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Lessons from the Girl Scout Law for Today's Travelers

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In Savannah, Georgia, on March 12, 1912, Juliette Gordon Low  registered the Girl Scouts first 18 members.  This post is in honor of the centennial celebration of  this organization, which has meant so much to so many women over the past 100 years.

Travel tips for women by way of the Girl Scouts

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Girl Scout Troop in the 1940s

When I was 10 I was a girl scout. I was in Totem Council 857 and wore a cool, green vest decorated with merit badges earned for things like caroling, selling cookies and camping (in a troop member’s backyard.) While I wasn’t the most motivated scout – I’m pretty sure my grandpa bought most of those cookies – some things did stick with me and are often applied to my life as an expat and traveler. And no, before you get ahead of yourself it’s not the well-known motto Be Prepared (although you have to admit, that is a pretty good motto,) it’s the Girl Scout Law:

I will do my best to be… 

 honest and fair,

Let’s start with the honesty part – I was in Egypt when a hostel owner asked my husband and I where we were from. We said America. “Wow,” he commented, “most of the time your people say Canada.” Please, please, please. I beg you. Don’t deny your country – how will the ugly American stigma ever be disproven if every good American is conveniently “Canadian.”

As for being fair, travelers – myself included – often haggle with local shopkeepers for insanely low prices.  A fellow traveler’s haggling tale put this into perspective for me: Tim’s wife had been arguing over a handbag price with a shopkeeper in Thailand, an exasperating process for both parties. They were arguing over 150 baht, less than $5. The shopkeeper finally looked to Tim and said, “Mister, 150 baht won’t make me rich, and won’t make you poor.”

friendly and helpful,

Befriending fellow globetrotters is my favorite part of the traveling culture, as is meeting and traveling with local guides. But while we may find our traveler friends on websites like Facebook later on, we often don’t stay in touch with the guides we’ve met, no matter how great they were. Using sites like can help spread the word about the exceptional people who helped make your trip great; you can also find these traveler-recommended guides for your next trip. Another benefit to these programs is cutting out the travel agent middleman. This means a cheaper trip for you and more profit for your guide.

considerate and caring,

James Michener famously said, “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” Remember that you are the outsider, it’s your job to be sensitive and considerate of other beliefs and ways of life, not to judge them. Be mindful in how you travel – dress appropriately (I always pack a sarong for instant wardrobe modifications) and learn some of the language (at least please and thank you.)

courageous and strong,

Growing up I was a notoriously picky eater – pasta with butter only, please. My parents were constantly frustrated and dinner would end with a defeated, “At least finish your milk,” before I was excused from the table. Because of this, some of my proudest traveling moments are ones when I conquered my food fears. To date I have tried cow’s tongue, fermented camel’s milk, mare’s meat, fried bugs and too many sea creatures to count.  These encounters took a lot of courage on my part, but if I can do it, anyone can. Have the courage to get out of your hotel and try new foods, eat on the street, talk to locals. Learn about the places you visit firsthand rather than through your guidebook.

 responsible for what I say and do; And to respect myself and others,

Be a responsible traveler and you will respect yourself and others. Book with an environmental-savvy tour operator if you are using one, stay in eco-friendly hostels or hotels when possible, learn about the local crafts and if you get a chance, give back!

When recently visiting New Delhi, India I learned about the Salaam Baalak Trust, a program that helps educate and give vocational training to street kids. A City Walk, hosted by one of the kids involved in the program, will give you insight into life on the streets for Indian children. The 200 rupee donation helps continue Salaam Balaak’s efforts; make sure you contact them the day before to schedule – the walk lasts from 10 a.m. until noon.

respect authority,

This one isn’t too hard as most of us would like to stay out of foreign prisons. Do some basic research, learn the laws of your destination and adhere to them. How upset would you be over a fine for chewing gum in Singapore or bringing a durian into the subway? … Wait … what?

use resources wisely,
 make the world a better place,

Leave a small carbon footprint: take direct flights when possible and use local transport. Some of my most humorous travel tales come from long bus, plane or train journeys. A bicycle tour is a great, pollution-free way to see a city or town, so check with tourist centers to see what’s available or find your guidebook’s self-guided option. A walking tour of Amsterdam’s Red Light District gave me some humorous insight – like how churches were historically built near brothels so sailors could have a wild night then quickly repent before heading back out to sea.

Strive to leave a place better than you found it; if you’re walking down a beach littered with plastic bottles, pick them up. Who knows, others may catch on.

 be a sister to every Girl Scout.

I don’t know how many fellow Girl Scouts you’ll meet on your trip – my current count is zero – but look out for fellow travelers when possible. It’s called compassion and it’s what makes us human.

*Photo in public domain

3 thoughts on “Lessons from the Girl Scout Law for Today's Travelers”

  1. James Michener famously said, “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.”

    Funny, I just put that quote up on my site today! I think this post is great, and I completely agree with the American/Canadian thing. To many people in the world, America is a nation to be proud of, and I try to remember that when I am fed up with the politics and the stigma, myself.

  2. I so agree about the bargaining. Nothing makes me sadder than to see luxury cruise guests arriving back at the ship bragging about how they bargained a $5 item down to $2. Don’t get me wrong, bargaining is expected (especially for higher priced items) but why haggle over a small amount? Enjoyed this post.

  3. I love it! I was a Girl Scout in Singapore. There’s actually no fine for carrying a durian on the subway in Singapore (it’s the preference of many of the companies owning the various subway lines, but not a law) but it would be considerate and caring to your fellow passengers not to carry one!

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