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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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Safety

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.

Devonport Lighthouse, Tasmania

Buying Local

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.

Necessities

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.

Be Respectful

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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Emily writes on topics of sustainability and eco-friendly living. You can read more of her work on her blog, Conservation Folks, or get her latest updates on Twitter.

    28 Comments

  1. Hi Emily,

    One of the simplest ways to be responsible is to respect other cultures. I learn a few things about a land; cultural norms, a few words and I get a feel for what the folks honor in these countries. I knew to respect face-saving culture in Thailand, always being nice to folks, boosting my patience and understanding that complaining or humiliating someone who be a big time no-no. Gotta do your cultural legwork before traveling.

    Ryan

    • Absolutely agree Ryan – people seem to think ecotourism / responsible travel is all about the environment, but it’s equally as much about how we interact with, and respect the communities and people.

      Cultural legwork before traveling is a great way to put it! I might just steal that phrase 😀

  2. They’ve been saying that travel in 2018 is going to be more mindful/meaningful. With that said, I hope people take heed of your tips on how to be a responsible ecotourist. I have seen too many exploitative pics (especially animal exploitation) in recent years.

    • I agree with you – I think there’s now a lot more awareness about meaningful travel, and the importance of it. And in a world where everything has become very mainstream, I think a lot more people are seeking out authentic, meaningful experiences.

      But as you’ve identified, with animal selfies as an example, we do still have a long way to go, so hopefully can continue spreading awareness as the movement towards responsible travel gathers more steam.

  3. So true that we need to remember we are entering someone else’s home when we travel! Also, you won’t be seeing me at a McDonalds any time soon! A very good point though about buying local and avoiding the “cookie cutter” type places. Both at home and abroad I prefer a mom-and-pop type locale over a chain restaurant. Thanks for sharing these tips on being a more conscientious traveler!

    • So glad you enjoyed the post Stefanie! It sounds like you’re all over the points for responsible travel – I hope 2018 has many incredible adventures for you ahead!

  4. I agree with everything you’ve said on so many levels. Going beneath the surface of the usual tourist spots especially rings true! I feel that all too often tourists only hit the major sites mentioned in their guidebook, and fail to try to understand what the local life is truly like. It’s unfortunate for both parties, because one of the greatest parts of traveling is meeting new people and catching a tiny glimpse in to what life is like in a foreign country!

    • So glad you enjoyed the article Emily, yes I feel that the movement behind responsible travel has gained a lot of momentum these past few years, but we do still have a very long way to go re raising the amount of awareness we need.

      Have to start with individuals though, and if we all individually adjust our behavior, it will make a huge impact globally 🙂 Ans as you said .. improve the experience for both the traveler and the locals alike!

  5. Will be adding the ecotourist books to my GoodReads list! Thanks for this! 🙂

    • I think you’ve seen our Pinterest images, but I’m psyched to hear you like the design, and that they look like book covers! I’ll let you know if I come across any great books aimed at ecotourism / responsible travel 🙂

  6. I love that eco tourism is becoming more popular making it easier for more people to tread lightly. I think Costa Rica has so many great eco-friendly resorts. That is where I first heard of the idea of ecotourism. Thanks for sharing your tips for how to be an ecotourist anywhere.

    • Costa Rica is one of my favorite places in the world, and yes, they do ecotourism very, very well. Iceland too is a fabulous example of a country which really lends itself to ecotourism and responsible experiences, so if you’re looking for a new place to visit this year, can highly recommend Iceland as well.

      Glad you enjoyed the post Scarlet!

  7. Travel for us is all about learning about new culture and their way of life. The best way this can be done is by interacting with locals, buying local products/handicrafts to take back as memorabilia and trying some great local delicacies. We strongly believe that most crucial part of being a responsible tourism is to respect other cultures and their beliefs and make some great friends and memories.

    • Awesome guys! So glad to hear that you’ve adopted such a great travel style which prioritizes immersion and responsible experiences. Hopefully your passion for responsible tourism spreads to those around you as you travel too!

      Happy travels 🙂

    • Thanks Roy – glad you enjoyed the post!

  8. This is such an eye opener of a post. I’ve seen many tourists (and I think we’ve been one of them at some point) who act like the host country owes them for just being there. I think it is important to be more sensitive. I like the tip on buying local – I try to do that. I try to experience as much of the local culture as I can.

    • Absolutely Abigail – I see those tourists all the time, and it’s so sad, because the entitlement is very misplaced, and in fact it’s use who owes our host country a favor for having us there. It’s always a balance, obviously there are destinations which do rely on tourism $$ to sustain the economy, but we should be respectful and sensitive always.

      Awesome to hear that you love buying local! Hope 2018 has some amazing adventures in store for you 🙂

  9. I love this topic. It’s only the other day a friend and I were talking about this topi. You’ve managed to capture the essence of our conversation in a single article. I really think many travellers today who are “responsible” are starting to think about their Carbon Footprint and the negative impact it has on the planet and its ecosystems, which is good news.

    • Glad we’re on the same page Dan! I agree, I think awareness of our impact, and a wish to lessen that impact is one of the defining characteristics of a responsible traveler. Hopefully we can spread awareness among as many travelers as possible to start transforming negative impacts into positive experiences.

      Happy travels!

  10. One of my travel goals for 2018 is to be more eco-conscious, so I’m really glad I stumbled upon this article now. I actually hadn’t thought about being strategic in WHERE I choose to go as I had just been focused on what I can do once I get there to be environmentally friendly. But that’s a really good point that traveling to some destinations in and of itself is already an “irresponsible” decision. Although I have to wonder if I would refrain from traveling somewhere simply because the city’s not walkable, not in a safe area, etc.

    • Awesome to hear that Diana! Yes, there are definitely countries which are more eco friendly than others, where hotels and tour operators have really adopted responsible practices into their mission, Iceland and Costa Rica are two examples of leaders in the field of ecotourism.

      I wouldn’t refrain from visiting a country just because it’s not walkable etc per say, but you can definitely take those considerations into account if you find yourself having to choose between a couple of destinations, and if you decide to go anyway, that’s great, you can always apply the idea of reducing your impact where-ever you find the opportunity 🙂

      Happy travels!

  11. Beautiful thoughts on how to pick a destination.True traveling is to know the place like locals, but in a safely way. I would also prefer a friendly locality and try to learn some local art and craft. I would also avoid destinations which are marked unsafe.

    • It’s hard, because a lot of the time a destination which has been marked as unsafe by the government could be based on politics and overblown media, and usually it’s these destinations where you can have a more authentic experience with locals because they haven’t turned into commercialized touristy hot spots. So I think it’s about striking the balance, doing your own research, but definitely focusing on a local experience 🙂

  12. I so agree with everything Emily wrote about Responsible Travel. The more you travel, the more you realise how small things like safety, buying local, buying only what is required and being respectful to the local culture is important. These are the things that I am too going to keep in mind when I plan my 2018 travels. Thanks for sharing this. Happy New year and Happy Travels!

    • So glad that you’ll keep these pointers in mind for your upcoming trips Archana 🙂 Ultimately, if we all alter our habits a little bit, the mass effect of individual change can be lasting, and go a long way to improving the negative effects we have seen on destinations to date.

      Happy travels!

  13. I am working towards being more of an ecotourist, which is why I was thrilled to stumble upon this post! I like the last message about treating wherever you travel with respect and thinking of it as visiting a neighbor’s home. It’s a good way of looking at the situation and makes you think about how you treat others and their place when you visit them.

    • Glad to hear that Brooke! And so glad that you enjoyed the post 🙂 Absolutely re adopting the mindset of visiting a neighbor when you arrive in a new country – I don’t think travelers treat overseas country’s with nearly as much respect as they should, so hopefully we can spread the word and the responsible travel movement will continue to grow 🙂

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