10 Ways to Be a More Responsible Traveler
Most people would say they are responsible adults when traveling. And we’d like to believe that others are too. After all, it is well into the 2nd decade of the 21st century. We’re supposed to be evolved humanists with a clue.
Yet, here it is, 2015 – – we look around us, scan the news channels, and what do we see?
Hikers reaching the summit of a sacred mountain in Malaysia – – and celebrating this achievement by taking off all their clothes.
Visitors to USA national parks putting themselves in harm’s way – – falling off
the edge of a steep slope or being attacked by a dangerous animal – – all for the perfect “selfie.”
A man in rural Canada getting out of his car to hand feed a wild black bear he spotted by the side of the road.
People visiting Africa on safaris bribing or yelling at their driver/guides to speed up and chase wildlife.
Is there anything we can do to discourage or prevent such incidents? Yes, absolutely.
First, we can always improve our own actions, serving as role models to others, especially children.
Second, we can encourage our friends and people in our home communities to act more responsibly when they travel.
And third, we can speak up and immediately report questionable activities to the proper authorities rather than turning a blind eye and walking away.
Here are 10 simple steps every one of us can take to support responsible tourism:
Respect the Local Customs For example, don’t sunbathe bare-breasted or in the nude on the beach…or get drunk in a bar and pass out….even if it is socially acceptable in your home country. You’re in someone else’s home now.
The Perfect Photo Isn’t Necessary. Everyone likes to take pictures by camera or camcorder when on holiday, and there is nothing wrong with that. It’s the relentless pursuit of that so-called perfect shot that gets people in trouble. Leave that to the professional wildlife photographers.
Stay on Marked Hiking Trails. They are marked for your pleasure and as well as your safety.
Clean up after Yourself. It should go without saying that littering is bad for the environment (that includes marine environments too). If you can’t find a waste disposal or it is already full, simply wrap up your garbage and carry it with you until you can dispose of it properly. Better yet, be proactive and pack a collapsible reusable drinking container and utensils for use on your trip.
Keep Respectful Distances from Wild Animals. And do not feed them or leave food for them. They will begin to associate people with food and become nuisance animals that may have to be put down.
Avoid Tours that Harm Animals. That means do not take rides on domesticated elephants in countries like India or Malaysia. Those elephants live a life of being chained, poorly fed, and mistreated, and the chair platforms placed on their backs for tourists cause severe back problems over the years. Read about this subject online to educate yourself on this issue. Also, avoid dive boat captains that chum the waters to attract sharks and fish. Whale watching excursions should maintain a clear distance from the whales and not chase them. Let the whales choose to approach the boats. Ask lots of questions to find the most eco-friendly operator.
Admire Coral Reefs but Don’t Touch. When diving or snorkeling keep aware of the coral reefs below you. Don’t stand on them, swipe them with your gloves or flippers, or bump your camera or other equipment against them. Coral damage happens in an instant but takes decades to repair. The corals are having enough difficulty surviving ocean acidification and bleaching. Same thing goes for sea grass.
Don’t Give Money or Food to Beggars. You may be visiting a poor country where begging is common. It is especially hard on one’s heart when the beggars are young children. But resist the temptation to help on the spot. You do not know where your money or food goes, and it might surprise you that often it ends up in the hands of child abusers or drug gangs. Every country has legitimate charity organizations for the poor that you can donate to. Better yet, volunteer your time with them for a day or more.
Keep an Open Mind. Taste foods that are new to you. Learn a bit about other religious beliefs and be respectful when visiting places of worship. Exchange a polite “hello” and “thank you” in the local tongue if you can. Buy souvenirs from vendors in small village markets rather than fancy shops in the major cities. Bargain for price if that is the local custom, but don’t be unreasonable.
Be Aware of Body Language. You may be signaling an insult without intention. It’s best not to stand too close or touch people, even to shake hands, or stare, especially with foreign women, until you learn what is usual and permitted. Often a smile and nod is best to show your appreciation. To the other extreme, in some cultures it is considered cold and impolite to greet without hugs and cheek kisses. The world is a big and varied place, and that is supposed to be one of the joys of travel – – to go somewhere different.