How to Be a Socially Conscious Traveler in Religiously Conservative Countries

Traveling abroad is one of the best ways to expand your mindset and gain insight into all the world has to offer. Experiencing different cultures through their food, music, and customs can truly change how you think and act for the rest of your life, and you’ll often make lifelong friends along the way. In the United States, we are fortunate enough to have passports that grant us access to countries around the world with surprising ease, and you should take advantage of that fact.

However, for all of the amazing culture that you’ll experience abroad, you might also find yourself in religiously conservative countries that will test your resolve. While you might disagree with the particular customs and codes of a religion, it is important to try to remain objective and socially conscious when you’re traveling. When you’re abroad, you are a de facto ambassador for your country. As such, you should try to exhibit all of the best qualities that you can to improve relations around the world.

Practice Safety

Due to Donald Trump’s vitriolic rhetoric regarding immigrants of different races and creeds, the global image of the U.S. has taken a serious hit in recent years. Combine this with his hardline stance on Muslims, going so far as to attempt to initiate a “Muslim ban” on travelers from Muslim-majority countries, and you’ll find that things might be less hospitable than they used to be when traveling to these areas. Even in Muslim-majority countries that have a fairly large secular population, like Tunisia, travel can be dangerous for U.S. tourists.

Tunisia has a rich cultural history that has been put into jeopardy several times over the years by foreign powers, and its proximity to other countries where terrorism is a major concern makes traveling there seem somewhat risky. In 2015, two deadly terrorist attacks in Tunisia directed at foreign tourists claimed over 50 lives, leading the BFO to place travel restrictions on the country that were then lifted in 2017.

Tunisia is much safer to travel to now, as long as you take the appropriate steps to increase your safety. This includes registering with the local embassy and remaining in contact with trusted individuals, letting them know where you’re headed and when you’re expected to be back. Further, when going over your pre-travel checklist, it can be helpful to create an itemized itinerary of what you plan to do. This can help you anticipate any potential risks and bring the documentation or items you’ll need to stay safe. These tips can improve your safety in many areas in similar circumstances.

Like in many countries with a Muslim-majority population, the U.S. has imposed its own travel advisories for locations in Tunisia. It is recommended to stay well away from the Libyan border, the Chaambi National Park Area and surrounding mountainous regions, and the Algerian border due to increased threats of terrorism. However, you shouldn’t let these warnings keep you from traveling to Muslim-majority countries, as they can offer a deep cultural experience, and even the act of traveling to them can begin to mend the cultural divide.

Respect Cultural Differences

Since Donald Trump took office, 1 in 3 U.S. Muslims now fear violent acts of terrorism from the white supremacists that find comfort in supporting him. There has been no shortage of domestic terrorist activity coming from white nationalists since the 2016 election, and the rest of the world has taken notice of this fact. While neo-nazis are attempting to start a culture war on U.S. soil, it is important to go in ready to respect cultural differences when traveling to religiously conservative countries.

For instance, many of these cultural differences will come from religious doctrine that dictates how people should groom and dress themselves. In many Muslim-majority countries without much secular influence, women are expected to wear a hijab, niqab, or burka, while men are expected to maintain big, bushy beards to emulate the prophet Muhammed. Many countries also have harsh restrictions on what foods can be consumed, and there are countries wherein consuming alcohol is highly illegal.

If you’re looking to make friends while traveling to countries that have restrictive dietary, clothing, and grooming regimens, it is a good idea to at least consider adopting the cultural differences in order to show respect. If you’re a woman, wearing a hijab or niqab is actually quite functional, as it helps to keep your head cool in the intense heat. If you’re a man, growing a full beard either before you go or while you are traveling will signal that you acknowledge and respect the culture that you are in. Many countries will not expect you to participate in their cultural traditions, but doing so sends a positive signal.

Be a Good Representative

The U.S. has torn through many Muslim-majority countries, killing their citizens and plundering their natural resources while ostensibly ending terrorism. Many of the countries to which the U.S. has allied with, have been abandoned at integral moments, such as Syria until 2012, leaving them to fend for themselves in a situation that the U.S. often manufactured. These actions only encourage further terrorist action against the U.S., perpetuating a vicious cycle with seemingly no end. This has left a deep scar in the minds of many of these countries.

However, traveling to religiously conservative countries that may not have the best relationship with the U.S. provides you with a unique opportunity to become a cultural ambassador. The goal is to represent a positive image of your home country while simultaneously respecting local culture and avoiding pushing your own cultural agenda. While you may not be able to sway U.S. foreign policy, you can put forward a good image.

International travel is an amazing opportunity to begin to reverse the damage that years of war have done to the U.S. image overseas. It is important to go into traveling abroad with an open mind and to be willing to experience all aspects of a culture, whether you agree with them or not. This is key to expanding your mind and becoming a better person while also showing the world that not everyone in the U.S. agrees with how the government has treated peoples around the world.

Traveling provides opportunities for adventure and social justice, but in order to have a positive impact, you need to go about it the right way. In religiously conservative countries across the globe, you should practice personal safety while also respecting the local cultural norms and putting forth a positive image of your home country. Eventually, as we all become more connected, we will all begin to see that our differences are not insurmountable — and it all starts with individuals making the right choices.

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