Travelling responsibly, for business or leisure, thankfully is becoming more than just the latest trend or buzz phrase. The two key important elements of this movement are firstly, the need to increase awareness for travellers about the impact of travel, and the second, is the need to provide sustainable options that enable greater benefits on the social, economic, environmental and wildlife welfare of the destination. Whether travelling for work or for pleasure, education and awareness are key - our colleagues and leaders in the responsible travel space, Intrepid, have laid out 12 easy travelling tips, so that all those journeying across the planet, can tread lightly upon the Earth.
1. Educate yourself
Before leaving home, learn as much as possible about the countries you are visiting — the religion, culture, and the local rules and values, and also other basics such as how to dress, how to greet locals, and how to act respectfully -this will not only make your experience more responsible but also far less stressful for you as a stranger in a new land.
2. Learn some basic local phrases
Learn some of the local language and don’t be afraid to use it — simple pleasantries will help break the ice. Even if your accent is terrible and your attempts just keep the local residents laughing, keep practicing and show that you are making a special effort to learn the language - it will be recognised and appreciated.
3. Know your customs
Learn what’s appropriate behaviour and body language in the country you’re visiting. Research before you depart to know what gestures are acceptable and which ones are totally offensive. If doing business in Asia, business etiquette is not just about knowing how to present a business card, what gifts to give and not give. Etiquette is a much bigger beast as it reflects beliefs and cultural habits that are the fabric of Asian societies. So if you want to be accepted as a trustworthy, credible person and good friend, devote time to do some homework on Asian business etiquette and culture.
4. Go local in everything you do
Support locally owned businesses, hotels, restaurants, and other services whenever you can. These are the businesses that benefit from your tourist dollars the most — not the big-name chains that you can find back home. Eat local food and drink local brands and brews. Use public transport, hire a bike, or walk when it’s convenient — you’ll meet local people and get to know the place much better than behind the window of a private car or taxi.
5. Know what you’re supporting
Think critically when it comes to deciding what activities and experiences to include on your itinerary. Avoid local shows, markets, or zoos that exploit animals for entertainment, and activities like riding elephants in Thailand or lion walking in South Africa. Many of these activities are presented to tourists as conservation efforts or animal-friendly fun, but the reality is that the animals' welfare is not a priority, with animals being bred in captivity, mistreated, and neglected. Skip activities like orphanage visits, where often the children aren’t orphans at all, but rather kids from families that have been coerced into believing that sending their child away will give them a better education and better life. Always be aware of where your money is going as you travel.
6. Shop smart
When it’s time to pick up a few souvenirs, head to the shops of traditional artisans for locally made products. You’ll be helping to keep traditional crafts alive, while also supporting small, independent business owners and artists. Always favour local products over imported items, but avoid buying things made from the tusks or horns of endangered animals, or from at-risk plants.
7. Dress appropriately
Dress respectfully with an awareness of local standards. Dress modestly at religious sites and check what swimwear is suitable for pools and the beach. When in doubt, cover up. You may find out later that you didn’t really need to wear long sleeves or pants at that temple, but you’ll feel far more comfortable than if you show up somewhere with your knees showing when they shouldn’t be. For women, it’s a good idea to always travel with a scarf or shawl. Throw it in your bag and you’ll have it handy for any time you need to cover your shoulders or head.
8. Always ask permission for photos
Always ask first before photographing or videoing people. Not only is it rude but in some cultures, it’s also a violation of their spiritual and cultural beliefs. Plus, asking them before you click gives you a chance to have a conversation and to connect, and engage more with the destiantion.
9. Support the local community responsibly
Be wary of giving gifts or money to beggars, children, and people you have just met. We know it feels like a good deed, but you’ll just be perpetuating the tourist-as-saviour stereotype, and oftentimes those dollars you give aren’t even landing in the hands of the person you gave them to, especially with child beggars who are frequently part of a larger ring run by a leader at the top. Tourism can be hugely beneficial to the local economy, but only when it’s provided in a sustainable way. Supporting the community through a local school, clinic, or development project may be more constructive than just handing out donations to people you pass.
10. Leave only footprints
Take care of the environment as you would your own home. Use alternatives to plastic and say no to plastic bags, recycle wherever possible, and try to keep your waste as low as possible. Avoid using bottled water if you can (the bottled water industry is killing the environment), and use re-fillable toiletry bottles instead of buying new travel-sized samples every time you take a trip. And of course, never take pieces of coral or other endangered plant life home as a souvenir. Also be mindful that many island locations have very limited water resources that struggle to support the local community, let alone water squandering tourists who can go through an incredible 1500 litres per person per night! So limit your showers and towel usage - it all helps.
11. Help from home
After returning home, think about how you can support programs and organisations that are working to protect the welfare, culture, and environment of the places you’ve visited. Even if you choose not to support these groups financially, you can spread the word to other travellers about local issues, organisations, and causes, keeping the cycle of responsible tourism going.
Be prepared to be that annoying smiling amabssador for your country and keep smiling even when things go wrong and yes, often things will go wrong on your trip and you’ll no doubt have a few days that frustrate you. But remember that you’re having a travel experience that many people can only dream of having — so embrace it all!
Images courtesy of Getty.
Information source Intrepid Travel.