Authored by Emily Folk
We’ve all seen the obnoxious tourists waddling out of Subway in some beautiful, ancestral city. Chances are, if you catch us on the right day, we’ve all been that tourist.
There is, however, a revolution in tourism that is really starting to take off. A whole new way of thinking which prioritizes responsible travel, and considers the impact we have on the communities and environments we visit abroad.
The negative impacts of tourism are usually pretty clear to the traveler feeling particularly perceptive. But ecotourism is the belief that travel should be ultimately beneficial to both the tourist and the host country.
There is a balance we should all try to find while traveling: remain safe but also truly experience the local scene. Make ripples, but not a splash. Take only memories, leave only footprints. The following are four key things to consider for those looking to travel responsibly in 2018.
Things You Should Consider as a Responsible Traveler / EcoTourist in 2018
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Many foreign destinations are beautiful, but also fairly dangerous, especially for tourists. This should be one of the first considerations when picking a destination.
If you don’t want to be stuck inside a resort for the duration of your stay (and any good ecotourist will avoid exactly that), pick a destination where you can freely wander the streets. But that being said, don’t psyche yourself out.
Just like cities and towns in America, most foreign locations have better and worse areas. Do some research and try to pick a place where mainline tourism has not drained all the local color, but where you and a few friends can freely wander.
Safe public transit is also a huge concern: many popular destinations are crowded and difficult to navigate by foot. Make sure to scope out the best means for getting from one point to another before arriving. And perhaps you can make a point of visiting walkable cities.
This one’s a no-brainer, but it can be deceptively tricky in practice. More than eschewing the bright lights of McDonald’s, keep your eyes on where the hordes of tourism mill and avoid those places.
I’m talking of the “authentic” memento shops and gift stores that dot the most well-lit, tourist-friendly areas. Shops which promise genuine homemade craft, but deal in cheap cookie-cutter. Avoid them.
Remember: the point to traveling is interacting with another culture and seeing the land which birthed it. Instead of surrounding yourself with like-minded travelers, talk to the locals. Even if there’s not a native language speaker in your group, try to communicate anyway: humans have been doing so — in many cases without a common language — for thousands of years.
Many locals have a craft or know of someone who does. Spending time with a local artisan or craftsman can be eye-opening for both parties: you’ll be able to watch a master at work, and explain your own life in the meantime. You could even walk away with a hand-crafted piece, in addition to the memories.
Photo by Jim Holmes for AusAID via DFAT.
If you want to be self-sufficient and sustainable, you’ll want to research the practical necessities for doing this. Simple things like not wasting hotel/hostel resources can go a long way (washing your own clothes and leave the “do not disturb” sign on your door).
A country not having clean drinking water could definitely pose a problem, as this is something we usually take for granted in the Western world. Though there are ways around this: buy an affordable, reliable water filter and bring it on future outings.
You can also really benefit from hiring a guide in some locations. A guide will know the safe areas, can serve as a translator and will know exactly where all the other tourists are going — and how to avoid them. A guide’s job is to help you have a fun and memorable experience abroad, so tell him or her your intention to experience local culture, particularly stressing the “local” part.
One of the biggest things to remember when you travel is that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.
We need to remember we are entering someone else’s home when we travel, and just as you wouldn’t dare go into your neighbor’s house down the street for a get together and trash their place or disrespect their way of life, we need to behave in the same way when traveling abroad.
There are many benefits to ecotourism. Where stereotypical tourists return from a foreign land with cheap, mass-produced mementos and no real memories to accompany them, you can return with handmade goods and a precious understanding of the area you just visited.
Others will remember you, too: for your respect of their home and your interest in their society.
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