybe caved to peer pressure from others.

After all many of the travellers out there are young and impressionable. Taking gap years from studying to backpack around the world etc.

There seems to be a lot of bad press recently about bad behaving backpackers. The one on top of Mount Kinabalu last year stands out as some ended up in jail for a few days and it drew attention from the world.

Basically what happened is that Mount Kinabalu is regarded as sacred by the local people and several backpackers who climbed it decided to strip off all their clothes to pose for a naked photo, after being told by the local guide it was disrespectful.

So it wasn’t as if they didn’t know that it was seen as wrong by locals. But they did it anyway. The thing is there was an earthquake a few days later and the locals, being informed by the guide what they did, blamed the tourists for angering the mountain.

Now to me and many others that just sounds ridiculous, and the few travellers that they caught getting a little jail time and appearing in court, while all being in the world news, is way over the top.

But then they did show disrespect to the locals. Respect for others beliefs goes a long way in this life. Anyway it turned out in this case that there was one guy who does this a lot, getting naked at these kind of places, and it seems that he instigated it.

He trolled the hell out of Malaysia afterwards, not seeming to care about the travellers that got caught. Now he’s what I describe as an asshole, and some of the others maybe as giving into peer pressure a bit.

I understand the guy just wants to have fun, but he’s having it at others expense, even if the local beliefs seem silly to us. Not cool.

The thing is travel is so much fun and as world travellers we need to be respecting the local culture. The more and more people that don’t do this, the more and more jaded the locals get and you will start to see that in the way they treat you.


I’ve seen places back in the late 90’s and have visited them a decade later and have witnessed this. That’s part of the reason I love getting off the beaten path at times, you get more of a flavour of the real life not overrun by tourists.

Now I’m not saying I’m a total innocent. When I started backpacking in 1997 at the age of 20 I was young and a bit ignorant of some of the places I went to regarding the local traditions, and I like to have a lot of fun. But after being informed that something was not cool I learned and respected the beliefs.

Eventually I would read ahead of time, or listen to other travellers that had been to where I was going, about the traditions etc.

Now I can tell you that stripping of naked at popular tourist places (which seems to be a bit of a trendy thing these days) is not regularly mentioned as a “local tradition”.

It applies to many other things as well, such as eating food etc. Although this is not deemed nowhere near as bad as other things, it’s still worth learning some local styles to be polite.

For example in Japan if you slurp your soup it’s a compliment that your enjoying your food, but in many other countries it’s considered rude. I love Japanese culture!

In India you can eat with your curry with your hands in most places. I love India!

But then if you visited a family in New Zealand and slurped your soup noisily and ate your lamb with your hands, it may not be the best thing to do.


Learn the local food customs.

Thankfully though most local people are happy to inform you of any mistakes you are doing, especially if you ask for advice on local customs.

It’s very easy for all of us to learn the local customs, and even if some sound silly to us, just respect them.

Show respect and you will get respect.

You can do your part as well. If you see someone behaving inappropriately point it out what they are doing wrong, politely off course as there’s a high chance they don’t realise it. Doesn’t matter so much for the slurping of soup kind of thing, but for example I saw a young girl backpacker in one of the holiest muslim sites in Uzbekistan walking around in a bikini top and tight jean shorts.

Again it might sound stupid to us, but after talking with her turns out she was used to beach holiday kind of stuff but her boyfriend wanted to visit Uzbekistan. It was just ignorance. Big difference between being ignorant and acting arrogant.

Anyway after politely pointing out it was very disrespectful dressing the way she was there, she left the place understanding. Travellers did the same to me in my first year or 2 of travelling, pointing out something that was wrong, and I was very appreciative of it.

There’s fun and being laid back, but hey we don’t want to offend people. I don’t know about you but I want to have a hell of a lot of fun, but without pissing on others in the process.

The world is getting smaller and smaller with cheaper flights and we are all interacting more and more with other countries. By being respectful travellers we can help the peoples image of us as a good one, and keep their hospitality and friendly welcomes for the future generations of world travellers.

I didn’t mean to rant, but hey as a long term traveller this is something I believe in a lot, and seeing all these news stories about some backpackers being disrespectful is not good for all of us.

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Jonny Duncan is a travel blogger and freelance photographer. He specialises in adventure and budget travel with over 20 years of experience. He started blogging in 2013 to give advice for other travellers. He has lived in Japan, Amsterdam, Kiev, and more.

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