Responsible tourism has become more important than ever. With more that one billion travelers each year, we all need to do our part.
Fortunately, there are a few things we can do to contribute to a better world while traveling. I have put together over 17 tips for responsible tourism. You don’t need to do it all at once, but adopting just one of these changes into your next trip will make a big difference.
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Tips for responsible tourism
Avoid animal tourism
Animal tourism comes in so many ways and is so widely spread and accepted that it is often hard to avoid. Many times we don´t even recognize it as animal tourism because it has become so normal.
The most common and hard to notice are all the organized tours that include a show or selfies with a monkey, snake, parrot or another exotic animal typical to the country you are visiting. Are locals showing off an animal and asking for money ok to support? Definitely no. If they need money they will soon find another way to earn some extra cash if tourists stop paying for it.
Further, you have a lot of tours that include a visit to a zoo or riding animals like elephants, donkeys, camels, etc. Who hasn´t dreamt of riding a camel into the Great Pyramids of Giza or riding an elephant through the Thai jungle? It seems tempting the way the tourism industry puts it out there, but please think twice before doing so.
When in the Philippines, I met the tiniest primate on earth, the tarsier. They get captured by locals to show off to the tourists. The Tarsier simply commits suicide when held in captivity.
Where I live, at the Costa del Sol in southern Spain, I see animal tourism all the time. In Fuengirola, a couple of years ago, animal defenders fought for the horses used for tourist tours.
The horses had to stand in the heat of the sun every day waiting for tourists to ride through the hot streets. The poor animals had no access to the shade while the taxi stand a few meters up the road had shade for the taxi drivers. Eventually, they built a roof for shade for the horses. The roof is way too high, so the shade hardly reaches the horses.
In Mijas Pueblo, just 15 minutes away, the donkey tourism is full-on. Tourists are standing in line to get a tour of the village on the back of a tired donkey without considering how much weight is reasonable for one donkey to carry. These donkeys are tied up 24 hours a day, without the opportunity to lay down and rest. Donkey owners have also been observed hitting the donkeys if they disobey.
You can read more about this in my blog post Why you should never ride a donkey in Mijas.
Support local businesses
When traveling, chances are you will buy food, snack or souvenirs. If you stay at backpackers you might prepare your own dinner, or you might want some fruit or snack for a long day sightseeing.
Many places you find food markets where local farmers sell their food, sometimes even ecological. If you have the time to find a market, that is a great way to support small and local businesses. This way you know that your money will go to the locals. In many countries, the poorest families of farmers will be on the market. Buying a little bit from different people will help more families.
Also, souvenirs can be bought from smaller local shops. Another positive thing about going into these small local shops is to talk to the locals and get to know more about their history and culture. Often they have time for you and are curious about you and where you come from as well. You might even make new friends.
Be a mindful hotel guest
You have probably seen these signs that more and more hotels put up that asks you to leave the towels on the floor if you want them changed. If you leave them hanging, they won´t change them for you. This is a major way to keep water usage low and to decrease the amount of detergents washed out in the ocean.
I often find that the cleaners change the towels even though I leave the towel hanging. That’s why I have started putting up the do not disturb sign when I leave the room.
Furthermore, you can decrease the usage of the tiny plastic packed hotel soaps, shampoos, and creams. Bringing your own shampoo and soaps simply saves throwing away all those little plastic containers for each hotel room you are in.
It is easy to buy small reusable travel bottles for shower gel, shampoo and creams to fit in the hand luggage. Sometimes it might be necessary to use the ones in the hotel, but if you bring the rest to the next place instead of leaving them half empty, you might throw away a couple of bottles less.
Responsible travel starts with implementing small changes to your travel habits.
Keep nature clean
When you are traveling, you might come across places that are overwhelmed with rubbish.
It can be easy to follow the trend and throw your own rubbish on the ground as well. What difference does one more piece of plastic or paper make?
Be responsible. Try not to do that and instead find a rubbish bin. It might seem like it doesn´t matter, but any little piece of rubbish that we don´t throw on the ground saves our planet just a little bit, and we can make a tiny difference.
You could also bring an extra bag when you are out on a hike or visiting a beach and pick up whatever rubbish you come by. Sometimes it is just so overwhelming that it seems unnecessary. But Hey! That is just one bag less of rubbish into Mother Nature. That is definitely a way to contribute to responsible tourism.
Imagine if we all collected one bag of rubbish every time we went to that beach or that hike? Wouldn’t that make a huge difference?
Bring clothes to a children’s home
This might be the least effortless I will write about in this post. But is it really such big a job?
Ask your friends, family, and colleagues to give you clothes they don´t need anymore. People like to help, and people like to feel needed. You will make all the people that give you clothes feel that they are making a difference too.
That is great. All you have to do is pack the clothes with you, find a children’s home that you can visit on your trip (make sure to do your research and go for the right reasons and not for a bunch of selfies with cute homeless kids), and get an amazing experience.
Remember to let all the amazing people that donated clothes know where you have given it and how it was received. In this way, you´ll make a difference both for you and the children. But this will also have a great impact on the people you involve that you receive the clothes from.
Respect the culture
Responsible tourism starts with respect.
Further, dress accordingly to the customs in the country you are visiting. If you visit a country where women are covering up most of or all of their body, then do it.
If you visit a country or city where couples don´t show intimacy in public, then wait until you get to your hotel room to give that kiss.
Learn the local language
I have lived for years at Costa del Sol in Spain where many tourists come and think they own the place. They speak English to the locals and just expect that the person in front of them know the language. I have even observed people becoming angry at the Spanish for not trying to understand or just answering in Spanish. Spanish is the local language in Spain, we should never forget that. Remember that you are a visitor, and not at home.
It doesn’t matter if you travel to Thailand, Peru or Russia, English isn´t an obvious language to manage. Make sure you show the locals that you are aware of that. If you are humble and ask them if they know English, they might as well know a little or try with sign language if they struggle to communicate in English. Don´t you think the locals will be more positive to tourists if they are met with humble and respectful visitors?
Just learning a few common phrases in the local language, like “thank you” or “how are you” and “I am good” can make a big difference to your experience. The locals usually like it when you try to communicate in their language. If it’s only a word or two, it shows that you are making an effort.
Communicate with the locals
Now, I have talked about learning a few phrases in the local language. But no matter where you travel to you should do your best to communicate with the locals and show that you are interested in their culture.
You never know where it could lead you. They might show you a hidden gem or even invite you home for dinner with their family!
Communicating with the locals is definitely the best way of knowing a place in-depth.
Find out what I learned from talking to the locals in Cuba.
Take local transport
Taking local transport is a good way to get in touch with the locals and observe the customs. You also contribute to the environment by traveling by bus or train.
I remember in the Philippines, one of the most interesting travel experiences was taking a local Jeepney to our destination. We were crammed in the back with a large group of locals.
Not exactly sure how to pay the driver as he was sitting in the front with heaps of notes wrapped around his fingers, we soon figured out the system. Those who sat in the back passed on money forward until they reached the driver. The change came back a while later, but the driver seemed to have full control of whom he owed what to.
Bring a filtered reusable water bottle
Traveling with a filtered reusable water bottle doesn’t only save the amounts of single-use plastic you otherwise would use on a trip. It also saves you a whole lot of money.
My favorite filtered water bottle is the LifeStraw Go bottle. You can fill up the bottle anywhere and while you drink, the water passes through the filter. On my last trip to Cuba, I didn’t buy a single water bottle.
If you’re a coffee addict, you will want to bring a reusable coffee cup too.
When you buy a LifeStraw product you also support a project that gives clean water to a community.
My top Amazon picks:
Don’t feed wildlife
It is important to think about this. It might seem harmless to give a piece of food to a cute animal. But do you know what that animal normally eats? Once tourists start feeding wildlife a series of things happen.
- The animals can get sick or die at an earlier age because they eat things that are not included in their natural diet. This can also lead to the animals not eating enough of their natural diet.
- The animals get used to humans and start roaming around the cities and towns begging for food. This can get quite annoying for the locals.
- As animals get used to humans and go looking for human food in houses and restaurants, they can get killed by traffic.
Ask before photographing people
You might be eager to get all those photos of people in their local dresses doing their local customs. However, it is to remember that they are people. Just like you and me.
Striking up a conversation first and asking what they do and so on usually makes it easier to ask for a photo later. If the person is selling something, it is nice to buy something from him or her to show gratitude. But you shouldn’t give money to take a photo. Then just thank them and continue walking.
When it comes to photographing children, make sure you always get consent from a parent or other grown-up family member.
Ask for NO plastic straw
Plastic straws are one of the most common pieces of plastic found during beach clean-ups. And do we really need them?
Well, sometimes, I must admit, it is nice to drink with a straw. However, not at the expense of the environment. Try to remember to ask the waiter to not give you a straw next time you have a drink.
Personally, I remember it only half of the time still. But it is a start. And it is better than nothing. So don’t freak out if you forgot to tell them and you see that pink plastic straw dipping in your drink as the waiter comes towards you. Just try to remember it for the next time. I am convinced that with time I will remember it all the time.
You can also buy metal straws to bring with you on your trip.
Get yours here.
Use reef-safe sunscreen
Regular sunscreen contains something called oxybenzone. This breaks down the corals, they lose their nutrients and finally die. It also harms the fish when it comes in contact with their skin.
Not very neat.
Luckily, there are alternatives out there, so make sure you look for a reef-safe sunscreen next time you go to the beach.
You might also like: Why is sustainable tourism important?
Use responsible tour operators
Make sure you chose a responsible tour operator when you go on a tour. Things to look for are tour operators that support local businesses and that don’t include unethical animal tourism in their tours.
It can be a good idea to ask them a number of questions on how they work with sustainability and how they think about animal tourism to make sure you trust them.
Travel by land
Whenever you can, try to travel by land. If you have the time to take the bus or train instead of a flight you can save money and the environment. Often, the trip isn’t much longer if you think about the time you spend getting to the airport, through check-in, waiting, the flight time, and finally, getting off the place and picking up your luggage.
This is not always possible. You might not have the time if there is a big time difference, and that is ok.
Smile to people
Finally, the last and the most effortless thing you can do is to always meet the locals with a friendly smile. You will be surprised how many people you touch with your beautiful smile. Don´t you feel better when someone smiles at you?
A smile opens new doors, be it new friendships or new knowledge about a place. This could even lead to an improved understanding of responsible tourism at the destination.
Talk about responsible tourism
After you come home from your trip, talk to your friends and family about responsible tourism. Tell them about what you have done and the experiences you had.
Spreading awareness about responsible tourism is incredibly important. Use your social media to spread awareness and show your following the incredible experiences you had while traveling as a responsible traveler.
How is all this contributing to responsible tourism? I experience that locals are a lot more welcoming once you respect their customs and adapt a little. If you are respectful it change the locals’ views on foreigners and you might even get new friends for life. Remember, the traveler is the visitor.
Do you have any thoughts of other effortless ways to responsible travel? Please let me know in the comments.
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