Being a responsible tourist isn’t convenient. In fact, it’s a kind of dilemma. On one hand–flight delays and security hassles aside–we can get anywhere in the world. On the other hand, not every destination can handle a big tourist load. Even though tourism can boost the economy, it can also strain the community. And the environment.
Long ago, when rich folks were the only ones who could afford to travel to Antarctica, I read why it was such a really, really bad idea to begin tourism there. The ecosystem is so fragile that a single footprint never goes away. (Of course, with current global warning, it probably just melts away…) A friend and I had a lively debate about the “right” to travel someplace if you could afford it. I said no. After all, it was’t as if there were any citizens in Antarctica hoping to lead tours, house visitors, or offer prix fixe menus. I felt that just because you can go somewhere, doesn’t mean you should. He disagreed.
A responsible tourist does more than consider where to visit. No matter where we go, there are small measures we can take to maintain a unique location as well as preserve it for the future. We don’t have to be wealthy to make a difference. We just need to be considerate.
Here are 10 ways everyone can be a responsible tourist:
- BYOB: Bring Your Own Bag and Bottle. Plastic is an environmental problem all over the world. It’s just that some cities and countries handle it better than others. Pack a couple of foldable bags to carry your purchases. If you aren’t already bringing a water bottle, please do. (When water is unpotable, buy big bottles to fill yours. Extra points for purifying your own…but I know this is asking a lot.)
- Conserve water. In many places, water is a precious resource. Yet tourists languish in showers and leave the faucet on while brushing their teeth. The United States leads the world in daily water consumption with 1,583 cubic meters per capita. Compare to Spain (809), Japan (639), Germany (404), or the United Kingdom (129).
- Dress with respect. No skimpy wear unless you’re at the beach. (Even then, I’d be cautious.) Bring a scarf to visit religious sites. Cover shoulders, arms, or other body part as appropriate. Notice how locals dress and follow their lead.
- Always ask before directly taking a photo of someone. If they say no, that’s that. In some places, people pose, for a fee. Don’t try to sneak a picture–pay up. (This does not apply to the hucksters who trick you into a photo, then demand payment.)
- Take time to study your destination. Understand the differences between cultures and customs. The fun of travel is seeing how people do things differently. Don’t complain that you can’t get crisp bacon in a Muslim country. Or that English bacon isn’t the same as at Cracker Barrel.
- Stay local. Skip the chains and find a B & B or a family-run hotel. Eat at local restaurants. Buy crafts and souvenirs that are made there. Find tours that are led by local experts. Ask about festivals and celebrations.
- Don’t give candy, pens, or gifts to children who approach you, even though they are adorable. This encourages begging; most places are working to break the cycle. Donate to a school, training program, or social service.
- Take public transportation. Not only is it responsible to share a ride, it’s learning experience. See life the way the citizens do. Get instructions at your hotel. Or Google. After a couple of times, you’ll be comfortable jumping on the train, bus, or ferry.
- Stay legal. No chipping out a rock from that castle or pocketing a piece of history. Do I have to even mention back away from the drugs? You’re a responsible tourist. Enough said.
- Choose responsible tour companies. Before you book, ask about their policies. Do they support environmental and fair labor practices? Book at hotels that recycle? Use local guides?
For most of you, this list seems obvious. You’re wondering why I bothered to write this post. But if another reader gets one idea, I will consider today a success.
As for Antarctica? Only you can decide…