Updated: Mar 17, 2022
How do you travel responsibly? It seems like a difficult and complex concept, and it certainly sounds like it takes a lot of effort, but the truth is, it doesn't! Travelling responsibly is essentially about respect for people, other cultures, and for the planet. So without further ado, here are my 10 tips for an ethical trip:
1. Do your research
It's always a good idea to have a quick look at a country's social customs and laws before you go. For example, if you're a Brit visiting Germany, it's worth knowing that it's illegal to jay-walk and you could be fined, or that you have to validate your public transport tickets before you use them. If you're planning on going out at night, Germans generally appreciate peace and quiet, so going out and getting rowdy is something to maybe consider twice!
Especially if you're going somewhere for a long time, then definitely have a quick look at the political situation there. You don't have to know the whole history of the country, but it's good to be informed so that you can be sensitive when interacting with locals. For example, when on a trip to Bulgaria in the 1990s, my dad and his group were invited to a Bulgarian family's house for dinner but was informed beforehand that he was not allowed to wear anything red, even socks, because the woman of the house was so scarred from and angry about Soviet rule that she would not have anything red in her house.
2. What is the most environmentally friendly way to get there?
Planes are great because they're quick and easy, but as I found out when researching for my post about Race Across the World, planes emit 3x more CO2 than trains and 5x more than buses! It's not always practical, but if you have the time, then it's probably worth the longer journey. Who knows, you might have a stop off in Brussels from the Eurostar on the way back from Amsterdam, or a chance to hop off the coach in a totally unexpected and beautiful place on the way to your final destination.
3. Learn a bit of the local language
Even if you're not a languages person, a few words like 'hello', 'please', and 'thank you' will get you a long way, and the smallest effort is always appreciated by locals. It's also not really polite to assume that everyone speaks English, and it's respectful when you visit another country not to force locals into speaking your language or being rude to them/patronising them because they don't.
4. Be mindful of rules and polite requests
It's often tempting when you're on holiday to take no notice of seemingly unimportant signs, such as "No photos please" or "No walking on the grass", but these rules apply to everyone, and they're probably there for a good reason.
Also, it's worth being cautious in certain places about taking photos. Even though there may not be a sign visible, there is a belief in some cultures that you actually steal a piece of someone's soul if you take their photograph! You might not share their beliefs, but it's still good to respect them.
5. Try new things with an open mind
Try new foods and experiences that help you to connect with the local people and culture. If you're offered them by locals, it's generally polite to accept offers of food, gifts, or experiences (unless you feel unsafe - most people have good intentions but you still need to be careful) - you might be pleasantly surprised!
6. Contribute to the local economy
Buy from markets and small businesses, and eat at local restaurants - this is probably where you'll find the most authentic food!
Also, barter respectfully. For example, in Peru, it is expected that you should barter in markets or when taking taxis, and it's almost impolite not to! If you move next door into Bolivia, however, you can still barter, but if you go more than a few bolivianos below the asking price, then it's not going to happen...
7. Look into volunteering
How can you benefit the community you're visiting? Look into a few possibilities in the place(s) you're going to if you're there for a longer period and have a think about how you can give back! More on how to choose an ethical volunteering project here.
8. Engage with people
Connect with locals! It's a great way to find out about the area, and they can usually tell you a lot that the guidebook can't. Plus people will always appreciate you trying to connect with their culture - get involved with new and unfamiliar experiences, but also don't complain about or disrespect those things in front of them if your experience isn't positive.
Also, connect with fellow travellers! You might learn a lot from them too, and it's always handy to make friends from all around the world.
9. Be kind to the environment
Don't litter (even if you see locals doing it), stay away from single-use plastic, and get around using public transport or by bike/foot. Also, look at using eco-friendly tour companies and accommodation, and if you fly, take a look at carbon offsetting!
10. Be careful of animal tourism
Animal tourism can seem attractive but unfortunately, it's rarely what it seems. Even some 'sanctuaries' aren't entirely legit, so it's really important to do some thorough research before you visit anywhere like that. Check that where you're going is operating sustainably, and that all of the animals have a big enough space to roam around in.
And that's it! I'm by no means an expert, but following these 10 tips will definitely help if you're looking to be a more ethically conscious traveller. Happy (responsible) travelling!
Thank you for reading! If you have any questions or if you'd like to guest-write for The Classicist with an Atlas then I'd love to hear from you - you can get in touch via the form on the Contact page or on Instagram @theclassicistwithanatlas.
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