How to be a Conscientious Traveler

Are you a responsible traveler? When you visit a new destination, are you conscience about the environment, do you benefit the locals, do you respect their community? Or are you in and out, selfies posted, minimal interaction with the culture and its people, and no real investment in the place?

Eco-tourism, sustainable travel – these are trendy Instagram buzz words and hashtags.
Ask yourself: are you a thoughtful, educated, respectful, beneficial visitor?
Do you leave only footprints and good will, and some local economic stimulus in your wake?

Tourism is booming! In the 2010s, international travel exploded, with Europe and the Middle East as the top destinations, then the Americas, according to World Tourism Association. In 2022, travel numbers are surging again, to pre-Covid heights. The staggering growth and global impact will continue at quantum levels!

With this tourism boon, visitors need to be more conscious consumers of travel, so that future generations may enjoy amazing destinations. We need to foster goodwill when we land in a foreign place, especially those with suffering economies. Our impact on every destination we visit affects the future of that society – so “leave it better than you found it” as my mom always says.

Our desire to travel and explore is innate, but we need to be accountable and kind in our actions.

First, how to be a bad tourist:
When on vacation don’t vacate your basic decencies. Rude reckless behavior is not okay, read: excess partying, polluting. Consider acting like you would in your hometown, where your family is watching you…manners matter!

Disrespecting landmarks by climbing on ancient ruins, fragile monuments, and natural formations, you can cause permanent destruction and alter the course of history. We’ve seen people erode the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland by climbing to close to the edge – dangerous and detrimental. Snorkelers and scuba-divers touching precious coral in the Caribbean destroys that fragile marine life for decades to come.

If you are riding an elephant, posing with a tiger, petting a python, it’s highly likely that animal has been held caged, drugged, beaten into trained submission. Paying for and attending these exploitive circuses only fuels the demand and continues the cruelty to exotic and endangered animals.

Posing for selfies with orphans and natives for your amusement may be exploitive. Instead, recognize their hardships and hunger, and be respectful and generous.

Clogging intersections, standing in the middle of crosswalks (Dock Square in Kennebunkport Maine for example), blocking locals’ passageways with your big tour group. Instead, be thoughtful about where you stand, give right of way and keep your tour group organized.

Next, how to be a good tourist:
Get off the beaten path. Find smaller local destinations where you can contribute to the economy directly with your tourist dollars.

Leave only positive footprints, not trash, noise or disruption. Respect all landmarks, natural elements and the environment around you.

Avoid big chain hotels and massive cruise ship trips that fill the pockets of big corporations. Instead seek to stay and eat at local establishments, providing needed income to families that live and work in the destination you are visiting.

Hire local authentic tour guides versus signing up for commercial excursions.

Create your own bike tour – along the Danube River of Austria for example, to stay in local hotels, dine at small cafes, and not be part of the big tour group that only benefits the tour group company.

Be peaceful upon arrival, read: not a drunk party animal. Learn the social etiquette and mores of the locale you are visiting so you can adapt and adopt their cues. You’ll also find folks more welcoming and receptive to help you if you are gentle and respectful– regardless of any language barrier. A smile, curiosity and kindness go a long way.

Interact in a way you’d behave in your home, your country.

Complement and compliment, don’t detriment your destination and their culture.

Ask questions, don’t just make demands. Travel is about learning other cultures, exploring other places. You learn more by listening than talking!

Decline daily housekeeping in hotels and cabins to save on water and energy (washing perfectly good linens is not necessary). By being self-sufficient and conservationist, you leave a more positive impact on the environment without stressing the staff.

Ask yourself, “am I a good tourist?”
Did the destination I visited benefit from my time there?
Did I help to support the local people?
Did I show respect as a visitor, making the locals there want to host more people like me in the future?

Watch “The Last Tourist” for even more perspective on this problem and viable solutions to sustainable travel. It’s a rather depressing depiction of the future of unmanaged travel, call it a wake-up call, if we do not all do our part. 

“We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” – Rumi