Did you know that in 2015, the
number of international tourist arrivals worldwide amounted to approximately 1.2
billion? That’s a lot of traveling going around. It may not seem like
much if translated to percentile, but if you come to think of it as 1.2 billion
ambassadors exchanging cultures with others around the world, maybe it’ll then
scale to something noteworthy.
While tourism contributes greatly to global economy, reaching up to USD 7.17 trillion in 2015, it can also have grave repercussions on both natural resources and cultures if not handled responsibly.
Whether you’re traveling for adventure, recreation or stretching your horizons of cultural knowledge, here are some ways you can be a responsible traveler who leaves behind nothing but positive impact:
1. Do Your Travel Homework
Travel is serious business that requires plenty of research and preparation. While most of the preparation revolves around putting together the perfect itinerary, one critical aspect that you should include in your pre-trip readings is that on the culture of the country you’re visiting.
As a guest, one thing you certainly don’t want to do is offend your hosts. Some cultures are heavily influenced with the practiced religions while others have deeply rooted traditions which govern much of their social conduct with one another as well as with visitors. In some cases, a single country may have various cultures within, each going about its social norms differently.
A good starting point would be travel blogs which publish stories on how foreign cultures are individually and personally perceived. Another good lead is travel applications and websites through which you can get in touch with locals.
Needless to say, the more you know before you actually arrive to your travel destination, the better. Nonetheless, there will always be plenty that you may not have encountered.
While research is key to smoothly navigating new cultures, observation can be as informative. At any given point where you feel like you can’t get your head around the governing norms, we bet the locals will always be glad to provide you with further insights if you ask.
2. Pollution is a Buzz Killer
One of the most obvious ways of polluting a place is by littering, something we find somewhat redundant to bring to your attention not to do. However, the other kinds of pollution which some travelers may not pay attention to are noise and visual pollution.
Travel is fun, but fun and noise should not be synonymous, especially if you are visiting places where serenity and spirituality seekers are likely to take refuge. Such places include religious sites, hiking routes through national parks and nature reserves or other spaces that people go to for activities such as reading or meditation.
Visual pollution on the other hand manifests mostly in leaving any manmade marks that are unnecessary such as forging text or images on trees and rocks. While visual pollution stands out clearly in purely natural settings, it is still as irritating in urban contexts as well.
3. Cultures Too Go Extinct
Many indigenous cultures face the dangers of going extinct as they continue to battle the sweeping influence of globalization. While most urban communities have today morphed into a mostly similar identity, visiting remote places that still foster authentic cultures can be a rather thrilling experience – one that ought to be treated with ultimate care, sensibility and respect.
Among the primary perks of travel is that it exposes you to the world, allowing you to learn about it firsthand and not through someone else’s interpretation – our favorite way to learn, we’d say. As tourists grow into avid travelers and global citizens, they start to develop an appreciation for cultural diversity and its relation to its surroundings whether natural or manmade. In light of understanding how different people around the world have uniquely forged their identities over time, it becomes more troublesome to see more genuine cultures die in hopes of belonging to the modern, globalized identity.
Similar to preserving anything, the first step is to learn as much about indigenous cultures as possible, seeing them for what they are beyond the paradigm of prejudices and stereotypes, and valuing them for how they’ve come to be.
While we’re mostly naturally wired to reach out and connect to one another, difference gives this social context a new edge, all the more reason to maintain the differences that make us all human in our own ways.
4. Buy Local, Don’t Appropriate
No matter what the main purpose of your trip is, you’ll definitely want to spare at least a couple of hours for shopping. As you choose from a wide range of souvenirs, the most jaw-dropping gifts are usually the locally made ones which exhibit mastery of skill and craftsmanship.
While many travelers prefer to buy local to support the country’s crafts and industries, not giving them proper credit and reference, especially if copied and reproduced on a wide scale, could lead into cultural appropriation which in turn jeopardizes local industries.
Unlike mass produced products which aim at making big and fast profit, local industries and arts channel cultural history which reflects one face of the culture’s collective identity. Local arts are mesmerizing because of their captivating aesthetic beauty, but we believe that the real magic they withhold is that of all the stories they tell, whether they are stories about the culture or the artisans behind such mini pieces of art.
5. Wildlife Tourism Slavery
It’s fun to ride an elephant or watch a dolphin jump hoops, but that’s not what they were created to naturally do. Similar to anyone who’s forced to do something against their nature, many wild animals go through heart-aching processes in order to become those obedient performing animals.
If the country you’re visiting is famous for incorporating wild animals in any focal touristic activities, make sure these animals are not tortured or forced against their nature to perform the stunts many visitors applaud.
6. Observe, Don’t Intervene
After spending months or even years on end away from the embrace of nature, the minute we finally have access to nature in its full glory, we can barely contain our enthusiasm to immerse ourselves in it. Unfortunately, some people go a bit too far in hopes of interacting with the wildlife they rarely witness in the city.
Most commonly, travelers would feed wildlife creatures to lure them in. Although the intentions are usually as innocent as hoping to get up-close and personal with wildlife, this oftentimes disturbs the eco-system and its natural flow. Wildlife is meant to remain wild, whereas over domestication often jeopardizes their safety, a matter all travelers ought to be mindful of.
Furthermore, if you’re pushing the limits of adventure and you decide to spend longer durations walking in nature, make sure that you consume only what you need from the available natural resources such as plants and water sources which may often be scarce.
It is much easier to whimsically and irresponsibly have fun, but it is particularly in a time when this has become the norm that the world needs more responsible travelers who safeguard the fine line that lies at the heart of all that is balanced.