To help you interact sensitively and learn from other cultures, minimise impact on the environment, and at the same time enjoy more enriching, meaningful and fulfilling travel experiences, here are the top ten ethical travel trips from volunteer travel experts, Hands Up Holidays. Follow these tips, and you can be sure that you are well on your way to traveling responsibly.
- Give back in hands-on ways to local communities – find out about volunteering opportunities in a community you are visiting. You can make a positive impact in peoples’ lives or the environment in even three or four days of volunteering – you don’t even need specific skills – just plenty of enthusiasm!Ask your tour operator if a monetary donation is appropriate – in some cultures it is, whilst in others it is not. Perhaps your tour operator includes a donation in your trip price already and/or has a Charitable Foundation set up – ask them!
- Go green – Go carbon neutral for your flights: pay for trees to be planted to offset CO2 emissions. Use local public transport (a fantastic way to meet the locals), take trains for domestic travel and even within Europe or other continents; keep internal flights to a minimum. Walking and cycling should always be the favoured means of travel when appropriate. Some tour operators include this in your trip price.
- Support community based tourism initiatives – use local hotels and restaurants that retain money in the local community and provide local employment. Many of these initiatives directly benefit women (who are often marginalised in certain societies) and helps foster their entrepreneurial and creative talents. What’s more, tourism at this level can help communities earn valuable income that encourages them to protect resources such as wildlife. Travelling with a reputable tour operator that knows which community based tourism initiatives are best is usually the best option.
- Research history, etiquette, economy, and cultural norms – learn the basics of local language (guide books such as Lonely Planet, Rough Guide and Bradt Guide are particularly good for this). Respect the local cultures’ norms and taboos. Ask before taking photographs, as this is not permitted in some cultures, and if you say you will send photos, honour your word.
Phrases such as “Hello” “How are you?” “Yes” “No” “How much is…” “Good bye” “Thank you”, as well as numbers should be learnt at a minimum. If all else fails, you will be amazed how far a smile and your improvised sign language goes!
- Bargain fairly – and keep in mind that a 20% price saving from haggling is often only a couple of dollars to you, but can be a day’s work for the vendor. Never buy endangered species, ivory, or hard woods, and remember certain antiquities are restricted.
- Interact and listen! – have an open mind, and find out locals’ stories to gain a perspective on their life – enquire about their families, interests, even their hopes and dreams…break down barriers of cultural ignorance and misunderstanding…prepare to have your misconceptions shattered and your ideas about the world enlarged! Expect to be stared at, and expect their lives to be very different from your own, treat the people with whom you interact how you would like to be treated, and with a sense of humour and a smile.
- Carefully consider human rights in your destination – clearly not all countries are democracies, and some have terrible human rights records. This does not necessarily mean you should avoid travelling there, but perhaps you have to be even more vigilant in ensuring that the money you spend is retained in local communities as much as possible, and is not going to support a regime that perpetrates abuse on its inhabitants.
- Pick up litter – even if it is not your own. If the local people see you doing this, they may well feel inspired to help beautify their locality. Bring your own reusable bags with you for shopping in markets as plastic bags damage the environment: they can block drainage systems, and at sea, bird and marine life can get caught in them and die. Cows and other animals eat plastic bags and die a slow painful death.
- Don’t give sweets – as these rot teeth quickly where there is poor dental hygiene, and wherever possible give gifts to parents or NGO’s rather than to children. Appropriate gifts are often good quality clothing, pens, pencils, but check with your tour operator. Begging is a global phenomenon, and it robs the individuals of hope and a positive identity. The charities and NGO’s that your responsible tour operator supports are generally much better mediums for distributing any gifts you have.
- Use local guides – you can help provide local employment and income, as well as gain insights into their lives, as well as learn about history and culture from a local’s perspective. And if their spoken-English is not as good as yours, show patience.