The adage “leave only footprints; take only photos” is probably well known to most of you, but it’s always worth revisiting those lessons for being a responsible traveller. Here are eight quick ways to revise your code of conduct for good travel:
Learn the language – If you can at least muster a “Hello”, “Goodbye”, “Please” and “Thank you” you’ll get far as people will appreciate your attempts to communicate. If you can go one further and try a “My name is…” or “Your country is beautiful”, even better. We sometimes kid ourselves that we’re doing very well because we’ve picked up a few key words, but chances are your local hosts will be attempting to hold more of a conversation with you, in your native tongue. Learning more than the basics and you’ll really be impressing!
Check your body language – Before you go on your travels spend some time reading up on local gestures. An innocent hand motion in the UK may be the height of bad manners in Japan. Showing the soles of your feet is incredibly offensive in many Asian countries so think before you relax and put your feet up.
Dress appropriately – You may be in a hot country but depending on local religion or customs, it may not be appropriate to wear skimpy clothing (this is for both men and women). In Muslim countries it may be better to wear a T-shirt when swimming (this also saves you from a sunburnt back!). Visiting churches and temples usually requires clothing that covers knees, shoulders and sometimes hair.
Don’t take natural souvenirs – That shell, stone or flower may look pretty on your mantelpiece back home but (as my parents always said), if everyone took one, there would be nothing left. Take a photo if you’re really taken with that piece of nature. Similarly, when shopping for souvenirs in the local shops and markets, always ask what they’re made of, especially if you’re unsure. Sadly, rare woods or derivatives of endangered animals are sometimes used to create souvenirs. If in doubt, buy something that’s clearly ‘safe’.
Avoid exploitative attractions – It’s all too common to witness animal cruelty wherever you are in the world. Whether it’s badly-run zoos, tourist-heavy safaris, circuses and performances, even exploitative animal attractions dressed up as conservation projects, you will need to be on the look out for poor welfare and always ask ‘is this OK?’. Check out an attraction’s animal welfare credentials online or ask them in person. A general rule of thumb, if an animal is displaying unnatural behaviour, it’s a sign that all is not well. Don’t patronise these outfits and even report any bad practice you see to the authorities, your tour operator or WWF.
Use resources sensitively – Those living in remote, rural areas are often used to conserving any limited resources such as water or energy. Don’t be the one leaving the lights on or the tap running unnecessarily – a lot of work goes into obtaining those resources so use them sparingly and sensitively.
Tread lightly – You may find yourself in locations where humans are rare and the environment belongs to the local wildlife. Keep that in mind and try and have as little impact on your surroundings as possible. Keep to the existing paths, don’t touch or damage the flora and if you meet any animals, remember it’s their home first and foremost!
Smile! – Don’t forget to smile; it transcends language barriers and needs no translation. You’re a visitor in someone else’s country, or even home, so show them that you’re grateful, happy and enjoying it!
Do you have any more tips to add to this code of conduct? Let us know in the comments below, or via Twitter @Goodtrippers
This post was originally published on Frontier’s Gap Year Blog