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Cultural Awareness

The effect of ‘culture’ on travellers falls into three categories:


Cultural Awareness is the initial process of learning about the different cultures you will encounter on your travels.


Culture Shock affects travellers on arrival in a new country. Culture shock is a far greater problem than most people imagine; it can have a very negative impact on travellers and has the potential to ruin a trip. For more information please visit our Cultural Shock page.


Reverse Culture Shock occurs when travellers return home after a long trip. You may be familiar with this syndrome from previous short holidays, when the ‘blues’ kicks in on your return. The longer and more extensive the travel, the greater the reverse culture shock and it can lead to longer than necessary periods of low productivity. For more details please visit our Returning Home page.



Many people travel the world specifically to discover different cultures and experience living within them. It is one of the areas where the knowledge gained through travel can give you a distinct advantage when you return, both in everyday life and in your future career.

Cultures can vary dramatically even within a single country. They are linked to many different factors including; religion, traditional ways of life, sustainability, superstition and the environment amongst others. Some ‘cultures’ are important traditions which have survived centuries; others are enshrined in the law.

Being ignorant of or misunderstanding the culture at your destination can result in offending local sensitivities and as a consequence you may miss out on new experiences which you might otherwise enjoy. In extreme cases, the offence caused can lead to resentment and make you more susceptible to becoming a victim of crime.

In many communities ‘respect’ is the foundation on which society is built and it determines the hierarchy within the local community. Understanding and respecting local cultures can present the most amazing opportunities and allow you to look at life in a completely differently light. Most local people you will meet will be friendly and generous; in some countries you will be treated as a revered guest.

If you gain the respect of the local people, it can often afford you protection which nothing else you can do will replicate; being ‘accepted’ in some communities effectively gives them responsibility for you according to their culture.


An example:

In Papua New Guinea I had several items stolen from my pack which I had left next to my tent in a remote village in the Sepik river region. As a foreign visitor I was a guest of the village chief; foreign guests bestow honour on the chief. When he became aware of the theft (through a third party as I would not have embarrassed him for the sake of the loss of a few small items) he was obviously very disturbed by this affront to his authority.

I don’t know what happened to the perpetrator of this petty theft, but when I returned home the next day from a trek up-river, the items were back in my pack. No words were ever spoken… not just because PNG has some 800 different languages…


Cultures can’t be fully understood before you arrive in-country; it must be a combination of research pre-travel and experience during travel. The research element of this process is vital in putting your experiences into context. 

During our Independent Travel Safety & Cultural Awareness Workshop we examine the different elements which make up cultures and the best sources of information to allow you research your destinations.

Following simple rules such as how to behave in a Buddhist temple, how to enter a Mongolian Ger (Yurt) or the many different ways of greeting the people you meet across the world, will allow you to start gaining the trust of those you meet in the places you visit. This acceptance allows you ‘integrate’ into communities and helps you to learn about the ‘real’ culture of your hosts.