All this extra time on our hands the last few months made me also think about many travel related issues. Not just about how travelling will change after the pandemic but also about how do we as individuals travel. What do we do and how do we act in order to keep our planet as safe and intact as possible. Trust me, I know we´ve all been there in one way or another and we maybe did some things while travelling we are now not proud of anymore. Maybe we rode an elephant, forgot a plastic cup at the beach, disregarded the local dress code, bought an inappropriate souvenir or similar. It was probably not intentionally, but simply just because we didn´t know any better. The tourism might be stagnating at the moment more than ever in the last decades, but surely this is just temporarily. We will all travel again, so let´s make sure we do it as responsibly as we can – to help you get some ideas and make you re-think the way you actually travel, here are my 30 suggestions.
1. DON´T FORGET WHO IS THE GUEST AND WHO THE HOST
I put this title in the first place, as it seems to me to be one of the most important things to remember while travelling. We should never forget that we are the ones entering another culture and should therefore respect the country´s customs, laws and traditions, indulge in their way of life and adapt to certain situations we come across, even if they are new to us.
2. LEARN A FEW WORDS IN THE LOCAL LANGUAGE
Learning a few basic words in local language such as “hello“, “thank you”, “please” and similar can open many doors during your travels. This not only shows respect from your side, but the locals always find it charming as well – you may receive additional attention and kindness at the expense of this.
3. ASK FOR PERMISSION BEFORE TAKING PICTURES
Since we’re not on safari, and since we probably wouldn’t like it if someone secretly photographed us as well, I think it’s right to politely ask (or otherwise point with our hands) for permission before snapping a picture of somebody. Especially children always find it fun if you show them the photos on the phone or camera screen immediately afterwards, because in many countries they still do not know all the capabilities of today’s technology, so make sure you do that if you end up taking pictures of them.
4. ACCEPT (DECENT) INVITATIONS
Keep in mind that when someone invites you to their home for a cup of tea or a bite to eat, it is usually a true expression of welcomeness and our hosts are really honoured and happy to have a foreigner over at their place. Even if they do not have much to share, they are happy to do so, so it is really polite to accept such invitation. Besides, this gives us an unique chance to get to know local people and indulge in their culture, eat something highly authentic and have a little chat. Such genuine experiences are usually unforgettable and even though a little bit of caution cam´t hurt, they are usually safe and made with good intentions. I only have very positive experiences in this sense.
5. BRING (A SYMBOLIC) GIFT
If someone invites you to their home, it is always nice to bring or give a small gift as a token of gratitude. For example, something more expensive from the local market, like a good piece of meat or the whole fish. If you do not have time to buy something, you may have some brandy, cigarettes, a piece of clothing that you do not need anymore or, if you are traveling with children, you can donate a book or a toy. Remember, what´s important is the purpose, not the value of the gift. For such cases, I often bring blank postcards from Slovenia, my home country, with motifs of hills and snowy landscapes, on which I then write a few words to thank the hosts. Also, a Polaroid camera works great in such cases, since you can easily hand them over that great group photo you just took with them.
6. PRESENT YOUR CULTURE IN AN UNOBTRUSIVE WAY
Believe me, the same way as you are interested in how the locals of the country you are visiting live, they are often interested in who you are and what your habits are as well. And there is nothing wrong with presenting your homeland to them (nowadays at the expense of smartphones there really is no problem), of course in an unobtrusive way and when they show interest. For example, if you have the opportunity, you can cook them your national dish, show them pictures of your homeland (in my experience, those with snow are the best) and so on.
7. KEEP YOUR PROMISES
If you have promised your hosts or people you met during your travels, you will either send them the pictures you took once you get back home, or a postcard, or something from the local market the next day – make sure you do so! Not only will this obviously make them happy, but it will also make them trust other travellers heading their way after you leave. Surely, you will also feel better if you keep your promisses.
8. DO NOT LITTER
Garbage belongs in the trash bins, not only at home, but also on the road while travelling. Especially if you’re camping in nature, always make sure you don’t leave anything behind. Often, the biggest problem area are the beaches, where especially in high seasons heaps of trash is left behind every afternoon. Plastic in particular is especially harmful for the environment, also because it often ends up in our oceans. Also, make sure not to throw cigarettes on the floor or through the car windows, they might start a fire.
9. RECYCLE WASTE WHENEVER POSSIBLE
I am aware this is certainly not possible everywhere, as some countries are simply not that far yet. But where it is possible, we can do our best and properly sort the waste in the landfills intended for it. If we can do this at home, I am sure we can do it on trips too.
10. EAT IN LOCAL RESTAURANTS
On all my trips, I also pay attention to local cuisine, and although in some countries I like their cuisine a little less than elsewhere, I still prefer to eat in local small restaurants, or on a street stall, than in world-famous fast food chain restaurants, for example. I also don´t feel like an Italian pizza somewhere in the middle of Asia or like an Argentine steak while exploring New Zealand. Maybe really exceptionally only during those longer trips, when after many weeks you want to eat something different, but in principle I always prefer to stick to the local offer. By visiting smaller, local restaurants and having street snacks, we definitely make a noticeable contribution to the local community, and we are definitely richer for an authentic culinary experience on top.
11. SLEEP IN PRIVATE ROOMS AND FAMILY RUN GUESTHOUSES
As with restaurants, so with accommodation. You contribute significantly more to the local community if you sleep in private rooms rented by locals or smaller guesthouses and hotels. Large hotel chains found all over the world and massive all inclusive hotels often do just the opposite.
12. ACT RESPONSIBLE IN HOTELS
When we leave our hotel room, we should not forget to turn off the lights and air conditioning, we can also contribute to lower water consumption if we use the same towel for several days and for example do not load tons of food at the evening buffet which we can´t finish eating in the end.
13. USE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION, RENT BICYCLES AND WALK MORE
When traveling, flying is often a necessity, but you can still avoid it here and there and take the train or a bus, for example. The use of local public transport is not only cheaper and, in principle, less harmful for the environment, but it is also fun, as you often get involved in interesting conversations with the locals. Of course, as a tourist, you can also contribute to less emissions by renting a bike or simply walking instead of driving with motorised vehicles whenever you can.
14. GO OFF THE BEATEN TRACK AND BEYOND LARGEST TOURIST ATTRACTIONS
I know we don´t all have so much time off from work and sometimes we try to see as much as possible in a very short time. This often results in jumping from one tourist attraction to the other, missing all those good off the beaten track places in between. If you do take your time and explore lesser-known places, which are usually much more authentic, those might just end up being the best experiences you´ll have during your trip.
15. RESPECT THE LOCAL DRESS CODE
Especially in the Muslim world, but also in many other places, specific dress codes apply compared to your home country. True, they often refer to females, but often also for everybody, so make sure you do a research before visiting the country. In Europe, for example, there are certain rules for entering churches, in many coastal places (including Croatia for example) it is inappropriate to walk around the town centres wearing only your swimsuits, even though it is a beach destination and so on.
16. AVOID USING PLASTIC PRODUCTS
Avoid disposable plastic products as much as possible, both at home and when traveling. Buy a durable reusable water bottle, a collapsible fabric shopping bag, use hard soaps and shampoos, a bamboo toothbrush, reusable straws, and so on. Luckily there are quite a few great alternatives to plastic products.
17. PROTECT OUR NATURE WHILE WILD CAMPING
In some countries, wild camping is a perfectly legal form of vacation, but of course under certain conditions. Depending on the destination, but generally speaking, you should leave the place as you found it and do not disturb anyone while you are camping. I also recommend the use of biodegradable soaps and organic natural laundry nuts if spending time in the nature.
18. OBEY THE RULES OF NATIONAL PARKS AND PROTECTED AREAS
On weekend trips back home, as well as on our travels, we often find ourselves in a national park, protected area, nature reserve or landscape park – pay attention to the rules of conduct there and respect the unspoiled nature, so that it remains beautiful for future generations. For example, the main rules usually include the following: do not pick flowers, do not litter, do not be too loud because of wild animals, do not camp and do not prepare an open fire. There are, of course, exceptions (for example, regarding wild camping), so always do your research about a specific place before your visit.
19. DO NOT BUY FORBIDDEN ITEMS AND SOUVENIRS
Most of us like to bring souvenirs from our travels. There is of course nothing wrong with this, since we often support local artists and the community by doing so, but things get tricky when we intentionally or unintentionally buy products with are illegal or prohibited to bring back home. These are mostly turtle shell products, ivory, corals, souvenirs and products made from endangered species of animals or plants, skeletons, snakes in bottles of alcohol, certain animal skins, protected sea shells and snails, etc. Unfortunately, behind our purchase of these products are so many sad stories, such as the killing of elephants, so the spirit of responsible behavior while travelling certainly includes not buying such products.
20. THINK TWICE BEFORE VISITING ANIMAL (THEME) PARKS AND SHOWS
I could write a novel on this topic. As some of you may already know, I am a big opponent of animal theme parks, especially those that include controversial animal shows. Although my heart aches, I can somehow justify the concept of zoos, due to their educational aspects, conservation attempts and by assuming that the animals in them are well cared for and not kept in small cages. Unfortunately also this is not the case in oh so many zoos so I keep away and really don´t visit them. I much prefer to observe animals in the wild, where they are actually at home and where their behavior is genuine. Sometimes, however, I do visit a well-organized animal rehabilitation center, but only after I have done my research about the place. In general, orcas and dolphins in swimming pools, half-sleeping tigers on a chain, birds in mini-cages, dancing bears, elephant riding and similar simply don’t fit into the concept of responsible tourism, so please think of the well-being of these animals and not just of your new Facebook profile photo.
21. FIX AND UPCYCLE CLOTHES BEFORE YOU BUY NEW ONES
The zipper on your pants broke or the button on your jacket fall off? Before throing these in the trash bin, you can always search for a sewing salon on the way, where you can fix clothes quickly and cheaply. If your children have practically outgrown a piece, or you are tired of an old T-shirt, you can always donate them to the local families you meet along the way. Everything is better than simply throwing them away. From old pieces of clothing it is also possible to upcycle them into many interesting new things. We also contribute to a better environment by recycling clothes and reducing consumption in general in this area.
22. DON´T GIVE MONEY TO PEOPLE ON THE STREETS, ESPECIALLY KIDS
There are several reasons why I am one of those who do not agree with giving cash to beggars and street children. I honestly think that we are doing more harm than good by doing so, and for the most part we are often giving money away only to make ourselves feel better anyway. We can actually never know for sure where that money is going – children often don´t get to keep it for themselves anyway, but have to give it their parents or an older brother, others use it on drugs, most of them have to spend it during the day because if they don´t it will get stolen from them during the night. By giving money to them we often unknowingly contribute to the vicious circle and actually encourage (profitable) begging, which may mean that many children prefer to stay on the street or wait in front of tourist attractions for the arrival of full buses only to repeat the famous sentence “miss please give me money” for around hundred times a day. If you want to help, it might be better to ask local organizations, schools and other institutions and financially support a constructive program. When I meet people in need, and there are usually many of them on trips to third world countries, I prefer to offer them something small to eat, a bottle of water or a piece of clothing, for example – and although they would surely prefer to see banknotes and coins instead, I don’t think that’s the right solution.
23. DO NOT FEED WILD ANIMALS
In short – by feeding wild animals, these same wild animals will soon no longer be what they are supposed to be, namely wild. In addition, by behaving in this way, we could unknowingly put ourselves in danger, we can even transmit some harmful diseases to animals with closer contact, and with “our” food, which they are not used to, we can certainly cause them more harm and benefit. All of this can lead to the animals simply not being able to find food on their own, or they may even have to be shot in national parks because they will get too used to humans and it will be too dangerous for us.
24. EAT LESS MEAT
You might not like this one, but here we go. Despite the fact that I really rarely eat meat, I am neither a vegetarian nor a vegan. However, I totally agree that the meat industry is the number one environmental enemy, and I really do not see the need for daily or regular consumption of meat products. I am firmly convinced that if everyone reduced their monthly meat intake a little bit to begin with, the environmental picture would definitely improve over time.
25. USE NATURAL SUNSCREEN WHEN SWIMMING IN THE SEA
Did you know that most sunscreens and other cosmetic products do a lot of damage to the underwater ecosystem, especially coral reefs? There are special sunscreens on the market that do not contain harmful substances and it would be right to use them at least when exploring coral reefs.
26. HAGGLE LIKE A PRO, BUT DON´T GO TOO FAR
Bargaining is a lot of fun in certain countries, and in fact sellars often expect to negotiate a price with customers, so just try your best at this when you get the opportunity, but don’t forget that it all has its limits of taste. If you don’t intend to buy anything at the start, chat quickly and don’t even mention the price, and if you do want to buy something, make sure you know the approximate price for these products before you start bargaining.
27. RESPONSIBLE VOLUNTEERING
Unfortunately, there are considerable differences between different associations and organizations, and some unfortunately do not provide long-term and comprehensive solutions to the problems they should be resolving in the first place. I especially support longer expeditions, where volunteers actually indulge into the lives of the locals, make a sustainable contribution to the local community or nature conservation. I also support shorter pro-bono projects if you come from a relevant field of expertise, such as medicine or architecture. However, I do not support, for example, some kind of voluntary tourism, where people without any experience teach English at a local primary school for two weeks. I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong, but I just don’t think it makes sense. In any case, before such experiences, we should thoroughly check the functioning of the organizations with which we work as volunteers, to make sure we are doing a good thing.
28. RESPECT THE LAWS OF THE COUNTRIES YOU ARE VISITING
Before visiting each country, make sure to find out about the most important laws that you, as a tourist, must follow as well. Failure to comply with the latter may result in a high fine and sometimes even imprisonment. These rules may include a ban on photographing various institutions (including police or soldiers, for example) and the use of drones, a dress code, a ban on drinking alcohol and, of course, drug use, various road traffic regulations, some social media bans, bans on bringing certain food products into the country and more and more. However, it can also be about those unwritten rules such as various hand gestures, which may mean one thing in your country and another thing in another country. The countries with the strictest regulations are North Korea, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Iran and some others.
29. SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL
There is no need to consider yourself the smartest in the room, but you can still share your thoughts, knowledge and habits of responsible tourism with friends, acquaintances and family members. We often do many things without even thinking about the possible negative consequences, and sometimes it helps if someone reminds us of them. A constructive debate on this topic is certainly an important step towards greater awareness, and for these very reasons I am publishing this article on the blog.
30. BE A GOOD EXAMPLE TO YOUR KIDS
Last but not least, being a good example for our kids. We often say that children are the mirror of their parents and this is often true. Let’s introduce our kids to the aspects of responsible tourism from the very beginning. For example, you can recycle garbage together, pick up plastic waste from the beach in the afternoon, don´t let them buy forbidden souvenirs, teach them to respect different cultures and customs, teach them a few words in the local language, give them time to play with the local kids (even if they speak another language, believe me, they will understand each other), let them eat some new food, don’t take them to animal shows and so on and so forth.