Travel is the greatest gift you can give yourself. Exploring new countries, learning about different cultures and trying new adventures is something that will change your perspective on life forever.
It’s important though to ensure that your experiences also leave a positive impact on the places you are visiting. Responsible travel and sustainable tourism are hot topics right now, and with more and more people travelling abroad every year, these concepts are something that everyone should consider before they get on that plane for their next holiday.
Here is our guide on how to be a responsible traveller.
Respect The Local Culture
One of the most beautiful things about living in this world is that it is filled with so many amazing and varied cultures. At the end of the day that is what makes travel so interesting – experiencing something different to what we are used to.
When you travel abroad you will encounter beliefs, ideals and customs that you may never have seen or heard of before. The most important thing you can do as a responsible traveller is ensure you respect and embrace them.
For example, in Buddhist nations it is considered rude to touch someone’s head or point your feet at another person. Blowing your nose in China is the height of rudeness. A thumbs up in Australia and New Zealand is a good sign, but in Italy it means ‘get lost’. Even something as simple as how you greet another person can have all kinds of different expectations abroad.
When you’re visiting a foreign country make sure you read up on what these cultural differences and customs are, learn them and respect them. It will help make your experience, and that of the locals you are visiting, much more enjoyable.
It’s important to consider the local dress code before you touch down in a new country to avoid any unwanted attention or embarrassment.
Some nations are very modest when it comes to the clothing they wear, and wearing things like shorts and singlets might not just be inappropriate, but also offensive. Do your research on what is normal to wear, and if in doubt, just look at the locals. If they’re not walking around the streets in swimwear, don’t think you can just because it’s hot or that’s what you would wear back home.
In particular, be considerate in Islamic and Buddhist countries, where the dress code can be extremely conservative.
Eat Local, Shop Local
One of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to be a responsible traveller is to get into the small, local establishments to do all your shopping and eating.
Besides fully immersing yourself in the country you’re in, choosing to eat and shop in small businesses rather than big chains helps inject your tourist dollar directly into the local economy.
Skip the multinational take-away burgers and designer handbags on your travels. Instead grab a chair in a hole-in-the-wall diner and do all your souvenir shopping from a family-run business.
Choose Sustainable Accommodation And Tour Operators
With climate change drastically altering the world we live in, it’s important to support businesses that are doing their part to protect the environment.
When you’re choosing accommodation or tour operators abroad, look for ones that have a commitment to lowering their carbon footprint, recycling materials, minimising waste and supporting local farmers.
These places may cost a little bit more than their competitors, but by spending your tourist dollars with them you’re making a conscious effort to protect our world and show other businesses that this is a model worth supporting.
Think Before You Act With Wildlife
One of the big issues happening right now is the idea of animal tourism, where holiday makers seek out wildlife encounters that are completely unnatural.
A few of the most common ones you’ll come across are the tiger temples in Thailand, riding elephants in Southeast Asia, and swimming with whale sharks and dolphins in Mexico and the Philippines. Despite the slick advertising and the appeal of getting that perfect shot for social media, these encounters can actually harm the animals. Tigers are traded on the black market and drugged so they don’t attack humans, elephants’ backs aren’t designed to carry the weight of a human, and the marine life is sometimes cornered by dozens of people surrounding them, putting huge amounts of stress on them.
Before you sign up for an experience with a wild animal, think about the wellbeing of that creature before you consider the Instagram photos. If you do want to see these species up close, join an organisation that leaves the animals at peace in their natural habitats.
Take Only Photographs, Leave Only Footprints
In most developing nations you’ll come across a massive problem with rubbish. With growing populations and limited funds, it’s not uncommon to see trash on the streets and even out in nature. Sometimes it’s just a lack of education where local people don’t realise the effect it is has on the environment (or have their own problems to worry about).
You can do your bit to minimise your own impact by saying no to things like plastic bags, straws and cups, carrying out all rubbish you have when on hikes, and even going one step further and picking up trash you find in national parks or on beaches.
Every little bit helps, so make sure you leave every place you visit in the same, or better, condition than when you arrived.
Be Water Wise
You don’t realise how lucky we are to live in countries where we can turn on a tap and have a near infinite supply of fresh and clean drinking water: until you travel to a place where that doesn’t exist. In a lot of places, you must buy bottled water or filter your own to be able to drink it.
Water is a precious commodity that we can take for granted. Do your part as a responsible traveller by having short showers, always carry a reusable water bottle to refill, use something like a SteriPEN or a filter system where possible, and if you have to buy water always purchase the biggest jug you can rather than small bottles.
Lower Your Carbon Footprint
Climate change is unfortunately happening at an alarming rate, but there are small things you can do to offset your impact when you travel.
Rather than taking a taxi to get around when you’re travelling, always look to see if there are options for public transport to help lower your carbon footprint. If you’re exploring one place, consider walking or renting a bicycle rather than taking motorised transport (not only cutting out emissions, but it is also good for your wallet, and allows you to get to know a city even better).
Planes are also a huge cause of carbon emissions, so if you have time on your vacation why not consider travelling overland rather than flying? There’s so many little things you can do to help lower your carbon footprint on the road.
Look At The Bigger Picture When Bartering
One of most interesting things about shopping overseas is the concept of bartering. Whether you love it or hate it, bartering is a way of life in a lot of countries, and it’s something you should learn when travelling.
Whatever you do though, don’t become one of those people that tries to get the absolute lowest price on everything possible no matter what. Sure, a vendor might initially quote you a high number on something that needs to be countered, and you shouldn’t allow yourself to get ripped off either, but consider the value of what you are negotiating away from that person.
A few dollars to them will probably mean a lot more than a few dollars to you, so once they’ve offered a price that you think is fair, take it and don’t try to win the ‘game’.
Don’t Give To Begging Children
This is one of the most difficult ways emotionally to be a responsible traveller, but it’s extremely important that you don’t give money to begging children overseas.
When a child comes up to you begging for money your heart will most likely want to give everything you have to them, but the truth is many of these children are pulled out of school by their parents to beg on the streets, or even worse, employed by gangs to bring in money from tourists.
If you really want to support impoverished children overseas, look for reputable, licensed charitable organisations that work closely with families and children to provide safe environments for them.
Always Ask Permission For Photos
This falls more under the category of ‘respect’ rather than ‘responsibility’, but if you’re wanting to take photos of people overseas you should be courteous and ask their permission first.
Nobody likes having a camera thrown in their face when they’re not expecting it (imagine how you would feel if you were walking down the street and a foreigner jumped in front of you and started snapping away), so don’t do the same to other people.
If you’d like to take a photo of somebody make eye contact, smile, and gesture towards your camera, then towards the person. If they are ok with it, they’ll happily pose for your shot. If they’re not, respect their privacy and put the camera away.
Educate Others On How To Be A Responsible Traveller
Now that you know some of the basics of how to be a responsible traveller, use all of these ideas on your own holidays and if you see someone doing something wrong, kindly and politely educate them on proper courtesies and attitudes.
We all make mistakes, especially when it comes to cultural differences, so help out a fellow traveller if they need it. Education will not only make your adventures much more enjoyable, it’ll make the hosts of where you are travelling feel comfortable, and may even help protect the planet in the long run.
Alesha and Jarryd are professional photographers, writers and the founders of Australia’s biggest adventure travel blog, NOMADasaurus. They’ve been exploring the world together since 2008, searching for culture and adventure in off the beaten path destinations.