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Can I share something with you? I worry sometimes that when people hear me talking about responsible travel, they either think that I’m full of myself (as in…any travel that doesn’t fit into this tidy responsible travel checklist qualifies as irresponsible), or that it’s a bunch of work and yet one more thing to add to the never-ending list of Things We Should All Be Doing Every Single Day.
Please hear me when I say that neither of those things is true. Responsible travel does take some personal effort, but it’s something you can weave into the travels you’re already planning. And I think it’s less about a checklist that qualifies you as a “responsible traveler” and more about shifting your mindset to incorporate sustainability into traveling.4 simple tips to weave #sustainabletravel into your next trip.
Let’s step back from travel and think about our lives at home for a sec. If you want to start a habit of recycling, it starts with simple everyday decisions to put recyclables into the bin instead of the trash. Will you
be lazy forget sometimes? Probably. But it’ll start to become a habit soon.
You’ll probably start looking for recycle bins when you’re eating out or at work. You might even be that crazy person who takes recyclables home with you if you can’t find a bin. You may eventually decide to go further to reduce your waste and start a compost pile or stop using paper products in your kitchen. But most people don’t start by becoming a zero waste girl overnight. Choices become habits and continue to build on each other.
The same is true with responsible travel. I’m not doing it perfectly, but I’m on this journey with you and ready to explore ways that we can all minimize the negative impacts of the travel industry–together.
I shared more about what responsible travel is here and here, but in a nutshell it’s a mindset of traveling to learn and share experiences across cultures, all while seeking to minimize our negative impact on the local culture, economy, and environment.
So in the next few posts, I want to share some practical ways you can travel more responsibly in each of those 3 categories. Let’s kick things off in today’s post with engaging with culture–experiencing a place as a local knows it, learning, and respecting the culture and community you’re visiting.
4 tips for engaging with and respecting local culture:
- Attend authentic local celebrations instead of shows put on for tourists.
For example, you could check out an Independence Day Parade in Central America (September 15th), a Holy Week celebration in Antigua, Guatemala, or the Mummers Parade in Philadelphia. If you had a guest staying with you from another country, wouldn’t it be more meaningful to share your traditions (like a 4th of July parade or a Thanksgiving meal in the United States), than it would be to show them a fake reenactment? Take time to learn the deeper meaning of local celebrations, and seek out ways to respectfully take part or attend them whenever possible.
Don’t be a spectator—celebrate with locals when you travel. #travelgood
- Learn the language.
When I was studying abroad in Costa Rica, one of the staff members told us that language is a tool for connection. We didn’t learn it to pat ourselves on the back or to feel good about ourselves for speaking another language. We learned so we could build relationships with our host families and other people we met.
And it was hard. It was frustrating when a 4-year-old had better vocabulary than I did. It was super embarrassing when I pretended to know what was being said only to find out I was being asked a question…and I had no clue what it was. (Check out this hilarious post from my friend Sarah for more on what it’s like to fumble your way through learning a second language.)
But despite all this, I keep trying to learn more because I see how important it is to building relationships. Language learning is part of the journey. Whether you go all out with a system like the one in Fluent Forever, or you start simple with Duolingo or Memrise, it’s totally worth it to learn even just a little bit before you travel.
If you’re traveling somewhere that your native language is spoken, it can still be fun to learn local phrases, vocabulary, and the history behind place names.
- Learn about the culture, history, and current events.
Like I mentioned in this post, learning about basic history and current events adds so much depth to your travels. Not only does it add more layers to your own observations and reflections about a place, it deepens your conversations with local people. It’ll help you be more culturally sensitive, too.
- Dress appropriately.
It’s a good idea to learn a little about what’s customary for people to wear when you’re visiting another country—and perhaps even another part of the United States. The more like a local you dress, the less you’ll stand out.
I don’t mean you have to wear a cowboy hat in Texas or a huipil in Guatemala. But if you’re going to Costa Rica, do a little reading about how a typical Costa Rican dresses. Do they wear khaki shorts when it’s hot? (Hint: nope, that’s
prettysuper American.) Do they wear flip flops, sneakers, or something else for shoes?
You could just wear whatever you’d normally wear, but it’ll bring attention right away to your differences. Since clothing is something you have complete control over–unlike your skin or hair color–why not do everything you can to minimize those differences in order to foster connection?
Your journey with responsible travel doesn’t have to be all or nothing. It can start by simply incorporating one of these ideas into your travels. Start there.
Check out the next 2 posts in the series for more on supporting the local economy and protecting the environment:
- 5 Responsible Travel Tips: How to Support the Local Community
- How Can You Travel Greener? 4 Eco-Friendly Travel Tips
Have you tried any of these tips? What would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments below!