It is quite the conundrum. So many of us love travelling and exploring this big, brilliant world of ours… but we also want to be ethical, eco-friendly and socially responsible. How can we do both? Our passion and values are not mutually-exclusive but we need to modify how we travel, to reduce our negative impact and ensure that our planet’s beauty can be enjoyed by future generations, for many years to come.
Whether you take a couple of holidays a year, or travel full-time, we should all be aware of the repercussions of our actions and make an effort to travel more responsibly. By this, I mean promoting sustainable, ethical practices, supporting local communities and being mindful of the environment. You may have read my previous posts on eco-friendly travel. If you’ve already implemented those tips and are looking for more ideas on how to be a better tourist, you’re in the right place!
Choose your destination wisely
It often feels like normal people like us have little power and influence, especially on a global scale. However, the power that we do have is directly connected to the money we spend. How you choose to spend your hard-earned cash makes an impact, such as choosing a family-run Bed & Breakfast over a large multinational hotel. Similarly, where you travel to makes a difference. By spending your ‘tourist dollars’ on accommodation, food, transport, excursions and souvenirs, your money has an impact on the local economy of whichever country you visit. So choose wisely. Visiting so-called developing countries boosts their economy and encourages their governments to invest in the country’s infrastructure and services to meet the growing demand from tourists. Travelling to lesser-known locations within a country helps to disperse your money further and reduce overcrowding. Take Bali for example – Indonesia’s most popular island which is visited by six million tourists per year. If you want to escape the crowds, spend some time on Indonesia’s other islands as well – there are over 17,000 to choose between!
Wherever you visit, you advertise. You invest your time, money and attention in a destination. Your friends and family hear about it and see photos on social media. There are some countries in the world I do not want to visit right now because of human right atrocities and corruption taking place there. I am not going to name them because it’s possible I may visit these places in the future if the current situation dramatically improves. Wherever you travel to, do your research and make informed decisions about which government you are supporting with your tourist dollars. Read up on the history of the country and what’s currently happening there.
Leave nothing behind but footprints.
It should go without saying, but don’t litter at home or abroad. Littering is gross and unnecessary. Even if you’re in a country with poor waste management, where locals and tourists don’t seem to care about littering, don’t be part of the problem. Look for a bin and if there are none around, hold onto your empties and wrappers until you find one (usually in train stations, cafes and restaurants).
As tempting as it may be, don’t take natural resources home with you as a souvenir, such as sand from a beach you’ve visited. You may think it’s harmless – after all there is SO much sand – but interfering with the natural ecosystem can have a detrimental effect on the animals that live in that environment. Plus if thousands of people carried away sand, stones and leaves from beaches and forests every day, there wouldn’t be much left by the end of the year! We must be mindful that our small actions have ripple effects, especially if others are inspired by what we’ve done and follow suit.
Filter your water
In my previous posts on eco-friendly travel, I’ve mentioned reusable water bottles but would also like to suggest you get a filter bottle for destinations without drinkable tap water. My boyfriend and I have invested in these bottles for our six-month sabbatical around South East Asia. You can use tap water and it’s safe to drink through the filter straw. You will dramatically cut down your consumption of single-use plastic water bottles.
You can go one step further and get a bottle with a water purifying system. A steripen, for example, purifies water in just 90 seconds! Alternatively, use iodine tablets to have drinkable water in 30 minutes. This means you can drink from any water source, even lakes and rivers, without worrying about viruses and bacteria.
Find out what it means to me…. When you are abroad, you are in someone else’s home. Leave them with a good impression of people from your country by paying attention to their rules, laws, traditions and social etiquette. Research these before you arrive so you don’t learn the hard way by accidentally offending a local. Something which is standard behaviour in your country might be inappropriate, or even taboo, in theirs.
I love taking photos in busy streets and markets, but try to capture the scene as a whole rather than focusing on individuals. Having a camera shoved in your face is annoying and invasive. I’ve been on the receiving end of this when I visited China and had strangers photographing me without asking or even making eye contact. If you want to take a photo of someone, try to get their permission first. You don’t need to speak the same language; look at them, smile and gesture to your camera or phone. See if you get a friendly vibe from them and be prepared to tip any locals who agree to pose for your photos.
Learn a few key phrases in the local language. Knowing how to say ‘Hello, ‘Goodbye’, ‘Please’, ‘Thank you’, ‘Can I have the bill please?’ and ‘How much is this?’ goes a long way. It is polite, showing that you’ve made the effort to engage with locals in their own language rather than assuming everyone can and will speak English to you.
Try to refrain from referring to other countries as ‘backwards‘ or ‘weird‘. Instead, enjoy any cultural differences, rather than expecting things to be done the same way as in your home country. After all, it’s the differences between our customs and traditions which make travelling so interesting and educational.
Know when to haggle, and when to stop.
Haggling (also known as bantering and bargaining) is not part of British culture, so it isn’t something that comes naturally to me when abroad. For example, when I was in Morocco last year, my boyfriend and I had to haggle for almost everything we paid for, from taxi journeys to street food, excursions to souvenirs in the souks. Local vendors usually expect their customers to haggle a bit, and enjoy the back and forth. I personally find it tedious, but I respect that it is standard practice in many places.
It’s important to know when to stop though: pay what you think is a fair price for whatever you want to buy. Don’t try and drive the price down further and further, just for the sake of ‘winning’. A few dollars or euros probably won’t make much difference to you, but many vendors need that money more than you do.
I hope these tips have been helpful. If you have any more suggestions on how to be a better tourist, please leave them in the comments section.
Ciao for now
The Curious Sparrow