You’ve waited patiently all year, collected your leave and saved your pennies. The holiday season is nearly upon us, and with it comes the promise of a well-earned break from the hustle and bustle of our daily routine. But before you swap your laptop for an Aperol Spritz, there are a few things to consider to make sure that no one is negatively affected by your trip. Whether it’s a chalet in the Swiss Alps, a resort in Phuket or a cruise ship in the pacific, there are steps you can take to make every holiday more ethical. Here are 8 tips for travelling ethically this summer.
1. Choose countries that need your support
Can’t find a hotel in your go-to holiday destination? Why not try somewhere slightly off the beaten path? The world is bursting with natural wonders that are yet to be industrialised by tourism, and many of these places rely on tourism for their economic growth. This year, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) announced the world’s fastest growing travel destinations, which indicated that developing countries are becoming more popular and accessible than ever as tourist destinations (the West African country Sierra Leone topped the list with a 310% increase in popularity this year). Often it’s the countries that have received negative publicity due to natural disasters or political turmoil are the ones that benefit most from your tourist dollars. Just be sure it’s safe.
2. Think local
Local hotels, businesses, restaurants and tour companies benefit the most from your tourist dollars, so choose wisely. Instead of staying at an international hotel chain, choose a locally owned and operated guest house. Buy locally made souvenirs from independent vendors. And no matter how hard it seems, avoid McDonalds like it’s the plague. In addition to supporting the local economy, spending your money at local businesses also usually means purchasing better quality goods, gaining more authentic experiences, and connects you with local people.
3. Always ask permission before taking photos
You wouldn’t take a photo of someone without their permission at home, so why do it in another country? If you want to take someone’s picture, ask their permission, and don’t be offended if they say no. Not only is it rude, but in some cultures it’s also a violation of their spiritual beliefs, and can even be illegal. If a person is happy to have their photo taken, why not make a human connection and ask for their name and email address so you can share it with them?
4. Learn some local phrases
Being a native English speaker makes the world incredibly accessible, but it’s important not to rely on our mother tongue when visiting foreign countries, especially some of the smaller, less developed nations. Learning a few basic phrases in a new country isn’t only respectful; it can also help you form connections with locals that you might otherwise miss out on. It also makes life a lot easier (donde esta el baño, anyone?).
5. Dress appropriately
Every culture has its own standards and expectations when it comes to dressing appropriately, so be sure to do your research before you pack for your trip. As a rule of thumb, cover your shoulders and knees when visiting places of worship, and avoid tight, overly revealing clothing completely. Women should bring a sarong or light scarf for covering up in warmer climates. Don’t assume that because the locals or other tourists dress a certain way, you can too. Stick to any advice given and err on the side of caution to avoid any unnecessary mishaps.
6. Be wary of voluntourism
Travelling in new places (even developed countries) can expose us to confronting injustices, and wanting to give back is a natural and positive response. However, making sure our time or money is going to the right places requires thorough research. As a general rule, avoid visiting orphanages unless you are certain your time or money is making a sustainable contribution. Not only does visiting orphanages perpetuate an insecure environment for children, but many orphanages have been found to be run as tourist scams, made up of children who have been unfairly removed from their parents.
Short-term volunteering can have a positive immediate impact, but it’s important to consider the effect it will have on the community or organisation after you leave. In some cases, the work that goes into accommodating a short-term volunteer can be worth more than the work of the volunteer itself. If you don’t have the time to build lasting relationships and transfer skills, a donation to an organisation that can may be a more sustainable option.
7. Don’t engage with questionable animal activities
It’s heartbreaking that our love of animals is often the reason they are exploited, but sadly it’s true. As appealing as that elephant ride, photo with a baby tiger or hug from a chimpanzee may seem, they are often done so at the expense of the animal’s wellbeing. As harmless as the activity may seem, these animals are often removed from the wild and treated poorly by their owners. If you want a close encounter with an animal, consider visiting a reputable sanctuary or rehabilitation centre that works to release animals back into the wild as an alternative.
8. Engage with locals
Want a genuine insight into life in a new culture? Ask a local! Travelling ethically by respecting local customs, learning local phrases and supporting local businesses will grant you authentic experiences and help you form connections with local people. Along with your photos, souvenirs and mosquito bites, you’ll return home with new relationships and experiences you’ll never forget.