How To Be A Responsible Traveler

June 29, 2017

The UN has declared 2017 as the Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. The declaration was made to remind us that that we all share this beautiful world and our actions have far greater impact than we imagine it to have. Making tourism sustainable means that we, as travelers, make an effort to make the most out of our travels without sacrificing the experience of those who plan to travel in the same place in the future—this makes traveling not only about seeing the beauty of the world but actually connecting with local sites and locals in a more authentic, exciting and culturally immersive manner. In other words, sustainable tourism encourages every traveler to become responsible a tourist.

Becoming a responsible traveler and choosing to bring this attitude as a tourist means traveling in a way that’s ethical and pays a lot of respect to the local people, culture, environment and economy by bringing a positive impact on the community especially to the families that are less fortunate.

For a traveler, this is quite essential because while most of us are concerned about whether we should buy a new phone model or a new bag or a new camera, there are people around the world suffering from circumstances that we often ignore. But through travel we are not only enjoying and taking a break from so much stress, but we also can help make a difference in the lives of millions of people across the world. Whether you consider yourself a tourist, traveler or hardcore backpacker, you need to be more mindful and educated about the choices you make as you travel.

Want to become a responsible traveler? Here are some tips to become the best traveler you can be – the kind that locals would surely love and remember.

Be a responsible traveler by choosing to go local

As a traveler, the choice of where to spend your money when it comes to your travels can have a huge impact on the local community. If you choose to spend your money on multinational corporations, only a few corporate people would benefit from you visiting the tourist destination. The best way to support the local community going local with everything—eating, sleeping, hiring tour guides, souvenirs, etc.

By choosing to eat at a local restaurant instead of going to chain restaurants and fast foods, buying your groceries at a local farmer’s market or just purchasing a simple souvenir keychain from a local street vendor, you are helping to inject money directly into the local economy while at the same time giving yourself the pleasure of a more authentic experience and a more fulfilling travel.

Going local also helps reduce the environmental impact of travel while at the same time helping the local community create a better life for themselves; It immerses you in the local culture and enables you to change people’s lives for the better.

Lower your carbon footprint

This simply means taking care of the local environment like it is your own home, minimizing your waste as much as possible. Waste management can be a major issue in most developing countries and most often than not, tourists visiting the area become part of this problem without even realizing it. It is important to take action when it comes to helping the environment.

As much as possible, bring eco-friendly sun screens, deodorants, etc. When Shopping, say no to plastic bags, instead put your items in your backpack or in a reusable bag. When dining, eat and drink your order in the café instead of opting for take away. Don’t buy bottled water instead carry a reusable water bottle with you at all times and just refill it from large water containers found in hotels and restaurants.

When traveling, always plan your route to use the least amount of gas as possible. Use public transport like a local bus or a train to get you where you need to go instead of always taking taxis. If possible, walk towards your destination especially if it isn’t too far from where you are; this lowers your footprint significantly and gives you a good exercise. If you plan on exploring the area, renting a bike instead of renting a car could save you a lot of money. It is good for your heath, it is good for the environment and it gives you just the perfect way to meet local people at their terms.

While in your hotel, it is a good habit to always save water and electricity. It may not mean much to you, but it could mean the world to the community you are at. Lastly, do not buy any endangered species being sold as a delicacy or a souvenir, or when you’re spending time at the beach, never take pieces of corals, fish or other aquatic life home as a souvenir.

A responsible traveler must respect the local culture

Traveling to different parts of the world allows you to learn about different cultures and religion. The world if full of diverse and fascinating people and every traveler is privileged to experience it. As a traveler, you need to keep in mind how important it is to show respect to the traditions and customs of the culture you are visiting. As the visitor, you need to understand that it is your responsibility to adapt to the local way of life and not the other way around.

Many countries are conservative when it comes to dressing so be sure to wear clothes that are accepted by the local culture. Always ask permission before taking pictures as other people are sensitive to being photographed. Study the customs of where you are traveling to (i.e. concept of time, personal space, public interaction, communication, etc.) and follow them diligently to ensure that you don’t inadvertently offend anyone.

Finally, take time to learn the local language and don’t be afraid to use it. Simple phrases like “thank you” or “have a nice day” could help break the ice and take your interactions with the locals to a whole new level even when your accent and grammar is terrible. Doing this show the locals that you are making a special effort to learn their language and they would really appreciate it.

Be a generous traveler in a good way

In many places, bargaining is a big part of the culture. You may feel like locals are trying to take advantage of you and you just want to stand up for yourself and bargain. It’s almost like a game and it is also a great way to interact and make friends with the locals. However, before you find yourself having an intense negotiation over a mere $1, think about how far that small bit of cash can go for the person you are dealing with. If you don’t think twice when spending cash on a 5 star luxury hotel or an overpriced drink, maybe you can be generous and give that extra $1 to the local selling you that souvenir.

On the other hand, it may feel like a good deed to give gifts or money to beggars and children on the streets, it may not be a good idea. It may be hard to stop yourself from giving to these people as you may feel completely heartbroken for them, but you need to understand that giving to these people only encourages them to continue asking tourists for money and even go to the extent of pretending to be worse just to extort money from foreigners.

Most of the time, the money you give to these people doesn’t even end up in their hands (especially in the case of child beggars). In most cases parents often take children out of school to beg on streets, and in the worst cases they may be part of a larger network run by a leader at the top who keeps the money all to himself.

Tourism can hugely benefit the local economy if it is provided in a sustainable way. If you really want to help out, maybe you could buy the beggar some food and water instead. You can also try to seek out local NGO’s and work with them to support the local schools and clinics or partner with then to launch a  development project may be more constructive than just handing out donations to people you pass.

Educate others to be responsible travelers

Many travelers may be unaware about the consequences of the actions they do when they are visiting other places. If you see someone unintentionally doing things that may be destructive to the local environment, people or culture, it is always good to mention it to them in a friendly and educational way.

When you make friends with fellow travelers at your local hotel, restaurant or tours, it could be helpful to start discussions with them about responsible travel. Finally, when you get home, do share these tips to your friends and loved ones so they too can be educated about responsible travel. It is only through education that we can help sustain the world we travel in so that more generations can enjoy its beauty.

Responsible traveling is not that hard to do. It is something that should be innate to all of us wandering souls who thirst for travel. It does not hinder us from enjoying, in fact, it actually allows us to ensure that these beautiful sceneries that we get to see are preserved and protected so that others may witness them as well. So go! Travel all you want. But don’t forget to do it responsibly!

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Ashley Thompson
A fun size lass born in rock and roll who dreams to become a rock star, or a world traveler, or both.
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