When going on a trip, we always hope to have the best possible experiences and the warmest memories. But it’s just as important to consider the other side – how to make your trip pleasant for the host, be it a person, a city, or a country. Here are some tips for responsible travel practices.
Honour local customs
Do a little research before you travel to learn about the destination’s local cultural traditions so that you can speak and behave appropriately. You can sometimes go wrong with very simple things; for example, the mere mention of a pineapple pizza is likely to get you laughed at in any self-respecting pizzeria in Italy. And there’s an unwritten rule that one should not walk around a Spanish city dressed in beachwear. Appearance is extremely important to the Spanish, and elegance and style are preferable to glamour and ostentatiousness. Other countries have their own written and unwritten rules of etiquette, and travel forums and blogs where people share their first-hand experiences can be very helpful in navigating those rules. Culture Trip is also a great app to keep you in the loop.
Learn the language
‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart,’ said the great South African leader Nelson Mandela. In general, it’s a great sign of respect and empathy when you make an effort to say even a few words in the local language. You’d be amazed by how knowing simple phrases such as ‘thank you’, ‘good morning’, and ‘have a nice day’ impacts the way locals treat you. A very simple and fun way to start learning a new language is with the Duolingo app. It will help you to make friends with locals, listen to their suggestions, and go out where they go – all of which definitely gives you a different experience than just following the lead of other tourists.
One of the easiest ways to travel more responsibly is to shop more responsibly. An important way buying locally helps the environment is by reducing your shopping miles. It means that, for example, by buying local pottery in Greece, your money supports the local economy and boosts employment. Check out fairs and markets where locals sell their products and leave your money with those who have earned it with their hard work. The Like A Local app can help you avoid tourist traps and get recommendations from locals.
Eat local food
Do your homework beforehand to understand what’s grown at your destination, then find a local farmers’ market and buy those foods. This is how you really support locals and save on food miles, which is the amount of distance food travels from where it is sourced to where it is eaten. Eating the food locals can also introduce you to new foods you’ve never tried before and thus enrich your travel experience. Select restaurants that also source food locally, or try the EatWith app, which lets you make reservations for everything from dinner parties to food tours and cooking classes around the world, all hosted by locals.
Support indigenous artisans
When you buy directly from an artist, you’re not only helping them feed their family, but in many cases you’re helping to preserve their culture. Lots of websites, such as Artsy, have filters that let you choose artists based on their location. These days most artists are also accessible via social media, so drop them a line on Facebook or Instagram and you’re most likely in for a heartfelt meeting and a purchase with more emotional value than you could ever get from a shopping mall. But be realistic. When you’re in vacation mode, remember to ask yourself whether this work of art really fits the year-round look of your home.
Paintings and works of graphic art aren’t the only meaningful souvenirs to bring home from a trip. There are hundreds of other design objects that are aesthetically pleasing as well as practical. Before you get on the plane, though, take some time to find out what the country you’re headed to is best known for. For example, in Italy, it’s worth paying particular attention to premium-quality leather goods such as gloves, handbags, and wallets. Finland, for its part, is an oasis of modern design, and locally designed household items will bring some famous northern beauty into your home.
Read more about how to travel greener here.