Tourism is a powerful thing. It creates jobs, helps support local programs, and impacts a destination's lifestyle and culture—sometimes for the better and sometimes not.
If you're like us, you strive to make smart choices and contribute to the positive side of tourism. But how? Well, being informed is key. We've made mistakes because we weren't aware enough at the time (like the time Angela rode an elephant in Cambodia). But we try to learn from our mistakes and make better decisions going forward (like the time Angela spent a week volunteering at a reputable elephant sanctuary in Thailand).
In an effort to spread awareness and keep others from making the same mistakes we have, we're sharing four simple guidelines that can transform your next trip and help make your travel matter.
1. Show Respect
The most important and impactful way to make your travel matter is simple: Respect the local culture and customs. When you take the time to learn about a culture and connect with the locals on their terms, not only do you foster goodwill and mutual respect, you're more likely to have a better experience yourself.
2. Be Kind to Animals
Interacting with wildlife can be a highlight of any trip, but the sad truth is that animals are often mistreated and exploited in the name of tourism. Be wary of any activity or attraction that uses animals simply as props. Some opportunities are well-disguised and portrayed as animal sanctuaries, so be discerning and use common sense. If you're able to lay next to a tiger and take a photo without fear of your face being clawed off, something's not right. Key things to avoid:
Taking photos with dangerous and/or endangered animals (like tigers in Thailand and macaque monkeys in Morocco)
Riding animals (like elephants and dolphins) that shouldn't be ridden
For more insight on this topic, check out 5 Guidelines for Ethical Wildlife Tourism, written by a wildlife biologist.
3. Shop Thoughtfully
If the trinket you bought says "Made in China" (when you're not visiting China), is it really an authentic souvenir? To support the local economy, seek out local artists and handicraft makers. When you do, your purchases will be much more unique and meaningful. Also, when bartering, be aware of the fair cost of an item to avoid undervaluing it in your quest for a deal. If the item was handcrafted by a local artisan, think about the time it took them to make it, and honor that time with your dollars. Here's a short video Angela produced in Guatemala that sheds some light on this topic: Poco a Poco, which means "Little by Little."
4. Safeguard the Environment
This one's easy! If you already have green habits at home, simply maintain them while you're traveling. If not, here are a few things you can do:
Cut down on plastic. Bring your own water bottle, metal straw and reusable shopping bag(s).
Conserve resources. Use bath towels more than once, keep showers short, and turn off the lights and AC while you're out.
Consider carbon offsetting. Learn more about it from Sustainable Travel.
Are you already following any of these guidelines, or do you have others that are important to you? We’d love to hear what matters most to you.