The face of travel has changed dramatically in recent years, particularly in the last 12 months. As we bunker down and try to kick this virus, we’re presented with an opportunity to reflect on the norms we’ve come to know and decide whether or not we need to change them.
When the world starts to come out of hibernation, and we can stretch our wings and explore again, it would be easy to fall back into old habits. But we don’t have to. We have the power to change some of the darker sides of travel for the better. Here are 12 easy steps to get you started.
Try to learn the local language
Hello, goodbye, please and thank you are bare minimum phrases that you should learn when travelling to a country whose local language is not your own. Travelling with respect earns you respect so your interactions with locals will be far richer if you make the effort. You’ll find plenty of language books, online guides and courses to help you. If you leave it until you’ve landed, ask your hotel receptionist, tour guide or even taxi driver for a few need-to-know phrases.
Book with hotels, tour companies who have a responsible tourism policy
These policies outline exactly how and what the business you’re engaging with is doing to ensure tourism is conducted in a responsible, safe and sustainable manner. It’s a way for you to know that you’re not supporting, even unknowingly, any practices that exploit or do harm to people, animals and the environment. Responsible travel policies will usually be displayed on the business’s website. If you can’t find one, email them and ask for it. They’ll either send you a copy or be forced to consider why they don’t have one at all. Whichever outcome, it’s a positive step towards a more sustainable travel industry.
Bring eco-friendly products with you
You may not think about the environment much when you’re tossing your toiletries into a bag, but taking a moment to ensure that you’re using eco-friendly products goes a long way in protecting the environment. Aim for reef-friendly sunscreen, natural deodorants, and shampoos, conditioners and body washes that have bio-degradable packaging or, better still, no packaging at all.
Read up on your excursion and activities
You might get so caught up in planning the amazing activities you’re going to do while on holiday that you forget to check whether they’re actually aligned to your values. It may be at the top of your bucket list to see a lion in Africa, but if you arrive on your “safari” to find animals caged up and mistreated, it will ruin the entire experience. There are tonnes of responsible tour operators that offer the big, bucket list experience but it pays to do your research to ensure you’re choosing the right one. Elephant rides, captive whales, petting exotic animals and hunting are some harmful activities to look out for.
Hire a local guide
Nobody knows their own country than someone who has called it home for years, if not, their whole life. Engaging a local guide is an excellent way to learn about the culture, landscape, hidden gems and traditions of the place you’re visiting. It’s also a great way to ensure the valuable money you’re spending is staying within the local economy, rather than disappearing offshore.
Be water conscious
You may have the luxury of racking up a sky-high water bill at home (although, you really should avoid doing this as well), but being so frivolous with such a vital water source in other countries is a big no. You’ll often see a sign in the bathroom that requests you to be conservative with your water consumption. Please adhere to the request and keep your showers short.
Put your camera away
If you’re in a place of religious or cultural significance, don’t go snapping away at every inch of the place. There may even be signs that ask you not to take photos. Again, adhere to the request. There’s probably a good reason for it. Instead, put your camera or phone away and enjoy the moment. And when taking photos of people or groups, always ask permission first. It’s just good manners.
Be respectful with your attire
If you’re visiting a country where the tradition or typical dress is more conservative than what you would wear at home, take it as an important cultural lesson and embrace it. In many countries, showing too much skin can come across as highly disrespectful, especially in places of worship. Be prepared to cover up when entering temples, mosques and the like.