Responsible travel is about being socially and culturally aware when you travel, understanding the effects of your travel on the places you visit, and trying to have a positive impact. Basically, the simplest way to be a responsible traveler and tourist is to imagine that you are visiting someone’s home and conduct yourself accordingly.
Responsible tourism, another term linked to responsible travel, is tourism that seeks to minimize its negative impact on the economy, environment, and culture of the area. Responsible tourism is all about leaving a positive impact on both the environment and the people who live in the places we choose to visit.
To know whether or not you are a responsible traveler, take a look at some of the following suggestions and ask yourself—how responsible am I when I travel?
1. Shop And Eat Local To Support Small And Family Run Businesses
When you travel, try your best to avoid shopping at big brand stores. Look for local or mom and pop shops for your requirements such as groceries, daily care products, etc. To individual travelers, this might seem like an easy thing to do. It will however make a huge difference to local businesses and small shops that regularly lose customers to supermarkets and larger brand stores.
The same goes for local restaurants or even smaller food trucks/stalls. To be a responsible traveler, avoid eating at multinational chain restaurants and opt for local eateries that will not only give you a satisfying meal, but also a taste of the local culture.
In many parts of the world, you’ll find amazing woodwork, paintings, and traditional clothing for sale. Avoid the airport and cruise ship port gift shops which typically have souvenirs that are made in China. Head to a local shop and get some unique handicrafts.
2. Bargain Respectfully
Bargaining in a lively local market is all part of the fun when traveling, while haggling over food, transport, and souvenirs is commonplace in many parts of the world. Try not to bargain too much when you are purchasing food or souvenirs. Many times it may seem that the rates for tourists are unfair; however, if it is just a dollar or two more than what a local would pay, don’t bargain.
If you have to haggle for a lesser rate, remember that you must do it to get a fair price and not the cheapest price for the item. Another thing to remember is that bargaining is not a standard practice in all countries. Therefore, do your homework on the customs and standard practices followed in the place you are visiting.
3. Volunteer Some Of Your Time, But Do Some Research First
Volunteering your time, services, or donating money to good causes in the areas you are visiting is a great way to be a responsible traveler. You can volunteer your time and services by teaching kids to swim, surf, learn a new language, etc. While volunteering to help the poor, needy, or orphaned is a great way to be responsible, you must do a bit of research before engaging in these activities.
Up to 80 percent of the eight million children in orphanages all over the world are children who have been bought or leased from their parents, according to to Save the Children. When there are more orphans in need, more tourists will be willing to pay to volunteer or donate to these orphanages, making the venture more profitable. Additionally, make sure that your volunteering does not take away jobs from locals.
A word of warning though – Don’t get caught up with the idea of ‘Voluntourism’ for the wrong reasons. Please do your research before committing to volunteering with an organization, and think logically – Is spending a day at an orphanage really beneficial to those children? If you have no construction experience, are you suitably qualified to build a hospital in Tanzania?
And by you volunteering, are you actually taking a job away from a local who could perform the same task? Instead of paying a high cost to ‘volunteer’ with an NGO, don’t be afraid to admit that perhaps it is better to just donate that money and let the experts handle the task.
4. Avoid Using Plastic
Waste management can be a major issue in most developing countries, and we as travelers often unknowingly contribute to this problem. When you travel, another way you can be a responsible traveler would be by trying your best to avoid using plastic bags, plastic straws, or containers; basically, avoid using single-use plastic items.
The easiest way to reduce your overall plastic consumption is to just say NO! While packing your luggage, make sure you pack some reusable cloth bags, water filters, reusable bottles, cutlery, straws, and containers. Also, whenever possible, use natural and plastic-free products like natural shampoos, soaps, and conditioners. Additionally, you can join local clean-up drives in the places you are visiting to maximize your positive impact on the environment. A simple way to do this would be to do a quick Facebook search of any drives in your vicinity.
Carry a reusable water bottle with you and fill up from large water jugs that can be found in most hotels and restaurants.
5. Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
Avoiding flights while traveling is a good way to reduce your carbon footprint and be a responsible traveler. However, if you are left with no other choice but to fly, try to reduce your impact on the environment by following a few simple steps like taking a direct flight, carrying less luggage, using public transportation (train, metro line, or bus) once you reach your destination or walking or cycling whenever possible, and share a taxi if you have no other option.
Instead of always taking taxis to get you from A to B, see if a local bus can get you to where you need to go. If the distance you need to go isn’t too far, walk instead of jumping on public transport for one or two stops. If you really want a great way to explore an area, rent a bicycle! Not only is it good for the environment, but it is good for your traveling budget and your health too!
6. Respect The Local Culture, Customs, And Dress Codes
One of the greatest rewards we can have when we travel is learning about different cultures and religions. As mentioned before, being a responsible traveler isn’t just about being conscious about your impact on the environment, but also about being considerate about the local economy and the customs and culture.
While many countries do not have a dress code, some (or at least parts of them) do and we must be mindful of these rules. For example, in Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, and some orthodox countries, dress codes must be observed especially when visiting places of worship. While some countries like Iran may require women to wear a headscarf, some (like Thailand) may only require you to be covered appropriately, like keeping your shoulders and knees covered. Some religious places will also have their own specific dress codes for visitors.
It is better to do your research before you travel so that you don’t end up embarrassed or, worst-case scenario, offend anyone. Also look up various customs followed in the place you are visiting, like the greetings, gestures during prayers, and eating etiquette. If it is possible, also try to learn a few key phrases of the local language to show that you have done your research and put in an effort to be a part of their culture.
7. Choose Sustainable Tour Operators And Stay in Sustainable Accommodations
To be a responsible traveler, it is important for you to do a thorough check of the companies with which you will be associating on your travel. Try your best to pick a company (it would be better if it is a local one) that works with the local communities, provides them with jobs, and respects the environment. Another way to be a responsible traveler would be to do your research and choose to stay in sustainable accommodation during your travels.
Look for those accommodations that have been approved by reputed establishments like Green Globe and Earth Check, and choose local establishments over chain hotels. Also, make sure that they hire locals, follow sustainable practices like recycling and water conservation, and give back to the communities.
Some places even donate part of their profits to charitable enterprises, or pay their local staff above-average wages, without you having to do any extra work! It may take a little bit more research to find these sustainable companies, but the benefits are worth the effort.
8. Engage With The Locals. Don’t Take Their Photos Without Permission
A responsible traveler avoids clicking pictures of locals during their travels, especially without permission. When visiting other places, be sure to respect the locals and their privacy. Before you take a picture of anyone, ask yourself how you would feel if someone took a photo of you without your permission, if the photo would be considered exploitative, or if photography is even culturally accepted in the region. If you want to take photos, interact with your subjects, break the ice, and then if they are comfortable, take a photo of or with them.
9. Stay In A Village Or A Home Stay Instead Of A Hotel
As mentioned before, part of being a responsible traveler is to dive into the local culture and have a minimal or a positive impact on the surroundings. One way to get a great cultural experience is to stay in a village. Community-based tourism offers this kind of experience, where the locals, who are often rural, poor, and economically marginalized, invite tourists to visit their communities and provide them with overnight accommodation.
This form of tourism has provided an opportunity for locals to act as land managers, entrepreneurs, service and produce providers, and employees and earn an income. By opting for this form of tourism, you are supporting rural, poor, and marginalized communities by investing in these regions. Moreover, you will get an authentic village experience.
10. Educate Others to Be Responsible Travellers
Being a responsible traveler might come naturally to some, but others may just not be aware of the implications their actions can have when they are abroad. If you see someone unintentionally doing something that is detrimental to the environment or to the local people and culture, perhaps mention something in a friendly way.
Start discussions about responsible travel with people in your hostel, hotel, or who you are on tour with. It is only through education that we can help spread the word about sustainable tourism. Before you head out on your gap year learn how to be an ethical and sustainable traveler. If you have any other questions, thoughts, or ideas, or are a business looking to implement sustainable practices, please feel free to get in contact with us.
Remember, our actions can have a big impact on the world while we travel. Make sure it is a positive one.