Today, more people are able to travel than ever. Along the way we are lucky enough to see and experience a range of different environments, cultures and natural environments. Traveling opens the doors to some incredible experiences, and there are plenty of ways we can make a big difference to those out there less fortune than us, while ensuring we don’t leave any damage along the way. This is known as socially responsible travel. Here are a few things you can do to be a socially responsible traveler.
Learn some of the local language
If someone visits your country, it is almost expected that they at least attempt to speak your language, so why should this be any different with you visiting other countries? If you don’t have time to learn a lot, even a few helpful words and phrases can be beneficial and respectful. Although much of the world does not speak English, you should never assume that people want to or are able to speak your language.
Respect the environment
No matter where your final destination may be, it should be looked after. Always make sure you clean up after yourself. For example, if you are camping you should ensure that you take everything away with you when you pack up. Everywhere you visit should be left exactly as you found it, devoid of rubbish, pollution and harm.
Waste management is already a big issue in many developing countries, and travelers can sometimes unknowingly contributing to this problem. Try to take your own bag with you so you don’t have to use plastic bags from shops, always take away your rubbish and recycle when you can.
Look after yourself
Traveling can take a lot out of you, especially if you are going from one destination to the other and taking a lot of flights. Although you need to be aware of your surroundings and make sure you are not doing any damage to the destinations you are traveling to, you also need to make sure that you are not doing any damage to yourself.
Always be aware of the food you are eating and the water you are drinking. Your body may not be used to the sort of food that other cultures eat and how it is prepared. One of the best travel accessories you can invest in is a water purifier which can help make water safe to drink. You should also visit your doctor before you travel to many destinations, as you may be required or advised to have a jab or take tablets to stop you getting ill or bringing any illnesses back to your country.
Long haul flights carry the risk of getting deep vein thrombosis. Before a flight you should learn techniques of how to avoid DVT when flying, and look into the range of air travel accessories, such as a portable airplane travel footrest, which can help with DVT prevention.
Choose eco hotels and tours
In many destinations, you are likely to be spoilt for choice when it comes to picking hotels or tour operators. A great way to make you decision a little easier is to choose sustainable companies that will still give you an unforgettable holiday experience. Many of these ethical companies actively work with their local communities and protect the environment, and it is your money that allows them to carry on with the great work that they do.
Some hotels and tour operators may even donate some of their profits to local charities, or pay those that work from them higher wages than what is normal in that country.
In many countries, bargaining is a big part of the local culture. Not only are you able to bargain in markets, but even shops and restaurants. However, you must always bear in mind where you are when you start to haggle, and what may only be a small amount of money to you may go a long way for the seller. If the product is homemade, you should also consider just how much time and effort has gone into making it.
Lower your footprint
There are some simple steps you can take to lower your environment impact as you make your way around the world. For example, instead of hiring a car or taking a taxi to get about, see if you can find a local bus or car share to get you where you need to go. Bike shares have become increasingly popular in most large North American and European cities.
Respect local customs
Respecting the local customs of the country you are visiting should be something done without thinking about, yet sadly many travelers don’t respect these cultural norms. No matter where you venture, you should ensure to research the local customs, routines, religious practices and laws, you may be surprised about what other cultures find offensive. Learning about the different cultures and religions is one of the greatest rewards we can get when we travel.
Remember your privilege
Although this may seem like such a small thing, it can actually be one of the most important things an ethical traveler can do. The fact that you are simply able to travel and visit other countries is a privilege in itself compared to the masses, but it can be difficult to recognize your status in comparison to the global collective.
Always remember that in developing countries, when you feel like you are getting a bargain on a souvenir, the seller may only be selling it that cheap because they have hungry children to feed at home. In reality, the product may have taken hours to make and is way under the value that it should be. Always consider what you feel is fair, rather than trying to get things as cheap as possible.
Think before volunteering
Volunteering travel is becoming more popular with every passing year, and although many volunteering opportunities really will contribute to the cause they claim to be helping, there are others that can be doing more harm than good. There is always the risk that volunteering takes away work from the local people that may need it, and can end up harming local economies.
Other volunteering worries is any work involving children. In some cases, when forming relationships with children abroad, such as in a school or orphanage, leaving these children at the end of your trip can do more harm than good. Always do your research if you are planning on booking voluntourism, and if you are not sure if what the company are doing is good, it may be best not to book at all.
Consider animal welfare
Many rental activities across the globe involve interacting with animals, be it riding an elephant in Thailand or playing with a tiger cub in Mauritius. Either directly or indirectly, there are a huge range of tourist activities that involve animals, and although it may be something to tick off the bucket list of an avid traveler, it is likely to be doing a lot of damage to the animal and the environment. Wildlife tourism is big business, and often the tour operators will think about the potential profit well before the welfare of the animals. More often than not, the animal would have to have been taken out of its natural environment in order to entertain you, therefore is best avoided.
Other ways to protect animals is to avoid any exotic cuisine that includes eating endangered species or buying souvenirs made from animal products. These can often contribute to mistreatment of animals and the declining population of many.
Look into ethical destinations
There are many destinations around the globe that have now been deemed an ‘ethical destination’, as they are doing their upmost to promote human rights, support local welfare and preserve the natural environment. As well as all the work they do to promote these ethical practices, they still have a lively tourist industry, with a range of things to see and do. You are able to find a full list of destinations online, but a few include Belize, Tonga, Costa Rica, Vanuata and many others.
Many of these destinations are still developing, and the tourism trade plays a big part in contributing to their economy, making it more possible to effect a change.
Support local businesses
When traveling, it is easy to stick with large chains and companies we already know when booking tours, trips and food. Yet for the destination you are visiting, it is important to also support local businesses that are depending on you and other similar travelers for their success.
This will also ensure that the money you spend remains in the country that you are visiting. This could include eating in local restaurants, staying in lodging owned by locals rather than big hotel chains and using local tour operators.