How to Travel Responsibly

Two young boys sit on a beach

How to Be a Better Traveler


Tourism in developing countries can be both a blessing and a curse — each individual leaves his or her mark upon a place.

Small decisions that we make along the way as travelers insure that future travelers find a place as welcoming and magical as we did.

Travel and tourism should be planned and executed as a means of individual growth and development. When practiced with an open mind, it is an awesome source of self education, mutual tolerance and for learning about the diversity and wonderful nuances that make our planet such an interesting place.

Everyone has a responsibility for creating and promoting responsible travel and tourism. Governments, business and communities must shoulder their share of the load, but as a budget traveler you can support this in many ways that make a huge difference:

1. Open your mind to other cultures and traditions. It will transform your trip and you will earn respect and welcome of the local people. Be tolerant and respectful, making sure to observe social and cultural traditions and practices.

2. Respect human rights. Exploitation in any form conflicts with the fundamental purpose of travel.

3. Help preserve natural environments. Leave things the way you found it — or better.  Protect wildlife and habitats and do not purchase products made from endangered plants or animals…this includes animal products, novelty insects, etc…

4. Respect cultural resources. Activities should be conducted in a way that respects the artistic, archaeological and cultural heritage of a place.

5. Support the local economy — they need it. Purchase local handicrafts and products using the principles of fair trade. Bargaining for goods should reflect an understanding of a fair wage — don’t fall victim to traveler scams, but that merchant probably needs the difference more than you do.

6. Get up to date about the destination’s current health situation prior to departure and be assured that your health and personal security will not be threatened. Make sure that you have the means to remain healthy and happy before you arrive in a new place.

7. Learn as much as possible about your destination and take time to understand the customs, norms and traditions in an effort to avoid accidentally offending the local population.

8. Learn the local laws so that you do not accidentally break them. Refrain from all trafficking in illicit drugs, arms, antiques, protected species and products or substances that are dangerous or prohibited.

Responsible travel is not complicated. Getting into the mindset that you are going to leave a place in better shape than you found it by doing your part and encouraging others, will ensure that the doors will be kept open for future budget travelers!

a grove of bamboo

Other Simple Tips for Responsible Backpacking Travel

  • Think twice before you snap apart disposable chopsticks every time you want to enjoy a bowl of noodle soup. Those chopsticks aren’t made with scrap wood: that’s a myth! In fact, millions of mature trees have to be cut each year just to supply China’s insatiable demand. Also, the wood is often bleached to a neutral color by use of industrial chemicals. Even preservatives are added to the wood to prevent rotting. As soon as you plunge your sticks into a bowl of hot soup, you’re eating that crap!
  • Riding elephants used to be OK way back when decommissioned construction elephants had to earn their keep or risk being put down. That is no longer the case. Don’t ride elephants!
  • Buying souvenirs or jewelery made from any type of wildlife or marine life is probably a bad idea. That includes items made with coral, shells, turtle shells, teeth, etc. Forgo those preserved bugs and snakes, giant spiders seen in Southeast Asia, and of course, all ivory products.
  • Giving to begging children may seem like a good way to help directly, but the dark truth is more complicated. Those kids are more than likely a part of a begging gang. They have to turn over money to the boss each day in exchange for meager food and shelter. If you support the practice, it will continue because it is profitable. Don’t give money out on the street.

Originally Published on

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