Ethical Travel Tips

ethical travel tips Picture from Loren at http://datingwithpassports.com/

Ethical travel is more than just not riding the elephants, buying local, and trying to choose our words carefully; its a commitment to being uncomfortable, accountable, and to giving the people in the spaces we visit agency over their own bodies, lives, and stories. Socially responsible tourism shouldn’t just be a buzzword, it should absolutely be a way of life for those who choose to travel. So here are some tips for travelling into a local community as respectfully and consciously as possible.

1. ASK BEFORE PHOTOGRAPHING—(especially children)

Being out in public does not constitute automatic consent for being photographed and this is especially true for minors. People who live in tourist destinations are sadly used to being gawked at like animals at a zoo, its up to visitors to break that pattern. When you take a photograph of a person without their consent you’re pretty much telling them they exist only for your amusement and that they have no say in the matter. Asking means someone might hit you up for money but if it’s that important to you, you can spare a few pesos for a good picture. If its a candid shot you’re after, ask and then explain, mime, or gesture for the person to continue doing what they’re doing. It is never OK to photograph a child without consent from their parents or guardians. You wouldn’t dream of doing this in the “first world,” don’t take advantage of the lack of laws or enforcement to do something you know is bad.

2. HAGGLING MAY BE AN ART FORM, BUT DON’T BE THAT GUY

Most travellers have run across (or WELP!) been that person who boasts to everyone about nickel-and-diming a local vendor. Yes, haggling is sometimes expected but trying to pay local prices in a place you’re not a local isn’t cool and it doesn’t make you any less of a tourist. Part of travelling is re-examining your role in the world, claiming local status in a place when actual locals do not have your ability to come and go erases the very real struggles local people face. People who live in a tourist economy have to deal with low seasons, fluctuations in the US dollar (or whatever currency that economy is based on), and recessions both foreign and domestic. Pay the extra dollar—its not about the principal of the matter, its about making sure people can live through the low seasons with dignity.

3. DUMP YOUR IDEAS OF “AUTHENTICITY”—just enjoy the spaces around you

When we talk about authenticity in travel it often brings to mind images of an antique salesman looking at an artifact and trying to determine the where and when of its origins. But people aren’t for consumption or sale, whatever a local person lives is an “authentic” [insert place’s name] experience because they’re living it! As a New Yorker I remember tourists being disappointed we didn’t all live in skyscrapers, wear all black everything with fancy expensive shoes. Some of us lived in pre-war buildings tourists never thought were important to look at and were too busy being broke to have a fashion sense. It didn’t make me any less of a New Yorker and alternatively I was no more “authentic” than Times Square—its all a part of what makes the city what it is. What we really mean when we use the term authentic in travel is: meant for tourists or meant for locals. You should always strive to consume local while also respecting local-only spaces but for the love of god, we aren’t antiques, leave your authenticity radar at home and just enjoy your visit.

4. LISTEN AND LEARN

Never demand people educate you on their culture and always compensate a person’s time and expertise whether it be with a meal, a drink, or cash (and ask them what they’d prefer rather than choosing for them). Being a tourist in another person’s country is a weird position to be in. When we travel we are guests who kinda showed up without being formally invited and then are most of the time received with open arms. But that doesn’t mean we have the right to feel entitled to everything that exists in that space, even if it IS a tourist destination. Do your best to assimilate some practices that show you’re making an effort to participate in the culture rather than just consuming it, but never think that this excuses inappropriate behaviour. Travel should be approached with humility and that means being quick to apologize and not getting upset that someone has checked you for bad a bad act, regardless of the intent.

These are four tips in an ongoing series about ethical travel. A special thanks to the community of rad women who travel who have helped me come up with and/or crystallize these tips! 

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