How to Be a Good Traveler

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As the world opens up and traveling becomes cheaper, more accessible and more popular, the responsibility the look after the world is put upon the shoulders of every traveler.

Tourism is one of the world’s largest industries, and the effect that tourism has on an area can be huge. Sometimes these effects can be positive – such as how tourists can benefit a local economy by spending money in that country, or how interest in a particular area of wildlife can help to preserve it.

There are also a lot of negative effects of tourism that need addressing. The three biggest victims of tourism are the local population, the wildlife and the local environment. For example, rainforests are cut down to make way for roads, local tribes are forced to move to make way for luxury hotels, and marine life is put under threat as tourists continue to take over and neglect more and more tropical beaches.

On this page we’ll look at a few ways that YOU can become a more responsible traveler, and how you can ensure that your presence in another country is having an positive effect on that area.

Respecting Other Cultures

It is easy to forget how much of an impact your presence can have on a foreign culture. As a general rule, make sure to read up on each local culture before visiting, looking in particular for the major ‘dos and don’ts’. An example of this is that when you’re in a Muslim country, always be sure to shake hands with your right hand, as offering your left hand is seen as extremely rude. Small things like this wouldn’t cross most people’s minds, which is why it’s good to educate yourself before arriving. Most guide books (such as ‘Lonely Planet’ and the ‘Rough Guides’ series) provide a detailed analysis of what to do (and what not to do) in each country.

“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Remember that you are the visitor in THEIR country, and that instead of imposing your laws, views and ideologies upon them, you should first respect the way they live and try to fit in around their lives.

TempleOne thing that I often see is travelers taking pictures of the locals like they’re some kind of wildlife; oblivious to their presence. Before taking pictures of local people, always ask their permission beforehand. Don’t use the fact that they don’t speak English as an excuse, as you should still be able to get the message across by holding up your camera, pointing to it and then pointing to them.

There are a few things that you should always do (or avoid doing), no matter which country you’re traveling in. First of all, always be respectful when entering a holy place or a place of worship. Make sure to follow the local rules (which might mean taking off your shoes or covering up your head) even if their rules seem silly or outdated to you, and be careful not to touch anything that you shouldn’t.

When I was visiting the ‘Tiger Temple’ in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, the back half of the temple was raised up onto a step (meaning the floor at the back end of the temple was raised up a foot higher than the rest) and there was a sign that read ‘Platform is for monk, Lady is not allowed to step up’. The women present in the tour group found this slightly offensive and started shouting about how the monks (that lived in the temple) were ‘living in the dark ages’. Of course, these monks did not mean to cause offence to these women – it is just the way their culture has developed.

Platform is for monk...The same can be applied to entering another person’s home. If you’re invited into someone’s home and aren’t sure how to act, let them enter first and pay attention to how they act. Do they take off their shoes or perform some kind of ritual? The safest way to go is to simply copy what they do.

In regards to clothing, loose fitting clothing is best (especially for women), and be careful about wearing anything that’s too revealing or skimpy, no matter how hot the weather is.

For more information on this, check out this post on respecting other cultures.

How to Help the Local People

One great way to help out other local cultures (financially and culturally) is to make sure that when you buy something (such as food and drink or a local souvenir) you buy something that has been locally produced instead of something that has been imported.

This could mean going to a local, family owned restaurant instead of McDonalds, staying in a locally owned guesthouse instead of an international chain hotel or buying handmade (and locally produced) souvenirs instead of mass-produced fakes.

Not only will doing these things help to give money directly to the people who need it most (instead of some local fat-cat), but it will also help to preserve their local culture, by ensuring that the local brands can compete against the large, bland international chains.

Protecting the Environment

You don’t need to be an eco-warrior to understand that protecting the local environment should be a priority for every traveler. Not only will this help to ensure that tourism is sustainable (meaning that other people can experience and enjoy the country you’re visiting), it will also help to ensure the future survival of our planet.

“A good traveler leaves no tracks.” — Lao Tzu

There are a lot of practical tips that you can employ to ensure that the negative effect you have on an area is minimal:

  • No matter where you are, always put your litter in a designated trash can. If there isn’t a trash can nearby (or you’re out in the wilderness) put it in your bag and take it home with you.
  • When camping, use only biodegradable shampoos and detergents, as they can find their way into the rivers and streams and can cause damage to the local wildlife.
  • When hiking or driving out in the wild, stay on the designated marked pathways, as venturing off them can cause unnecessary damage to the animal and plant-life.
  • Avoid buying anything made from ivory, fur, bird feathers, coral or turtle shells. You’ll only be endangering the existence of some animal species or their local habitat.
  • Don’t pick flowers while out in the wild. Doing so is illegal in lots of areas.
  • Switch off the lights when you leave a room, and don’t leave the tap running in the bathroom.
  • Keep your distance from wild animals, no matter how good the photo opportunity. Getting too close to animals (that aren’t used to humans) can cause them a lot of distress, and can disrupt their mating and feeding routines in a negative way.

Considering Your Carbon Footprint

What is your carbon footprint? It is a measurement of your impact on the environment by the amount of greenhouse gases that you’ve helped produce. Too many greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere is a bad thing, so ideally you want to produce as little as possible (thus reducing your carbon footprint).

Cheetahs in the wildOne of the best ways to lower your carbon footprint is to take the train or the bus instead of flying or driving when traveling long distances to a new area. When town, look to walk or cycle instead of taking a taxi or driving.

There will be times when you have to fly somewhere or do something that raises your carbon footprint, and you may well feel guilty about this. In times such as these, you can ‘balance things out’ by donating money to a relevant charity (visit http://www.charitynavigator.org for a complete list) in by getting involved with environmental project (such as reforestation) more directly at a later date.


Related posts:

  1. Cash, Credit Cards or Traveler’s Checks – A Guide to Handling Money Abroad




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