Foreign travel is an exceptional experience enjoyed by a privileged few. Too often, tourists try to transfer their lifestyles to tropical islands, thereby missing out on what is unique to the region. Travel can be a learning experience if approached openly and with a positive attitude, so read up on the local culture before you arrive and become aware of the social and environmental problems of the area. A wise traveler soon graduates from hearing and seeing to listening and observing. It’s not for nothing that we have two eyes and ears but only one mouth.
The path is primed with packaged pleasures, but pierce the bubble of tourism and you’ll encounter something far from the schedules and organized efficiency: a time to learn how other people live. Walk gently, for human qualities are as fragile and subject to abuse as the brilliant reefs. The South Pacific islanders are by nature soft-spoken and reserved. Often they won’t show open disapproval if their social codes are broken, but don’t underestimate them: They understand far more than you think. Consider that you’re only one of thousands of visitors to their country, so don’t expect to be treated better than anyone else. Respect is one of the most important things in island life and humility is also greatly appreciated.
Don’t try for a bargain if it means someone will be exploited. What enriches you may violate others. Don’t promise things you can’t or won’t deliver. Keep your time values to yourself; the Pacific islanders lead an unstressful lifestyle and assume that you are there to share it.
This is no tourist’s paradise, though, and local residents are not exhibits or paid performers. They have just as many problems as you, and if you see them as real people you’re less likely to be viewed as a stereotypical tourist. You may have come to escape civilization, but keep in mind that you’re just a guest.
Most important of all, try to see things their way. Take an interest in local customs, values, languages, challenges, and successes. If things work differently than they do back home, give thanks-that’s why you’ve come. Reflect on what you’ve experienced and you’ll return home with a better understanding of how much we all have in common, outwardly different as we may seem. Do that and your trip won’t have been wasted.