How to Travel Ethically
When planning a trip, I naturally tend to focus first on flights and accommodations, then moving into research on things to do, then mapping things out to plan a loose itinerary so that we aren’t wandering back and forth across a city. My final bit of planning could arguably be one of the most important pieces - considering the impact of my tourism.
Part of living intentionally is awareness of your actions and impact on others. This is particularly important when traveling, when your actions and purchases have a direct impact upon the people, landscape, and wildlife. Making small changes to the way we experience a place can have lasting impacts. Below are some suggestions of how to start:
- Support local businesses - Rather than large chains that you could find anywhere in the world, give your dollars to local business owners. Look for small restaurants or boutiques owned by locals. Not only are you likely to find unique treasures or delicious meals, but you’re supporting a local family.
- Pay a fair price - This one is a bit tricky to navigate, as bartering is normal in many cultures. Paying the asking price can sometimes drive up prices for locals, but offering pennies for goods can be insulting and detract value from handmade goods. Take the time to do some research and ask around to discover a fair price that benefits the locals and places value on the goods they have made.
- Follow dress codes - Especially when visiting sacred or religious sites, consider and abide by the local dress code. If covered shoulders are expected, be sure to pack appropriate garments or purchase a shawl to temporarily cover up. Even if it seems archaic or sexist (or whatever) to you, you are a guest and it is not your place to fight a practice that you may not completely understand. Show your respect by following the rules.
- Be mindful before taking photographs - If the signs in a museum or cultural site request that no photographs be taken, then don’t take a photo. There are many reasons that policy may be in place (in some cases for artwork and artifacts, flashes of light can be damaging), but it’s best to just be considerate and tuck your camera away. The same goes for taking photos of locals - they are people, not animals. Ask permission before taking a photo and be mindful before sharing those photos. What are your true intentions in taking or sharing that photo?
- Do some research on cultural norms - From ordering food to tipping, to standard meal times, to concepts of time and personal space, do a little research! You might find yourself annoyed at the lack of lines or the way people are crowded together, but culturally there may be a big difference in perspective on personal space or appropriate ways to gather. Instead of getting upset, get educated and know what to expect so you can respond and act appropriately.
- Clean up after yourself - Do not litter. Always clean up your trash - whether on a park, the beach, hiking a mountain, or renting an Airbnb. Show respect to the land and environment by always cleaning up any waste. You could even always pack a spare baggie for storing trash if you cannot find anywhere to put it.
- Don’t exploit the wildlife - As much as I would love to ride an elephant or pet a tiger, it isn’t worth it if those animals are not being treated the way they should be treated. So before participating in any animal tourism, find out more. Learn more about the practices, and long term impacts before supporting a potentially dangerous and destructive industry. Find other ways you could interact with or support wildlife in a safe and responsible way.
- Learn a bit of the language - Put in the effort to learn basic greetings and pleasantries, and at least try to pronounce. While the occasional person might find incorrect pronunciation rude, most will appreciate the effort to learn and use the local language. There are so many websites and apps out there that make it easy and quick to learn!
While this certainly isn’t an exhaustive list, these are easy ways to start your journey to traveling ethically and sustainably. Have you ever done any of these things while traveling? What advice would you give to others who want to travel ethically? Tell us more in the comments below and on Instagram.