Picture your favorite place to travel, or that one spot you’ve always wanted to visit. Imagine how you interact with that place and its people when you’re there. Next, imagine that everyone else who visits that place acts exactly the same way you do. Now fast forward twenty years. What does the place look like now? Ethical travel and responsible tourism means thinking about the consequences of your actions as a tourist on the environment, local people, and the local economy. It is exploring your destination from a place of respect and reverence rather than one of carelessness and entitlement. To ensure that you are traveling consciously, here are eight travel tips to consider while you are touring.
1. Research the Local Cultures
It is important to research the primary aspects of the country you will be traveling to, covering etiquette, customs, and tradition. Some traditions may be tied with religious affiliations, while others may be tied to the country's heritage. Keep in mind that what may be celebrated in one country could be denounced in another. Moreover, the gender roles in whichever country you're considering visiting may be different than what you're used to.
2. Learn the Language
Learning the basics of the local language will help you get around places and make travel so much easier, turning it into a fun and memorable experience. Knowing the native language is also probably the best way to have a richer, more personal experience with the native cultures. The culture lies in the hands of the locals and the events and beliefs they maintain. The most effective way to communicate with a local person in their own country is in their native language.
3. Support Local Businesses
No matter which style of vacation you choose, seek ways to support locally-owned businesses. This money will travel not only to the restaurant, tour operator or shopkeeper, but it infuses money into the local communities, sending ripples of economic support throughout the business’ entire local supply chain. Eat in a locally owned restaurant at least once during your stay, take a walking tour using a local guide in each destination you visit, or buy souvenirs made locally in your destination by locals.
4. Be Conscious of the Environment
Remember to act in a hotel like you would at home – avoid getting clean towels when not necessary, don't have long showers, and remember to turn off TV, lights, and air-conditioning when you leave the room. Moreover, plastic accounts for a lot of waste. Plastic bags can take a long time to biodegrade so take a reusable shopping bag with you when you go to local markets and avoid using plastic water bottles.
5. Do Not Exploit Wildlife
When hiking, always stay on marked trails and maintain a safe distance from any animals you encounter. Going off the beaten path could mean you trample on protected or endangered wildlife. Rather than taking part in harmful pastimes like riding endangered elephants, swimming with captured dolphins, or posing with chained big cats, why not participate in the many wildlife activities that support local species?
6. Ask Permission Before Taking a Picture
The scope for image-making is great and can be used to make artistically stunning photos. But there are factors to consider like the privacy and dignity of the persons or locations you photograph. This is where travel photography ethics comes in. Poverty exploitation, stereotyping, and invading physical/personal space through photography are insensitive and disrespectful therefore, ask for permission before taking a picture.
7. Dress Appropriately
Sometimes there are explicit rules that dictate how you will have to dress, more so if you’re a woman. Modesty is a big element in this. Head coverings among other garments might be required especially if you are in a religious space. However, do not appropriate traditional clothing nor sacred or religious elements of dress. If you wear traditional clothes, wear them out of reverence, not for the aesthetic.
8. Practice Dining Customs
Dining customs and cuisine vary between countries. Familiarize yourself with what these customs are and be polite to your hosts. This also means that you might encounter food that may be unique. Keep an open mind and remember that when someone shares a meal with you, they are sharing a part of themselves and their culture with you. Always be appreciative.
Genuine cultural immersion through travel increases tolerance and respect for diversity. Having the chance to have an authentic cultural experience, traveling ethically contributes to sustaining the places to visit. The community you travel to will benefit from this and so will you.