While travel isn’t always selfless, it’s a beautiful way to grow, learn about the world first-hand and create connections with people from all walks of life. If your greatest joy in life is packing a bag and heading off to discover a country to spend time among different sights, cultures and traditions, then perhaps you are already striving to be a respectful traveller?
On the other hand, maybe you’ve never really asked yourself if you are a respectful traveller? Being a responsible tourist or being aware of certain things while travelling can act as a vehicle for positive change. So the next time you are visiting a country, keep some of the following thoughts in mind and turn the footprints you leave behind into something of value and meaningful impact.
See Also: In-depth Cultural Tours and Trips
Being a respectful traveller has never been more important
Last year, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) shared that tourism generates over 10 percent of the world’s GDP. While travel may bring people together, educate us on different cultures and beliefs, and boost the economy, it isn’t always a positive experience for the country in question. There have been many instances where visitors have defiled and disrespected monuments, and have disregarded local customs. Even if you are among the well-behaved portion of travellers, your globetrotting footprint could still leave an unsavoury mark in a country.
The industry is growing more than ever, but the attractions are the same size and cannot always handle the constant wear and tear and flow of human beings. It’s no surprise that in some of the world’s most popular places where tourism is so overwhelming, there are initiatives to reduce the number of people visiting. The good news is there are simple steps you can take to be more mindful and respectful!
Be mindful of destinations dealing with over tourism
- Visit outside of the peak season (this way you won’t have to battle crowds)
- Support local restaurants and businesses
- Pay national park entrance fees to ensure your visit supports conservation
- Stay in local guesthouses and B&Bs
- Be aware of your waste and water use
- Take tours with local guides
Research your tour operator
One of the great things about going on tours with certain operator companies is you can be sure they are promoting positive tourism. Do your homework and go with a company that is trying to give back as well. When looking into tours or booking a trip, think about the following, what are the company’s environmental practices? Can they give examples of how their trips help to promote cultural heritage or protect and support wildlife? Do they employ local guides?
Intrepid, for example, is the largest certified B Corporation in the travel industry. This certification is given when a company meets the highest standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability.
Another company striving for responsible and ethical travel is G Adventures. Speaking in an interview, founder Bruce Poon Tip said that responsible tourism is about making the right choice. For example, one of their initiatives, G Local is all about working with small, locally owned businesses. By supporting locals, they hope to strengthen communities, and they also foster travel that respects the rights, history, and culture of Indigenous people while ensuring that tourism supports their wellbeing. Poon Tip also recommends engaging with the locals, respecting local customs and spending your spread while vacationing (riding different types of transport, eating in various restaurants and being wary of buying goods in boutique shopping centres.
Another thing to keep in mind is whether you are a respectful travel partner, friend or group tour buddy. Be considerate in shared spaces (hostels and hotel kitchens) and towards your travel companions by being not making them wait for ages for you!
See Also: The Best Eco-Friendly Tours in Vietnam
If you’re lucky, while travelling you’ll get to spend time with communities, but, do your travel choices help a community or not? For example, giving gifts to kids on the street is ill-advised. There’s nothing wrong with being generous, but it’s better to give in the right way, through reputable local organisations or international groups that partner with local companies. Likewise, avoid visiting orphanages as they may not be responsibly run and say no to slum tourism.
It will only take a couple of minutes to find out if an attraction or business is foreign or owned locally. While locally made goods aren’t as cheap, by purchasing them you can make sure your money has a direct impact. Eating locally and staying locally will also mean your contribution to the economy is more valuable.
Learn about the culture before-hand
These days, it doesn’t take long to read up a little bit about the local cultures and customs in the country you are visiting. A quick search on Google will lead to fascinating insight about everywhere on the planet! This is will only enhance your experience, especially if you love travelling and experiencing different cultures. Once you know the traditions, as a guest to the country, be mindful of them and avoid doing something that could be considered as offensive. At the very least, the following basics will apply everywhere!
- The world is not your Instagram studio. If photography is not permitted respect that and don’t try to sneak in a picture! If you are taking pictures with your selfie stick, just be thoughtful of the people around you, especially in sacred places. Likewise, if someone is taking a picture, let them capture their moment before passing through.
- Some locations will have specific dress and behaviour requirements, and while you may not agree with all the customs, as a guest you need to be aware and tolerant of them. Dressing appropriately and travelling from a place of respect to countries, sacred places and monuments are really important to some cultures. In many instances, holy sites are not attractions to be gleaned for tourist satisfaction, but places of worship and honour for the locals, so it’s only right to follow their lead in these circumstances.
- Be aware of the tipping culture in a country and whether or not it is acceptable. Know when to tip and when not to, because in some parts of the world it is considered offensive.
- Also, it’s helpful to know the basics of a local language and brush up on it. Trying to communicate with locals in their mother tongue is often seen as an endearing quality, and will only do you favours.
Being a respectful traveller also means being mindful of sustainability away from home as well. Try to use public transport where possible and avoid using plastic! On vacation, we often go into holiday mode and can forget to remember little things like turning off the lights off in our hotel rooms. Try not to leave the water running, take shorter showers if you can, especially in countries where there can be a shortage! Many hotels now offer green initiatives and little rewards for visitors that partake in them; it’s worth asking reception about them.
Top tip: Make sure you buy a reusable water bottle! Even in countries where the tap water isn’t safe to drink, you might be able to find coolers and drinking fountains with clean options.
Take only memories, leave only footprints
Finally, ask yourself the following question, when you go back home, will the locals sit back and have a good impression of you and your country? It never hurts to keep this age-old hiker adage in mind, take only memories, leave only footprints. Does your visit cause more harm than good to the country and its ecosystem? To ensure this, don’t carve your name into historical monuments, respect the local culture, and minimize your waste!
Do you have any tips for being a respectful traveller? Share them in the comments!