This spring break, ditch the ‘what happens here, stays here’ mentality

An opportunity to retreat to a sunny, warm place that is much happier than the last few cold months is here in the form of spring break. 

Whether you’re planning to galavant overseas or soak up some sun down South or out West, the “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” mindset can creep in as you attempt to fully get away from your day-to-day concerns.  

But to be a “visitor of integrity,” psychologist and behavior specialist Dr. Mary Alvord says the Vegas mindset is the one thing you should leave at home.  

“When you prepare to go to a different city, state or foreign country,” she says, “it is crucial to look at the cultural and behavioral norms, and expectations. This makes for respecting the place and people you’re visiting.”  

Alvord, who also is an adjunct associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, says this “in the moment” thinking can be caused by mindlessness, coming from an individualized culture, and abusing substances that reduce impulse control.  

“When a group gets together, a group norm can be set up. People can start doing what they think is a silly thing, but because they are unaware of the culture, it turns into an offensive, harmful thing.”  

Westerners who recently visited Cambodia know this all too well.  

In late January, Cambodian National Police arrested a group of foreigners for “singing and dancing pornographically,” near the country’s notable Angkor Wat temple complex.  

Ninety travelers were detained, and all but three have been released. This small group could face up to 12 months in Cambodian prison.  

To avoid spending a year in a foreign prison because of bad behavior on vacation, Alvord says to “learn about and respect other cultures.” She offers the following tips:  

— Be culturally competent. “You need to be aware and respectful of the cultures and customs of the people you’re around; don’t make assumptions. Learn what attire is appropriate for the street, the evenings or sacred sights. Consider body language, too, like personal space, handshakes, hugs, kissing and eye contact.”  

— Get familiar with the language. “Know the basics, like ‘hello,’ ‘goodbye’ and ‘thank you.’ Yes, English may be considered the ‘international language,’ but if you go to some countries outside the major cities, they do not speak English, so you need to make an attempt.”  

— Understand police behavior. “Find out the protocols regarding police and what getting help is like. Know when and how to seek help, when to not seek help, and who you should seek help from.”  

— Beware of social media. “Fifty years ago, if you misbehaved badly, it would just be a local thing, and maybe your family would be the only ones who knew. But now, it’s instantaneously shared by millions all over the world. Not only that, it’s there forever. Nothing is really private; you can go viral in a second.”  

— Study the area. “Know which places are safe to walk around late at night.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Travel

Is this remote point in Big Bend the prettiest spot in Texas?
Is this remote point in Big Bend the prettiest spot in Texas?

I’m pretty sure I’m following Hayduke through the desert. And if you don’t know who I’m talking about, consider this: My guide, one William Hennessy, who lives in a tiny shed behind Far Flung Outdoor Center in dusty, eccentric Terlingua, is marching perhaps 30 feet ahead of me through a remote corner of Big Bend National Park...
Storms, possible tornado ravage parts of metro Atlanta
Storms, possible tornado ravage parts of metro Atlanta

A powerful storm system swept through north Georgia overnight, sending trees into roads, damaging homes and businesses, knocking out power to thousands and leaving south Fulton County a disaster zone. More than 130 severe weather reports of large hail, damaging wind and possible tornadoes came in Monday, according to WSB-TV in Atlanta...
What Alexa Chung can’t travel without

Alexa Chung, the British TV host, model and fashion designer, has made a career out of her dynamic sense of style. She’s the creative director of her eponymous fashion label, alexachung.  Chung lived in New York for seven years before moving back to England in 2016 to start her business. She’s a frequent traveler and Paris is one of...
On the wings of the Caribbean's butterfly
On the wings of the Caribbean's butterfly

Beautiful beaches are like the famous Tolstoy quote about happy families: They're all alike. A far harder thing to find on a tropical island is a beach that makes you think.  When we came to Guadeloupe, we thought we wanted the opposite of that: A place where we would think about nothing at all. We planned to sunbathe and relax, and if we were...
A shaken Mexico City repairs, returns to normal

MEXICO CITY — Six months after this capital’s last major earthquake, its most popular tourist attractions are busy again.  If you’re headed here, remember that the metropolitan area is built on an ancient lake bed. For generations, as the growing city has drawn down the aquifer beneath the lake bed, the ground has been sinking...
More Stories