Global tourism has matured and offers options for travelers wishing their journeys to be as eco-friendly, people-friendly and place-friendly as possible. While there is no standard definition that used by locals and visitors alike, most travelers simply want to have a good trip that causes no harm and most locals want to please visitors who are themselves respectful.
A growing number of travelers want their journeys to be less invasive and more beneficial to the local community. They want to better understand the culture of the places they visit. Responsible travel is about treating others the way they wish to be treated. While tourism campaigns have long touted ‘destinations’ — in fact we are simply entering a place that is someone else’s home.
How to …
Once you arrive, here are a few things visitors can do:
Pick up the trash – Actions speak louder than words. If you are concerned about the environment, show that you care by picking up trash and never throwing anything of yours on the ground. As the adage goes, ‘pack it in, pack it out.’
Learn the language – Learn and use a few words starting with ‘hello’ and ‘thank you.’ If you have the time, take a language class.
Be respectful of peoples’ privacy – Some people do not wish to be visited. In rural communities, wait until you are invited to approach homes or groups of people.
Be respectful of restrictions – Some communities may be closed to visitors. Natural attractions might be off limits for cultural or environmental reasons. When in doubt of whether or not to proceed, ask first.
Be respectful of Indigenous Peoples – Traditional land owners should be acknowledged. Aboriginal and Indigenous people working in tourism take their role of welcoming visitors very seriously. Recognize their connection to the land and learn to see the world differently.
Buy local products – If you are looking for a gift or a souvenir, patronize the arts and demonstrate your support for local culture. Buying from a local artisan can cut out 40 steps in the traditional export chain. What not to buy? Items made from endangered animals or pirated archaeological treasures.
Contribute to a local charity – Ask around and find out which social or environmental efforts can use your time or a financial contribution. Be generous!
Support urban ecotourism – Before heading to the ‘pristine’ wilderness, visit the city parks. There are few remote ecolodges that are not visited in transit via a major metropolis.
Check in on the social web – Those with smartphones can assist local efforts by checking in, liking and sharing the restaurants, hotels and services that are doing a good job.
Take books and leave books (that people want) – Global understanding could vastly be improved if we took (and left) better books on our trips! Once you have decided where you are traveling, email locals and ask if you can bring something. It’s a variation of the Platinum Rule (Do unto others as they would like to have you do unto them). If you have academic leanings, find out if the local libraries can use more technical materials and take them something they can use.