We travel to see and experience new cultures, yet the majority of travellers show an abject ignorance of anything other than a westernized world view.
- Please do not insult or ignore the rites of others, show some respect and appreciate that if you want the cultures of those countries you visit to continue to flourish, then you need to be more than just a tourist to foreign ways of living.
- Try and acquaint yourself with local customs, be sensitive that many aspects of your way of living which you take for granted may be insulting to others.
- Read up and research the area you intend to visit in advance, but don’t just rely on guide books. If you need any information that you may not find in this website, then do not hesitate to contact us.
- Talk to locals and observe their way of life to get a better understanding of the culture you are surrounded by.
Different religions and cultures import different meanings to a wealth of activities. It would be futile to try and cover the ‘do’s and don’t’s’ of social etiquette from around the world, instead do some research.
Getting to know the Culture
Responsible travel involves more than just being a passive observer. Try to get to know the culture you are visiting, both for your own personal enrichment and alao to avoid accidentally offending those around you with different beliefs and views.
- A good way to get to know a culture better is to try and lean some of its language. A simple ‘xin chao’ (hello) and ‘cam on’ (thank you) can go a long way to breaking down barriers.
- Also take note of local dress. In many cultures women are required to cover up substantially. As a general rule, dressing smartly, will garner more respect. A rich westerner who dresses sloppily in dirty clothes can be considered as insulting in the face of a poorer tribe, which despite their poverty make an effort to appear smart.
- Use local residents as guides to gain a more grounded perspective of an area, and teach you local etiquette.
- There are many cases of small tribes becoming entirely dependent upon cultural tours. Question what good a tribe or village gains from your visit.
- Do they receive a portion of the proceeds to improve their infrastructure? Is their traditional livelihood being maintained? Or do they solely exist now to amuse a bus of gaping gap year students with a triggar happy penchant for clicking on their digital camera.
- In short, ask first, and do not treat people as objects, a township in Soweto may be a million miles from your home, but poverty is poverty and snapping those ‘gritty and real’ pictures of people begging on the street for your own end does few moral favours.
Bargaining / Bartering / Haggling
Many countries rely on a culture of bargaining. To the traveller this seems to represent a challenge to haggle relentlessly over the miniscule amounts of money which they wouldn’t give a second thought about in everyday life.
- Bear in mind that a small amount to you, can represent a day’s food or more to the vendor.
- Bargaining should be done in good humour and even though you will inevitably be paying an inflated price, I can guarantee that it doesn’t begin to bear on what you would pay at home.
- A classic complaint from travellers is that they pay double what locals pay.
- My response is that even on minimum wages, the traveller probably earns 50 times what a local does, so we’re not doing too badly overall.
Bargain in the spirit of the situation, not as a means of competition.
Begging always presents a difficult situation for the ethical traveller.
Always carefully evaluate requests for gifts and money. As a general rule, as difficult as it is, you should never give money to beggars.
This is especially difficult with regard to children who are often kept out of school to beg as a form of income by their parents. By handing out money you are ultimately condoning these methods.
If you want to give, then buy essential goods to hand out like food, water, blankets and toiletries. The most efficient way to help though is by supporting local and charities which can direct your money to the most needy in the most cost effective manner.
Although you won’t get the immediate gratification, that handing out a few pesetas to a street beggar may bring, in the long term you will be making a larger overall impact to the problem at hand.
When purchasing souvenirs try and buy from local markets and handcrafts so that the money goes directly to local businesses.
Eat in local restaurants and cafes too as far as possible, rather than western imports selling the staple of burgers and chips, as these can threaten the livelihood of local restaurants.
Where before few outsiders were ever present in smaller, remoter communities, so the introduction of new international attention from the travelling community can destroy the spirit of a town, village or tribe.
The disintegration of local communities extends way beyond the traditional tourist trail, and is prone to effecting the remotest tribes and villages. As a responsible traveller, it is paramount that you do not play a part in the collapse of communities.
Protecting local communities
The responsible traveller should always look to protect local communities:
Always try to use local services, local tour operator, rather than external tour companies and services.
When booking accommodation, think about staying in bed and breakfasts or locally ran hotels and hostels, rather than international names.
Eat where the locals do, not only will this give you a better insight to the cuisine of the area you’re visiting, but it will also help to support the local economy.
Always respect local laws and customs. Not only is it illegal, and could result in serious fines or imprisonment, but the effect outside influences on a community can be devastating.
Buy locally made crafts and artifacts direct from the source, i.e. local markets and shops rather than from hotel lobbies and airport departure lounges where little of the original money will go to the community.
In short, help the local economy of developing countries by buying local produce where all purchases can be put straight back into the local community, in preference to imported goods and externally ran services.
Always question establishments where children are working, consider whether they should be in school or not.
Hand in hand with respecting local cultures comes an awareness of local laws. As a responsible traveller, it is essential that you acquaint yourself with local laws before you reach your destination.
What is legal in your home country can face the death penalty in another. For your own safety it is vital that you read up first on what activities are likely to cause trouble.
You may disagree with the laws of the country you are visiting, however, you have chose to visit this particular region of the world, and your foreign embassy will, unfortunately, be unable to do little to help you if you do break the law.
Always research the country you are visiting and take heed of their rules and regulations. Remember laws apply to the country you are in and not the country you are from.
Drugs and Alcohol
Responsible travellers should always avoid any contact with drugs. Do not get involved with drugs.
- Never carry packages on the behalf of anyone at any time, whether flying or not. Pack your own baggage, and never leave it unattended.
- Be wary at border crossings and customs of anyone trying to assist you, or offering to carry your luggage. Even when people look like they are in official dress, they may be bogus.
- When driving through border crossings in someone else’s car, always get out of the vehicle and walk through by yourself.
- Your foreign embassy will not be able to do anything to help you if you are caught with drugs, and depending upon the country, you could receive the death penalty.
- Be aware that not all cultures are as accepting towards alcohol as your home country. Public drunkenness is not acceptable in any cultures.
- Never drink and drive.
- Smoking in public should be avoided, especially around children. In many emerging economies, tobacco corporations are eager to imprint the notion that smoking is socially acceptable.
- By smoking you are simply reinforcing this stereotype and imbuing the concept that smoking is the preserve of the rich nations, and not the preserve of lung cancer sufferers. Don’t help the cause by becoming a role model.
Respecting Foreign Laws
Respecting and adhering to local laws, rules and regulations is an essential component of responsible and ethical travel. Always bear in mind the following:
- Do not work illegally, you can be imprisoned, fined or deported for working without a legal work permit. In extreme cases you may be banned from ever returning to the county again.
- Never overstay your visa. Most countries permit visa extensions with relative ease. Again, without a valid visa you can be imprisoned, fined or deported.
- Always enter countries via recognised border crossing, where your travel documents can undergo the appropriate administration.
- Any hobbies, such as photography, bird watching, train spotting etc. which may be perceived as spying (especially around military sites) should be avoided to prevent misinterpretation. For these tours, contact us in advance for authorization.
- As a general rule, heed should be taken around all military sites, where matters of national security are treated very seriously. Do not undertake any activities which can be misconstrued.
- Never travel with firearms, knives or other forms of weaponry. This is illegal and will be met with the appropriate punishment. Following the events of 9/11 all airlines have became overly attentive to the transportation of all sharp objects, if you intend to fly with any sharp instruments, e.g. nail scissors, knitting needles, shaving razors etc. always stow these objects in your main luggage.
- When driving abroad, ensure that you know the driving laws for the country you are visiting. Many countries, for example, operate on the spot driving fines. Check that the license you are driving with is valid, you may need to apply for an International Driving Permit (IDP)
When travelling, it is vital that you try and be as kind to the environment as possible.
Hundreds and hundreds of ‘untouched’ spots’ around the world are now experiencing the greatest influx of visitors in history.
Previously remote ecosystems which have been cultivated over thousands of years are already reaching breaking point.
With travellers seeking out ever more natural wonders around the world, it is paramount that we act responsibly, and protect these habitations for future generations.
It all sounds like obvious stuff, but travellers still don’t appreciate what a little common sense can make to a local environment.
Protecting the Environment
Protecting the natural environment is paramount especially when travelling. Check out how you can conserve local eco-systems:
- Always try and use local energy and water as efficiently as possible in line with local practices. You may come from a city blessed with heavy annual rainfall, but the odds are the village you’re staying in isn’t.
- Don’t leave taps running or use water intensive practices such as hand washing only a few or single items of clothing at a time in countries where water is sparse.
- Check that any soaps or detergents you use are biodegradable, always washing dishes and utensils away from streams and lakes.
- Never ever litter. Find a bin or recycle it. Find out how to recycle your waste most efficiently from your hotel or hostel. Try not to bring any superfluous containers or packaging that you do not intend to take back home.
- Never put rubbish bags down beside a garbage bag or pile of rubbish sacks as wild animals are more likely to tear them open and disperse the rubbish. Worse still, bottles and cans can seriously injure animals and plastic bags suffocate animals when consumed.
- Travellers should be aware that not all countries employ the same levels of animal welfare protection. so be discerning when visiting zoos and marine parks abroad.
- Animals are not here to amuse us, so do not support this trend by visiting circus’, festivals and carnivals where performing animals are used.
- In natural areas, be aware that your movements are effecting your surroundings. Move cautiously, do not take any natural keepsakes and always stay to marked footpaths.
- When driving, stick to marked paths and roads. Be aware when driving at night that animals can scare easily from headlights and loud noises at and may be prone to leaping onto the road. Drive cautiously always ready for unexpected obstacles
Travel represents to many the perfect chance to buy new exciting souvenirs. As a responsible traveller, however, it is essential that you are aware that the trade in many natural products is illegal under international guidelines.
In order to help preserve local wildlife and habitats, you should be aware that certain products are banned and will be confiscated by customs upon arrival to your home country.
You could face fines and even imprisonment if found with these products.
If you have any products you feel concerned are restricted by international laws, then you must check with the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in your home country.
It may be the case that you need a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) permit to legally transport your goods overseas legally.
There are over 800 species of plants and animals currently banned from international trade, and over 30,000 strictly controlled by CITES and EU legislation.
Consider also checking out DEFRA (UK), CITES and World Wildlife Fund – who are actively involved with raising the awareness of banned natural products.
See also the core list of banned products you should avoid buying when away, as recommended by CITES.