TRAVEL IS A LOT OF THINGS TO A LOT OF people. It’s exhilarating, challenging and for many, it can be life-changing. Travel is also a trillion dollar industry that generates 10.2 per cent of the global GDP and supported 292 million jobs in 2016, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council’s 2017 Economic World Impact report. This means that as a traveller, your actions have a significant effect on the destinations you visit – not to mention on the people who live there – from the water you use and the food you eat, to the attractions you photograph and the things you buy. As such, with a little mindfulness, you can help make a positive impact wherever you go. Here are a few ways you can be a better traveller from here on out.
Spend your money wisely
From the tour you book to the vendor of your souvenirs, your dollar has the potential to do a lot of good in the communities you visit. When booking your trip, whether on your own or with your travel advisor, use reputable travel brands that partner with established non-profit organizations, employ local guides and encourage responsibly-sourced souvenirs, such as handicrafts made by local artisans. When budgeting, always add about 15 per cent to your overall expenses to ensure you have enough for gratuities. Ask your travel advisor about typical tipping expectations before you go, but don’t be fooled by all-inclusive resorts that boast a no-tipping policy: in developing countries, tips are always appreciated. In fact, avoiding big-brand hotels in favour of privately owned and boutique accommodations is a great way to ensure your money benefits the community economy directly. The same goes for supporting locally-owned restaurants and farmers markets; it’s not only a more responsible choice than patronizing chain restaurants and grocery stores – it’s also a
more authentic way to experience your destination.
Do your research
Before you go, take the time to get to know your destination. Becoming acquainted with its history and culture will lend context to your experience, and inform your visits to sacred spaces and important monuments. Try also to learn as much of the language as you can, as knowing a few essential phrases is usually appreciated in-destination – even if your accent is terrible. Dressing according to local customs is another way to show your respect, particularly in more conservative communities. However, don’t confuse etiquette – which may mean covering your shoulders or hair in a church or mosque – with appropriation, because donning traditional wear just because it looks fashionable is, quite frankly, not cool. When it comes to booking accommodation, look into whether private rentals like Airbnb are legal or welcome where you’re staying, as some cities have banned the service, while others widely view it as a detriment to their economy. If this is the case where you’re going, staying in a hotel is likely a more reliable – and respectful – option.
Avoid the exploitative
It’s always exciting to experience new cultures; after all, vacations are about indulgence. But there are some traveller focused distractions that, although still widely available, are simply not ethical. Activities involving vulnerable community members, which can include paying to volunteer at schools and orphanages, or touring local slums – only exist for the benefit of tourists, and exploit the people involved. If you’re looking to give back to a developing community, travelling with companies that have partnered with local social enterprises are a more reliable way to go. Animal attractions, such as elephant rides, dolphin performances and horse-drawn buggies are also exploitative by design, their only purpose being to entertain customers at the expense of their own well-being. If you’re looking to get up-close-and-personal with nature, seek out non-invasive interactions – like a conservancy safari – instead.
Be aware of your privilege
As a Western traveller who gets to choose where your travel, how you spend your money and when you want to leave, you enjoy a certain privilege and access that the people in the areas you’re visiting do not – particularly in developing communities and countries in conflict. As such, it’s essential that as a traveller, you’re aware of your advantages, take the effort to make space for the people who live there, and most importantly, question everything around you. Question the authenticity of the cultural attraction you’re paying for, and whether it’s respectful to the heritage and people it represents. Ask yourself if you’re haggling for a carving as per the local custom, or if you’re taking advantage of an artist. Question the fact that while it’s considered almost predatory in Canada, taking selfies with other people’s children is essentially a touristic pastime abroad. Above all, ask questions of yourself: What impact do you want to have on the people and places that have all had a hand in filling your heart and feeding your soul? Think carefully about your answer. After all, because you’re a traveller – the choice is yours.
Watch your waste
Some countries rely so heavily on income from tourism that their decision-makers (think governments and large corporations) will provide facilities, resources and services to visitors that are otherwise unavailable to the local community. This often means you can enjoy long, hot showers and icy cocktails in areas where water is scarce, or have access to mindless conveniences like electricity and waste disposal services that don’t exist outside the confines of your hotel. Do your part by choosing not to take items that will be discarded mid-trip, packing reusable shampoo bottles, and bringing your own snacks for flights. Opt to avoid plastics whenever possible by using a reusable water bottle, metal straw and a recycled shopping bag, and in places where resources are scarce, reuse your towels, turn the lights off when you leave your room, and reduce your shower times to one short song per session. A lot of little things can make a big difference.