Yes traveling is amazing! And yes traveling makes you a whole different person! And yes traveling enriches your soul and makes you the best version of yourself. But you are not the only one who thinks this way. Traveling is becoming more and more popular and over tourism is on the rise. Therefore it is getting so important to be a responsible traveler and reduce your negative impact on the planet and the local people.
I have visited more and more countries and I learned one thing or another during my trips. Becoming a responsible traveler and truly connect with the community instead of just snapping pictures and staying in fancy hotels has given me a whole new purpose while traveling.
The countries you visit, the accommodations you choose, the transport you take, the places where you eat and the activities you do will have an impact on the destinations you visit.
Here are 11 simple tips which will help you with the question: How to become a responsible traveler?
1. Understanding other cultures and their customs
Cultural awareness might be the most important thing while traveling. When I was 17 and I first starting traveling I made a lot of mistakes. Simply because I didn’t understand the big differences in cultures and habits. Reading into another culture is very important. You are visiting their country where their customs are maintained so you have to life by their rules.
Show respect, be understanding and be open-minded.
If you’re visiting temples and religious monuments, make sure you’re dressed accordingly. In Bali, this includes wearing a long skirt, in Thailand you must cover your knees and shoulders. When visiting mosques, both men and women should wear long pants and longer sleeved tops. Women should wear a headscarf.
What might be ‘weird’ for you is for them 100% the truth because they are raised that way. They don’t know how to do it different and might think you are weird, so always be understanding and accepting.
Other travellers’ attitude doesn’t show what’s right and wrong, so always do your research and try not to use the excuse “everyone else is doing it”. Also learning a little bit of their language (even if it’s only hello and thankyou) will make a big difference. It shows that you are trying.
2. Buy and support local
For us travelers it is so important where we spent our money. This is the most easy way to be a responsible traveler.
The best way to make a positive impact on the lives of the local people is to buy local grown products. This way local people will earn money from it and they can presume their job and buy food for their families.
If you can choose between the 7-11 in Thailand or the little stand on the side of the road, buy your beer by little stand on the road. Go to local markets to buy your fruits and veggies and buy your souvenirs from hand made shops. This way you will support the local in great ways.
3. Think before you act with wildlife activities
I don’t even know where to start on this one. This is so important.
Riding that elephant, making a picture with that tiger, going to that monkey show might seen a fun thing to do. But if you would know the terrors that have to take place to make these animals listen, you would think twice.
Wildlife tourism is nowadays such a big business and most of the operators think only about the profits they can make and not about the well-being of the animals. Please keep in mind that one hour of entertainment for yourself, contributes to a lifetime of distress for the animal.
Always check the organization and activity you want to participate to.
(This elephant was on the side of the road in Ayutthaya, Thailand and I had to cry because of the circumstances these animals lived in. They were beaten severely with sticks, were chained up, had no place of shade and looked so unhappy that it made me shiver.)
4. Plastic use & waste reduction
Plastic waste has become such a big issue over the last few years. Facts and statistics prove that by the time of 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the sea. Now let that sink in for a while..
It is not only unappealing when there is plastic on the beaches and in the sea but imagine how harmful it must be to the marine life and environment.
I do understand that it is hard to eliminate all kinds of plastic from your life. Especially when traveling. However there are some small things you can do to manage your waste when traveling.
- Don’t throw your garbage on the streets: okay this might seem naturally but still so important.
- Use reusable bags: Bring 1 reusable bag with you on your trip and when you go for grocery shopping take it with you. Refuse the plastic bags that are offered to you.
- No straws! And if you really need a straw make sure you use a reusable one. Either bring it with you or try to find one at your destination.
- Use a Water Filter & reusable bottle: Rather than purchasing water when you travel bring a water filter and a reusable bottle (this will save so many plastic bottles). Fill up at hotels and hostels with the offered clean water when you can, but otherwise, use your filter.
- Participate in beach clean-ups: check Facebook events at your destination to see if you can join one. Otherwise just clean the beach yourself. Whenever I am at a beach destination I always try to clean one.
- Use coral reef safe sunscreen: The worlds coral reefs are suffering, and chemicals commonly found in sunscreen contribute to the problem. There are many coral reef safe sunscreens, if you are interested the best ones are listed here.
5. Ask permission when you take pictures
During my travels I like to talk with the locals and I frequently ask them what they least like about the tourists. And most of the time I get answered that they don’t like the big camera’s the tourists bring with them. They think it is unrespectful that tourists come up to them, make a picture and them walk off without even talking to them.
I get it that local people can be very fascinating and picturesque but they remain humans. And it shows respect to just talk with them and ask them permission to take a picture. Connect with these people and ask about their story.
6. Water use/towel use
Yes I also love those endless hot showers, I mean who doesn’t? But in some parts of the world water is very scarce. So if you want to be a more responsible traveler you need to change your water use habits so that you waste less water.
Also use your towel use habits. Maybe at home after every shower you can throw your towels in the washing machine but this also costs a lot of water and electricity use. Therefore you can easily use your towel 2 or 3 times before throwing it in the washing machine.
7. Give back
When I was visiting the Philippines I stayed in a small family hotel where I saw that these people didn’t have a lot of money. However they where always very kind and helpful to me. When I left to go home I gifted them most of my clothes and shoes. I think till the day of today I haven’t seen happier and more grateful faces than those of that family.
This is one way to give back but the best way that you can give back is by offering your time or services. If you have a certain skill or wisdom maybe you can help the locals out when traveling. When I was in Greece I saw a local man struggling to clean the beach of the hotel he was employed by. I asked if I could help him and together we collected a lot of plastic and trash of the beach. We talked a lot and he was so thankful for my time and conversations. He said most of the tourist ignored him and that he didn’t like that.
8. Leave no trace
It is of big importance that you shouldn’t leave any footprint in the natural places you visit. Leave no trace in the nature, whether you’re exploring the back country, a rainforest or a city.
You can easily do this by following the nest stepts:
- Leave it alone: don’t bring shells with you, don’t bring plants from the forest with you. Just leave it how you find it.
I remember being on a beach in Thailand where it was forbidden to collect shells. When I asked why I got the answer: ‘Because all the tourists want to collect shells, our beach is disappearing.’
- Walk on the path: if you stay in the path you will avoid damaging any of the flora around you.
- Respect the wildlife: Do not feed the animals and keep your distance. If you are with a guide, always listen to what they say. They know best.
- What you carry in you must carry out: Do not throw anything in the natural environment. Make sure you bring it home with you, this includes toilet paper.
9. Sustainable tour operators
There are so many choices if it comes to tour operators. When you are making a decision, choose for a company that respects the environment and works together with the local community to provide jobs for the locals. Or if you have the option, choose for a company which is locally owned and operated.
But the most important of all, do not participate in any tours that promote cruelty towards wildlife – riding elephants, monkey shows etc.
10. Oppose overtourism
Overtourism is a real thing nowadays. Many people want to visit the same destinations for different reasons. Take for example the island Bali, so many people go there that at some point there are more tourists than local people. You can start wondering, is this the real Bali? And what is my role in pushing the local people and traditions away?
There are so many beautiful destinations in the world that it might be an option to look broader than the destinations you already know.
I remember going to Suriname and thinking that it might not be the type of country that I like. But I loved the idea that not many people have been there. That is what makes it special. So I went and I loved the country and traditions.
11. Be careful with bargaining
Yes I get it. Most of us who start traveling are back packers and we don’t have a lot of money to spent, we hitch hike, we skip meals if we have to and we go for the cheapest options. This also include bargaining whether it is for a meal, souvenir or public transport.
Where I come from (Holland) shops have a set price tag and it would be strange if I started bargaining over the price. However in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East, bargaining for goods is part of the daily life.
You can be a responsible traveler by not over-bargaining. That 1 or 2 euro’s you are trying to save can maybe make a big difference for the person who you are buying from. I get it that sometimes tourist pricing can be unfair. However in reality, if you are only being charged a couple euro’s more than a local would be, just pay the money and make the other person happy.