Theresa Boehl, Myght Contributor

Ethical Tourism: How To Be A Good Traveler

Impact Travel

We’ve all heard the old adage, “actions speak louder than words.” And typically when we hear something like this, we know what’s meant by it; we can imagine what it looks like to be a better person or a better friend or worker, etc. But is this true for travel? Do you know what it looks like to be a good traveler — someone who travels with a purpose and supports ethical tourism?

Our guess is that most people understand it intuitively but would struggle to put it into words. This is why we are passing on this very helpful list of tips put together by our friends at Tourism Cares. Here are some tips to help you be a good traveler:

TIP #1: BE SENSITIVE TO LOCAL CHILDREN, ESPECIALLY CHILDREN ASKING FOR MONEY 

Children frequent tourist sites and sell trinkets, offer their service as guides or to carry traveler’s belongings. Your initial reaction may be to support them but as a general rule, it is best not to buy goods or services from children. Giving money or small gifts to children encourages them to continue begging and perpetuates a cycle of poverty. It can also prevent them from going to school. In some countries, organized begging, the most visible form of human trafficking, is an issue.

And while it may be difficult to not give them sweets and candy to enjoy, you may inadvertently be creating dental problems and unfortunately, not all communities have access to proper dental care. Check with your tour guide about the local context and see if there are better options instead. You can support a local nonprofit organization or visit social businesses that support street children and their families.

TIP #2: BE SENSITIVE WHEN TAKING PICTURES OF PEOPLE AND SITUATIONS 

Interact and ask before taking pictures of individuals or identifiable groups. When taking pictures of children, ask the adult with them for permission first. Be sensitive to your surrounding and context. If a person asks for money and you want the picture, consider the fair price you are willing to pay. Some religious and cultural sites do not allow photographs so be sure to ask your tour operator or look for posted signs.

TIP #3: BE RESPONSIBLE WHEN INTERACTING WITH LOCAL WILDLIFE

Adventurous tourists and animal lovers may want to get close to exotic animals such as riding an elephant or visiting and taking photos of tigers in captivity. But by doing so, you can inadvertently encourage practices that cause abuse and suffering to the animals. Choose an ethical tourism operator or experience that has a protective animal tourism policy and carefully evaluate the options they offer. Many destinations have responsible animal sanctuaries that can be a better option than a wildlife tour.

Souvenirs made from animals, such as fur, ivory, rhino horn and turtle shell products may be exotic and unique but many countries prohibit the purchase and transfer of animal products. To avoid confiscation, fines and possibly imprisonment by government authorities, it is best to avoid purchasing animal souvenirs when traveling.

TIP #4: BE CONSCIENCE HOW YOU SPEND WHEN YOU TRAVEL 

Choosing well when making purchases in a destination can have a big impact on a community, as well as create a more authentic experience for you. Travelers can shop at local markets, choose a hotel owned by a local group and use local tour guides. This lets you interact with locals as well as infuse money into the local economy.

Make sure to spread your shopping out and buy from several vendors instead of one. Try to look at the bigger picture when bargaining with local vendors. In some cultures, bargaining is expected. But try to find a balance between a good price and one that is fair, or even generous, to the vendor.

TIP #5: REDUCE YOUR FOOTPRINT

At home, many of us have a routine for reducing our environmental impact. We use energy saving bulbs and water efficient faucets, compost, buy local organic foods and walk or bike instead of driving when we can. But traveling disrupts your routine, and it may be difficult to figure out how to reduce your impact.

The biggest part of your carbon footprint from traveling is probably your flight. You can offset the flight by purchasing carbon offset with your carrier or ask your travel advisor to direct you to their trusted source. When you're at your destination, consider taking public transportation. Renting a bike or walking is also a great way to enjoy the sites.

Many destinations now offer eco-friendly lodging. If you're staying at a luxury hotel, check their corporate social responsibility (CSR) program. Do they minimize their impact on the environment and have a connection with the community they are in?

There are many other simple ways to embrace ethical tourism and reduce your impact, including: packing light and using baggies that you can reuse again; bringing your own water treatment instead of buying bottled water; and supporting local organic restaurants and shops, to name just a few.

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