How to Be an Ethical Tourist
Around the world, a lot of countries build their economies around tourism, as travelers get to boost local businesses. However, the same tourists can also be the reason for a place’s demise. One classic example is Thailand’s Maya Bay, made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio’s The Beach. Because of the massive influx of tourists, it had to be shut down so it could undergo rehabilitation. Sadly, rowdy tourists are a phenomenon everywhere on the planet—whether it’s the streets of Croatia or luxury resorts in Greece.
So what could be done to solve this issue? It certainly doesn’t mean closing off an area forever. Instead, the answer depends more on the tourists themselves. This is where ethical tourism comes into the picture. But beyond being nice to the locals and respecting local culture, how else can you practice ethical tourism?
Be an eco-tourist
The term “eco-tourism” has been making the rounds, but it isn’t just about bringing refillable containers and steel straws to avoid plastic waste. In fact, a feature on US News clarifies that eco-tourism isn’t even just one type of trip. Instead, it’s any kind of tourism that is built around learning and protecting various environments. Think sustainability tours, conservation efforts, and community-integrated programs. All in all, the eco-tourist is someone who combines their thirst for travel with helping out and maintaining a low-impact lifestyle, as opposed to choosing self-serving luxury resorts and trips.
Respect and immerse yourself in the culture
Wherever you go, you have to remember that you’re simply a visitor in someone else’s home. So no matter how different their culture might seem to yours, you have to treat it with the utmost respect. Make an effort to learn the local language, their common practices, and quirks before embarking on your journey. Buddhist countries like Myanmar and Vietnam, for instance, have very specific rules. Simple things like showing skin above the thigh and touching strangers make them uncomfortable.
Contribute with a donation
Not everyone is capable of rolling their sleeves up and volunteering. So, another way to make a positive impact is through donating to charity. Wherever you go, there are numerous cause-oriented foundations—from anti-poverty organizations in South Africa to clean water initiatives in Myanmar. It’s a good way to invest your money, especially if you’ve got more than enough to spare. You can take your cue from celebrities, philanthropists, and even lottery winner Lerynne West, who donated a bulk of her PowerBall winnings to the Callum Foundation. The foundation focuses on education, animal welfare, and poverty relief around the world. At the moment, Lottoland currently estimates the PowerBall prize to be at approximately $133 million, which is more than enough to improve the lives of many and make a real impact. Of course, it’s not a requirement to be rich or give away your entire life savings, but remember that travel in itself is already an incredible privilege, so why not share even more?
Support local businesses
When you’re abroad, it can be tempting to flock towards familiar, big-name brands. But as we’ve mentioned, traveling is a good opportunity to support local businesses. When you’re in places like Bolivia, it makes a huge difference to buy from local farmers instead of supermarkets. This is because the Bolivian government puts a strong focus on agriculture, so buying from small farmers ensures your money goes directly to them and into the pockets of big corporations. The same applies when you’re eating out. Give the usual McDonald’s and Starbucks chains a rest, and try that nondescript mom-and-pop shop instead. Not only will you be getting an entirely authentic experience, but it’s also often more affordable for you too.
Travel can certainly broaden your horizons, but it also comes with a certain level of responsibility. It may just be a vacation to you, but to others it is their home. So choose ethical tourism and be a mindful tourist, and make sure your efforts and money goes to those who actually work hard for it. For more tips, be sure to check out our 10 Tips to Responsible Travel guide.