local communities when traveling
In the 21st century more and more people are choosing to travel, and increasingly to more remote destinations. While this means the impact of tourism is constantly growing, it also provides positive opportunities to help local communities. As travelers we have a significant responsibility and opportunity to not only minimize the negative consequences of our tourism but make a positive long-lasting impact too. By protecting the environment, preserving its wildlife, and thinking carefully about where we stay and how we can support the communities we visit, we can be responsible tourists - and change the world for the better as we travel.
Have a read of these ten tips, reflect on what you already do, and consider what you might change in future.
Think about where you visit.
It is important to remember that you will inevitably fund the government of the country you visit - even if it is just through airport taxes, or those paid by local businesses. You may therefore want to think carefully about how the countries which you visit treat their populations and whether you want to indirectly support repressive regimes. On the other hand, some travellers would argue that if you are putting money into local people's hands, that must be a positive contribution, whatever your views on the local government. What is key, is that wherever you chose to go, you aim to be considerate and aware of the political, economic, socio-cultural, and environmental events taking place in that country. Being a responsible and conscious traveller also involves having a genuine appreciation and respect for the destination’s local culture. Be sensitive to the communities’ traditions and consider the locals’ perception of your activities as a visitor.
- Select your accommodation carefully.
Internationally owned all-inclusive resorts can be detrimental to local businesses, because usually most of the income and profit is taken out of the country and goes to the owning corporation. On top of that, if these hotels offer an all-inclusive package, travellers can end up spending their entire trip inside the walls of the resort, and not spending a single penny with any local business. If you do stay in one of these resorts, take time to eat out in small restaurants, cafes, and nearby stalls. This will ensure your money goes directly into the surrounding community - and will also be much better for the environment as the food has not had to travel far to reach your plate. Eating locally also gives you an authentic insight into what the local and regional dishes are and how people enjoy them. Furthermore, if you can, try to stay in a family-owned bungalow or better yet, a local B&B. The following sites all offer the opportunity to stay with locals: Couchsurfing, Airbnb, TrustedHousesitters, BeWelcome, and HomeStay.
Don’t drop litter - collect it.
The local community is as much about the environment as it is about the people. If you are visiting an area by the sea, look out for local beach cleaning events which make the coastline safer and more beautiful for everyone. Every year, an estimated 8 million tonnes of litter enters the world’s oceans, so your help is really needed. If you are staying further inland, there's almost always litter that needs to be properly collected and disposed of. When the communities you pass through see visitors to their home collecting litter, it may encourage them to lobby for long-lasting change such as better litter disposal methods for their communities, so you might have a more long-lasting impact than you could ever have imagined. If you want to go even further with volunteering your time to a good cause, consider becoming a volunteer for the United Nations here.
Spend with care.
Everyone loves saving money, however, if you can afford to travel to the other side of the world, you might be able to afford to pay a little more for things you buy from locals. The money that you are haggling over will almost certainly have a more significant value to the person selling than it has for you. If you want to go one step further and donate, established non-governmental organizations can ensure that charitable donations go to effective, sustainable projects which implement positive change in minimally disruptive ways. While sending a check to a responsible NGO may not feel intimate, it is often the best way a tourist can help. Consider donating to charities such as Books For Africa, the Cambodian Children’s Fund or Save the Children. Furthermore, Ladli uses donations to offer vocational training for abused, orphaned, and destitute children in India, and Finca, Kiva, and Pro Mujer all empower people-in-need to create their own small businesses with microloans and other financial services.
Ask for permission when taking photos of people.
To capture a sense of a new destination, many travellers use zoom lenses and hidden-camera tricks to snap photos of locals without their knowledge or permission. Though tempting, this is not the most ethical way to get a great shot. Always ask for permission when taking someone’s photograph - if you cannot speak their language then try to ask in another way, for example by pointing at your camera. Remember to take extra care when visiting a cemetery or other religious or culturally sensitive site, or if someone is clearly in an emotional state. If you want to go above and beyond, you could also always offer to send locals the pictures you take, or give them something in return, such as buying them a meal or teaching them a new skill.
Preserve the wildlife we love.
For some, the chance to interact with exotic animals is one of the most exciting aspects of travel, however it is a sad fact that the animals in many attractions are exploited. As you plan your trip, remember that not every interaction with wildlife is helpful - sadly, some are incredibly harmful to the integrity of the population and the wellbeing of the animals involved. As a responsible traveller, it is important to focus on attractions that are proven to contribute to conservation and that treat animals humanely. Avoid places that exploit animals, avoid buying souvenirs made with animal parts, and consider how the activity being offered affects that animal population and the individual animal’s wellbeing. To ensure that you have a positive impact on the animals and biodiversity in the destinations you are exploring, look for tours that respect wildlife and maintain a safe distance from any animals. Choose to visit wildlife sanctuaries and accredited rehabilitation centres that help protect rescued and orphaned animals. To preserve marine biodiversity, choose a sunscreen that does not damage marine life; and when scuba diving or snorkelling, do so responsibly by ensuring you do not tread on the coral. If you’d like to find out more about environmentally friendly sunscreen Haereticus Environmental Lab publishes a list each year of which sunscreens are safe for the environment, and the Environmental Working Group rates products with SPF values — including some 650 sunscreens and 250 moisturizers — on their environmental impact.
Help protect and finance the preservation of historic and cultural sites.
When visiting heritage sites, be respectful and make sure that you follow any required dress codes or other rules. Local guidebooks will help you to appreciate the cultural significance of these sites and are a brilliant way of educating yourself on how to conduct yourself appropriately in these special places. Ancient art and buildings can be surprisingly fragile - the natural oils on a finger can destroy pictographs, and eventually the touch of thousands of hands will erode petroglyphs and rock carvings. Climbing on monuments might seem innocent, but this can abrade and dislodge building stones, and travellers can cause harm in ways other than the physical. For many years, tourists had scaled Uluru in Australia, but in 2017 this practice was ended because of the spiritual significance of the site. Uluru is sacred to its indigenous custodians, the Anangu people, who have long implored tourists not to climb. If you would like to find out more about further vulnerable sites, the World Monuments Watch is a global program that seeks to discover, spotlight, and take action on behalf of heritage sites under threat.
When traveling between places, you can support local communities by using local transport. In certain countries, locals run taxi equivalents such as tuk-tuks in some parts of Asia and Latin America, and taxis shared by multiple passengers known as collectivos, in Central America. Using these local transport methods provide you with a wonderful opportunity engage directly with the drivers, understand how their business is doing, what local areas they love to visit, and how tourism has changed their home – in fact anything that will help get to know more about the local community. Finally, for very local, short-distance travel about town, you may also be able to rent scooters or bicycles from nearby businesses.
Seek out local guides and community-based tourism.
Community-based tourism is a grassroots effort from people in local communities to provide authentic experiences for tourists in a way that sensitively shares their culture with visitors. Finding a local guide is a great way to support entrepreneurs in the community, and will give you a unique and personal perspective that is genuinely local. However, from Mumbai to Rio to New Orleans, as organized tours of poor areas have grown in popularity, so too have ethical debates on whether so-called ‘slum tourism’ is educational and philanthropic, or voyeuristic and exploitative. Before taking part in these activities, carefully consider whether they will benefit the local community.
Spread the word
Another way you can support the communities you travel in, is by writing about them, or sharing your photographs online. In the US and UK, TripAdvisor has introduced a GreenLeaders programme, which gives hotels and B&Bs the chance to earn recognition for their green practices. This is something else you could nominate a brilliant community you visit for. With their permission, pass on the phone numbers of brilliant taxi-drivers with friends, write glowing reviews of your favourite cafes, and shout about the amazing homestays you have visited.