When we travel, our most memorable moments are of the beautiful places we see and the people we interact with. But have we made those people’s lives better by visiting them? Did our visit have a positive impact? Socially and environmentally responsible tourism is crucial to the health of the places we wish to visit. Responsible tourism expert, Raj Gyawali, breaks down the various ways travelers can make a difference wherever they wander.
5 responsible tourism tips
1. Don’t be shy
Try your best to engage with the local people you meet through words or actions, and you will ensure a fantastic experience for yourself and for the locals. Remember, you are just as much an attraction for them as they are for you.
Also, pay attention to the importance of the landscape and remember that the nature and surroundings are equally as important as the guardians of that space. Try to find out what the connection is between the land and the people, learn about their cultures and traditions regarding their land. This will enrich your trip and help you better understand how people live in the area.
This engagement also shows your respect for fellow people and showcases your interest in their lives, which instills a sense of pride and an understanding that they are an important part of the experience. It also helps preserve cultures, as locals realize that retention of cultures is important for tourism.
A word of caution: Do not intrude when you engage. Strive for a balance—something between sticking a camera into their face to capture unique features, to taking a sort of family picture and presenting it later, nicely framed.
2. Leave no trace
You don’t have to be a die-hard activist to be a responsible traveler. From a responsible tourism perspective, it is important that your visit to the area is not a harmful one. Every visitor has a small impact on the land and its people, of course—there is no such thing as zero-impact. But it’s up to you to keep the impact as positive as possible.
Follow the simple principles of centralizing garbage, minimal-impact camping, maximizing resource conservation, and using alternative energy sources whenever possible. These principles dictate that you should disturb your surroundings as little as possible when you’re visiting a new place:
- Keep noise to a minimum.
- Don’t travel in large groups.
- Don’t leave anything behind.
- Preserve the nature around you.
- Leave things as you found them.
Finally, educate yourself on the laws of the land you’re visiting to be sure you’re adhering to their local regulations.
3. Contribute to the local economy
One of the best ways to be socially responsible when you travel is to ensure that your dollars get distributed into the local economy. For this to happen, the onus is on you, the traveler, to be aware of the country, how it functions, and how to spend your money so that it reaches the local economy. Considering you are a traveler in a new land, it’s hard to know how to maximize your contributions, but even having a consciousness to do it better is a big step in the right direction.
Tip: If you are shopping for souvenirs, always ask if they are made locally, and how much money the artisan makes on each item. This gives you a good indication of whether there was any exploitation in the production process. Asking questions like this and making choices based on the answers can go a long way to ensure your money reaches the local economy, and therefore, the local people.
4. Share your own story
Sharing your own story and background with the local people you meet is another way to have a positive impact. Not everyone can travel, and your being there is an opportunity for the locals to learn about your background and for their own cultural discovery. That is responsible tourism.
Tip: Before you travel, take some pictures of your house, your dog, your neighborhood shop, your street and everyday life, which can be both educational and confidence-boosting for the locals. It’s a great chance for the locals to take a turn being a tourist in your town, and can result in lots of fun and laughter.
Talk about your travels. People love hearing about them. This can be a great ice-breaker and also a great learning experience. It may also reveal some commonalities between you and your new friends.
5. Bring along an open attitude
During your travels, you will have gear lists, checklists, norms, guidelines and rules. But one of the most important things you can bring to benefit yourself, as well as the place you visit, is an open attitude. This makes everything easier, opens your mind to accepting new things, new cultures, new food and new schedules. This is a great way to change yourself and also to live in the moment.
This attitude will also help open doors, help you appreciate local customs and traditions, however alien they might be from what you are used to, and open up your mind to respect the environment and the lifestyle of another land.
In fact, when I’m sending the travelers in my tours the extensive list of outdoor gear they’ll need to bring, no matter where we’re going, the list always ends with, “The best thing you can bring along is a great attitude.”
Feature image credit: lzf / Shutterstock