We have a responsibility to respect the places we travel to. Discover the five main keys to responsible tourism plus a challenge for your next trip!
Traveling is an extremely incredible, amazing, fulfilling, exciting, and lovely thing to do. In fact, I'd say it's one of my absolute favorite things to do, and I'm sure many of you feel the same way! And while nobody is denying that tourism is a hugely positive thing for many countries, sometimes it's just... not. Sometimes, tourists do more harm than good! We can be messy, disrespectful, oblivious... I think it's safe to say that we've all been irresponsible tourists at some point in our lives, whether we realized it or not! But, that doesn't mean that we can't work towards having a more positive impact on the places we visit!
The following are what I believe to be the five most important things to consider if you want to be the most responsible tourist you can be.
1. Respect and embrace the local culture.
As someone who studied anthropology, this has been and always will be number one for me. I'm constantly curious about the little things that we humans do differently all around the world. And of course, the little things that make us so similar, too! But apart from having an interest in different cultures, there comes a certain responsibility when we travel; a responsibility to respect local customs, traditions, and the culture as a whole. As travelers, we are guests in all of the places that we visit, and it's only right to act as such! Think of traveling as entering a stranger's home - because quite honestly, we kind of are.
On this same token, we shouldn't be afraid to actively participate in the local culture in order to get the most fulfilling and authentic experiences. Wholeheartedly embrace these cultural nuances in order to be a more respectful tourist AND have a more fulfilling trip.
2. Respect the local geography
Whether you're way out in the mountains somewhere, or on a busy city street, make sure you leave no trace. Essentially, respect the planet wherever in the world you might be! Clean up after yourself and respect the plants and animals you encounter. One thing I can't stress enough is to obey nature and wildlife signs! Whether it be "stay on the trail," or "no hiking past this point," the point of those signs is to not only protect you but the natural life that lives there as well!
3. Be mindful of your impact
Travelers can often be the biggest culprits of single-use plastics and unnecessary waste. Grab-and-go, quick, convenient items - it's just the nature of travel, unfortunately. But we can all make small, simple changes that, when combined, have a huge impact. I mean we've all heard it before, right?
If you need some inspiration to get started, I've written a couple of blog posts on traveling more sustainably. Check out my guide to packing an eco-friendly toiletry bag for some earth-friendly alternatives to "travel-size" plastic bottles! If you simply take some time to prepare ahead of time, you'll be on your way to becoming a waste-free travel guru.
4. Support local business
I'll be the first to admit that I'm kind of obsessed with checking out the McDonalds in whichever country I've just landed in. It's just so cool to me. Mostly because of how clean, beautiful, well-run, and like, better, they all seem to be compared to the ones in America. Sorry not sorry America, but you need to step up your game.
However, spending the majority of your time (and money) at big businesses, especially the ones you can find at home, pretty much defeats the purpose of traveling! By interacting with local businesses around the world, you're not only directly benefiting the locals who run them, but you're getting the real deal. So eat at that family-run restaurant or book a walking tour with a local guide and soak up that culture!
5. Avoid animal exploitation
It's the unfortunate truth, but so many tourist activities are centered on animal abuse and exploitation. Even certain things that may seem harmless, like holding or posing with an animal, are usually not. Anything that takes an animal out of its natural environment for the sole purpose of human entertainment is not good. Certain things like sanctuaries and rehabilitation facilities for animals who would have otherwise struggled in the wild are a different story. Just make sure you do your research before signing up for any animal-related excursion or experience!
The Responsible Tourist Challenge
So, being a responsible tourist is pretty easy, right? There's really nothing too crazy about it! But if you're up for a bit of a challenge, I've got one for you:
Next time you travel, be consciously aware of these five things and actively do them. You might be surprised by how many things you decline to do or decide to try for the first time! Feel free to use the list below as a guide:
Respect and embrace the local culture: Take part in a custom that doesn't exist back home
Respect the local geography: Pack those reusable bags and commit to cleaning up trash at one attraction you visit
Be mindful of your impact: Swap at least one item on your packing list for an eco-friendly alternative, like a shampoo bar (this is one of my faves) instead of a travel-sized shampoo bottle
Support local business: Visit a local business (shop, restaurant, tour, etc.) and write a review online to help others support them too!
Avoid animal exploitation: Support an organization that works toward local animal rehabilitation or wildlife protection
Do you have any other ideas on how to be a responsible tourist? Let me know in the comments below!