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  • Writer's pictureLily Carlson

How to be a More Responsible Traveller

World Tourism Day 

September 27, 2017

“Leave nothing but footprints. Take nothing but pictures. Kill nothing but time.”

— Chief Seattle

The Monastery at Petra, Jordan

Happy World Tourism Day, Everyone!

What better topic to discuss in my first official blog post than one I hold very close and dear to my heart: Responsible Travel ❤️

Tourism has been around forever and the concept of being a tourist is not anything new. However, it takes more than being a tourist to be a responsible traveller. But what does that even mean?

To learn a bit about what World Tourism Day is and how you can be a more responsible traveller, keep reading!

What is World Tourism Day?

Back in 2015, the United Nations General Assembly expanded on the previous 15-year target of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to create the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – a new, universal set of goals to be targeted by UN member states through their agendas and political policies over the proceeding 15 years.

Image taken from

As part of the SDGs, the General Assembly announced 2017 as the “International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development”. This decision was made due to the power of tourism and its ability to impact the Sustainable Development Goals and affect the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.

Tikal, Guatemala

Considering the three main dimensions of sustainable development, tourism has the power to drive growth in a country and improve the quality of life for people around the world. It can champion environmental protection, as well as educate individuals on cultural heritage and strengthen world peace.

But as travellers, we need to do our part. So today – the official designated day for World Tourism — we celebrate the opportunity to educate ourselves and each other, to build awareness, and to share strategies and perspectives regarding how to be a responsible traveller! #TRAVELENJOYRESPECT

Coffee beans in Guatemala

So, whether you’re heading off to holiday on a beach in the Tropics, backpack through the jungle or savannah, or Euro trip through some of the world’s most well-known gems, here are…

10 ways you can contribute to your travel experiences and be a more responsible traveller.

1. Research your destination to learn about any customs, social norms, or traditions that may exist

Gaining insight into not only the customs, social norms, and traditions but also the history of the particular countries you are visiting will prepare your mind and your heart for what you are about to experience. It will also give you context regarding how the local culture got to where it is today. I find this sets the tone for how I perceive things and learn when I arrive somewhere new. It helps me to understand the culture and appreciate my experiences more. I believe this also shows the respect I have as a visitor to someone else’s home.

Enjoying some local cuisine, Lithuania

When travelling, also be sure to appreciate things that are different to what you are accustomed to – everything that makes something unique — right down to the cuisine, the local dress, the methods of communication, the entertainment, and more. Uniqueness gives us diversity, and diversity should be celebrated.

2. Learn the lingo

Trust me, I get it, there are a lot of tricky languages out there! I’m not saying you need to be fluent or even have a grasp of the overall language, but you should definitely try to learn a few useful words or phrases to help you connect with the local people in a more meaningful way! For example, whenever I travel somewhere new, I always make sure to have written in my notebook or my phone how to say the following (at a minimum!):

  1. Hello / good morning

  2. Please

  3. Thank you

  4. Excuse me

  5. I’m sorry (I know, I’m so Canadian)

[Sometimes, it’s also quite useful to know how to ask where the bathroom is! 🙊]

3. Support the local economy

Particularly if you are visiting a country whose economy is considered “less developed” than the one from where you are coming, do not take advantage of the locals who may be selling in the markets open to bartering. Please be fair and acknowledge how far $1 may go for you vs the individuals you encounter. Locally-made handicrafts and products make wonderful souvenirs, gifts, and memories, but it is important to also respect the livelihoods of the local vendors and artisans who work hard to produce them.

Peruvian blankets in an artisan market in Lima

Try also to refrain from giving money to children who beg in the streets and, instead, support local community projects. Though this may be so hard to do, giving money to these select children can hurt more than help. It may show favouritism and lead the way for aggression from others in the community, further existing inequalities in the community, or simply perpetuate the cycle of poverty. In other cases, it may even fuel organized criminal groups who use children as beggars to increase their profits. In any way, this is never a good thing to do and there are much better ways you can help.

4. Take care of yourself and your body

Be sure to know about any health and safety risks that may exist ahead of, or during, your trip. This can include having all the proper immunizations before leaving for your trip, having proper medical coverage for the countries you are visiting, and knowing how to access medical care or get in touch with your embassy in the event of an emergency.

5. Be a protector of the local environment

Try your very best to reduce your environmental impact by respecting wildlife and the natural habitats that surround you. In protected areas, be sure to only access the places open to visitors and, need I say it, do not litter! Be conscious of your water and energy consumption and produce as little waste as possible.

Earth Lodge, outside of Antigua, Guatemala

6. Be wary of voluntourism

It can be tempting to engage in many volunteer opportunities abroad, which give you a “feel-good-mentality” about “giving back” to communities where you travel, but it is important to do your research beforehand to ensure that this will have a positive impact for all parties. Oftentimes, communities have the labour to perform the work but not the means to support the labour. This is problematic when volunteers come from abroad and replace potential opportunities for the local workforce. As well, when considering what type of work you may want to do, be sure that your skillset is of value for the local economy and community, but does not take away from the livelihoods of local skilled workers.

Ex. If you’re a university student looking to build wells or a school in an area of Africa, but lack any training in engineering or construction, perhaps this is not a good fit for you. If you do have this training, consider the possibility that it is likely the community has the labour force required to perform such a task and joining a team which partners with the local community to achieve the end goal may be a better route.

Volcanoes outside of Antigua, Guatemala

7. Be respectful of local laws and regulations

Recognize that you have left the comfort of your own country and customs to experience and take part in another — And that is awesome! But, know that official laws and regulations may be different, as well as social norms. These norms may include anything from the way you eat your food to the way you dress in public. It is not ok to knowingly break the rules and then blame “local culture” for “being backwards”. Everyone comes from different backgrounds and your laws and social experiences from your home country do not constitute a singular way of living.

Antigua, Guatemala

I’m also going to quickly lump in overconsumption of alcohol here. We all like to have a good time when we travel, but remember that your actions have an impact on the people and environment around you. Check the local laws about alcohol and be sure to respect the boundaries that are set – they’re there for a reason. Also, be sure to stay safe when consuming alcohol in a country or culture you are not familiar with. Be cognizant of your company and be cautious of your consumption levels.

8. Learn from the locals

When seeking out ways to learn about the local culture, who else better to learn from than the locals themselves?! Hire local guides with in-depth knowledge of the area or seek out opportunities to take part in local classes or community events. Perhaps you can share a meal with someone from the area and learn how to cook a local dish — Or maybe you can experience an authentic celebration through participating in local festivals. Many times, tourist companies offer “experiences” like these, but, again, do your research to make sure the company has respectable reviews and a positive reputation with the local communities. Another way you can look into 'responsible tour operators' is to search for any certifications they might have.

Learning about traditional weaving in Guatemala

9. Be intentional about your photography

Now, I love photography and having “Instagram-worthy shots” as much as the next person — In fact, anyone who knows me knows I have ALWAYS loved taking photos. However, it is important to be intentional and conscious about the things and people you decide to photograph. You should always ask for permission before taking someone’s photograph – they are an individual and deserve your respect as well as their own privacy. Have you ever had a stranger approach you and stick a camera in your face without your consent? I have, several times. And it was weird. Every time.

Karlskirche in Vienna, Austria

Also, be conscious of signs that may ask you not to take photographs in a particular location – this can be common inside many churches or in places of religious significance. Not only can this be incredibly disrespectful, but it can also be seen as selfish as if you somehow feel you are entitled to the photographs nobody else is.

10. Spread the word

Once you’ve returned from your time abroad, promote your positive experiences to friends and family by providing honest reviews of your trip. Engage others in stories about the local culture and your experiences, and share your photographs and other memories so that others, may too, have the desire to experience, no doubt, a new place that has stolen a piece of your heart.

Ruins of Jerash, Jordan

So, there you have it — 10 tips for being a more responsible traveller! Of course, there are more ways, but these were some of the topics I personally felt very strongly about at the time of writing and wanted to share with you. I’d love to hear your thoughts on responsible travel – what are some things that you feel strongly about? Is there anything, in particular, that isn’t on this list that you would offer as advice? Let me know!

Cheers and happy, responsible, travelling!

Lily x

PS. Click here to check out the UNWTO campaign/pledge for sustainable and ethical tourism.

And for a little extra travel inspiration and a goosebump or two, click here to check out their video.

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