What does it mean to practice responsible tourism, or to be a responsible traveler? In a few words, responsible travel is about “doing the right thing”.
For us, responsible tourism and being a responsible traveler is about actions that we can do on a daily level, in our travels. It is about treating people and places in a conscientious way. This differs from sustainable travel, which for us is more about the planet & environment, and often linked to economic decisions… read our full sustainable travel post here.
Most parents would know that the greatest teaching is modelling the behavior you want to see in your child; this is the same on the road or at home. Here are some thought-provoking ideas of how to be a more responsible traveler, including examples from our own travel experience.
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1. Be A Responsible Traveler And Consider Your Actions
If in your travels you have seen a “terrible tourist” – showing exaggerated amounts of flesh, pointing their camera in people’s faces, and loudly criticizing the local culture – then you will be aware that your actions as a traveler are watched by others. You are an ambassador for your country or culture.
We like to think that by travel we break down differences and create greater culture harmony. So, in doing this, we remember that we should act in a considered and conscientious way.
2. Dress Appropriately
Yes, we know that it is a about billion degrees and you are hot. However, if you are in a country where covered shoulders and knees is respectful, then do as the locals do and cover up!
In Latin America, there aren’t any specific dress codes, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t look around and see what others are wearing. I will never forget a couple of volunteers turning up for an excursion to high altitude indigenous communities with a generous amount of cleavage on display. It wasn’t scandalous but it lacked an understanding of the other culture.
3. Never EVER Support Child Exploitation
There are numerous ways that you can support child exploitation. These include: Giving out sweets/ giving to beggars / children as photographic models/ buying from children.
Be it kids in a neighborhood that gets tourist traffic sweetly asking for ‘bon bons’ or children overtly employed as a photographic model in typical dress alongside their mother – don’t do it.
4. How You Spend Your $$ Matters
Consider the impact of your spending (e.g., your choice of hotels, or tour operators).
We cover in our post “Tips for Sustainable Travel“ that the best way to travel is with certified, Eco-friendly accommodation, tour companies, and operators. However, we know that these places often come with a premium price tag and that this makes it difficult when traveling on a budget. Instead, if you are not able to support those “certified” businesses, make informed choices about the companies you support
- Ask them how they treat their people.
- ALWAYS ask about their SAFETY program. Take a look at the tires or vehicles, or kayaks nearby – do they look well maintained?
- Do they have the right size life-jackets for your kids?
- When you are on the trip, ask the staff about how they are treated, holidays, etc. You don’t need to ask ‘how much are you paid’ – more things like ‘how often do you visit your family’?
5. Tipping And Showing You Are Grateful
Being Australian, tipping is not part of our culture as we are blessed by a system that (mostly) pays people correctly. Be aware that in the rest of the world people are not so lucky, and that tourism is an area where exploitation is rife. Was your service great at a restaurant? Was the bell boy particularly friendly? A tip is a wonderful way to show your appreciation. We would rather advocate choosing sustainable travel businesses that are responsible employers, but if that is out of your budget – the next best thing is tipping.
Finally, tips never go astray. Remember though good tips don’t cover health insurance, paid holidays or training – all things that a responsible company should pay for.
6. Buy Local
Shop at the local market, buy from the small tourist vendor and you will know that some of your tourist dollars are going directly into the local economy. It is tempting to shop from tourist chains or at supermarkets where the prices are marked, especially if they offer some familiarity and security. However, the bigger a store, the less likely your dollars won’t go right into the hands of the local people.
Also, if you are an independent traveler consider how you organize your transport. For example, do you go through a big well-known travel agency, or do you negotiate directly with a driver on the street. There are definitely more guarantees by working with reputable companies. However, if you are sufficiently confident to work with local people, without going through middlemen, this will help them directly and is an effective way to make sure your tourist dollars end up in the hands of the locals.
7. Learning Some Of The Language
Being able to say “please” or “thank you” in the local language (combined with a big smile) will get you a long way! Learning these phrases is something that the whole family can do in the lead up to the trip, and enjoy during the holiday. Even better, you connect with the local people who can enjoy being your teachers. And never ever have we not seen a local’s face light up when a 5-year-old says “thank you” in their language.
8. Put Yourself In The Locals Shoes
At Apus Peru we’d often get comments that it was a shame that the porters wouldn’t eat dinner with the trekkers. Remember, that Quechua people are generally shy people with very modest mannerisms. We asked the porters how they felt about this, and they explained that to eat a meal with large (as in tall people), speaking another language gregariously, was intimidating for them. They would prefer to eat with their own friends, speaking their own language. So remember, while you might want to interact or learn about other cultures – make sure that feeling is reciprocated.
9. Don’t Apply Your Own Cultural Standards When You Are Visiting
Our values are what make us who we are. What we are often not so aware of is that how many of these values are cultural, and when we are at home in our own country, they are reinforced as normal and ‘right’. However, when you are overseas, be a responsible traveler and understand that other cultures have different standards.
In many places, being late is not considered a problem – and so many times I’ve seen tourists complaining about their drivers being late etc. Other people might get into your personal space, but this isn’t necessarily an affront, it is just how they do things. Finally, my own personal favorite, the truth. Let’s say that telling the truth or admitting honestly that you don’t know something is not a part of many cultures. I have to work hard and tell myself that I am applying my own cultural value to the situation, and that it is not theirs.
10. Give Back
Most of our tips really boil down to the first tip, being a conscious, considerate, and responsible traveler. Giving back is no different. Look for ways that you can give back while traveling. This might mean taking your old clothes and donating them to a respectable organization. It might mean participating in a reputable volunteer program, or even looking at supporting grassroots tourism organizations like home-stays. Consider doing litter clean-ups, planting trees or other well-organized and reputable activities.
A note about volunteering – we believe that human based volunteering positions (such as teaching English or working in an orphanage) can often be more detrimental to locals than beneficial. There is more benefit to the tourist, who feels great and has some unique cultural experiences. Be a responsible traveler and think about the impact of your actions.
11. Be Courteous And Respectful
A final note seems pretty obvious, but is worth stating: Act as you would at home. Respectful behavior is appreciated around the world. Children sitting nicely at dinner, eating properly, if using tech (iPad or phones) then headphones are a must and on buses and planes – don’t kick the back of the seats.
So there you have it – 11 ideas on how you can be a more responsible traveler.
However, how to put this into effect as a parent and as a traveler? It is much easier to advise others than do it yourself, especially when you have a budget to keep to. Check out 8 Ways To Be A Respectful Travel Family by Passports and Pigtails