How to be a Responsible Traveler

written on August 17th, 2017 by

Travel goals are all the rage these days, but every now and then, the journey towards those goals can lead to travel horror stories. Celebrity fashionistas Georgina Wilson and friends sporting communist hats in Tiananmen Square, a nightmarish overflow of tourists in Barcelona, a teen knocking over an art exhibit for a selfie, and a Finnish tourist stealing an ear off of Easter Island’s ancient statues, among many others.

These travel mistakes can be cringe worthy to borderline offensive. Lucky for you, these incidents are also avoidable. Act in a way that if places could speak, they might rate you as a five-star traveler.

Be mindful of the following things:


Pick up on the local dialect when you’re in a foreign destination. Your skill doesn’t have to be perfect, but locals appreciate it when tourists speak a phrase or two. Take the time to learn how certain phrases are said or pronounced, how people are addressed, and what these words mean. It says a lot about your interest in the destination and makes things more convenient for you and the locals.


Some customs may be completely new to you. If you’re taken aback, or uncomfortable that’s fine, but remember to respect the way the locals do things around their hometown. Asian countries require you to take off your shoes before entering their homes, people slurp during meals in Japan, there are all sorts of kisses in France, and the V hand sign has a completely different meaning in the UK.  People may do things differently in your opinion but remember that there is a significance behind these customs so learn about it and perhaps return a well-meaning gesture.


Some countries are more conservative than others, and there are places like temples, churches, and mosques that require you to dress the way you’re supposed to. There are signs and symbols you are not allowed to sport and take out of context—for example: Nazi symbols among others, and there are certain lengths and cuts you should strictly follow. Additionally, be careful not to reduce traditional patterns, pieces, tattoos, designs, and clothing into mere OOTDs. Locals will appreciate the effort, and you can thank yourself later.


Be wary of tours that involve animal shows and exhibitions, and look up ethical shows you can attend. Don’t be afraid to ask around and observe how the animals are being treated on and off stage. Sometimes, these shows turn out to be abusive and are run by people who have absolutely zero sympathy towards the animals. Keep an eye on sites where they chain animals, let them do tricks, or allow tourists to ride the animals on their tours. These spots may be shamelessly peddling this as “entertainment” for tourists who don’t know any better and would do anything for the ‘gram.


More often than not, tourist spots hold a lot of meaning. Know the significance behind monuments, and structures. Mind your manners especially when you visit sites that have a lot to do with that place’s history such as memorials, forts, landmarks, and installations. In galleries, keep your hands off of the art unless said otherwise, avoid leaning too closely towards exhibits, and never take something on display for yourself.


Should you visit a developing country, empathize enough to avoid showing off your wealth. Maybe don’t wear flashy jewelry and accessories while you’re up and about the area. Also, pick up after yourself and don’t leave your trash lying around. Remember that some countries have scarcities in things you’d consider mundane at home so try not to take your water canteen, snacks, and fuel for granted. Maybe, if you have the extra funds, try and reach out to local authorities or non-profit organizations and ask how you can help the community you’re currently visiting.


Warning, unpopular opinion: souvenirs are overpriced. But let’s face it, trinkets and mementos are awesome parts of the adventure whether they’re old ticket stubs, photographs, or key chains. However, if you come across small businesses along the way and would want to buy something from their stalls, try not to haggle especially when they’re selling their goods at a reasonable price. Keep in mind that their products are their means of living and you’re not supposed to cheat them off that.


If you’re traveling in groups, try and keep a close eye on your posse and keep them out of trouble. Some people might have the tendency to disobey rules or are clumsy by nature. So do everyone a favor and save the world from an impending social disaster by going through proper tourist decorum with your friends while you’re travelling.


If you run a blog or simply plan on posting your vacation photos and details of the places you visit online, keep in mind that people might flock to it especially if it’s accessible, free of charge, or brand new. Make sure to add disclaimers and reminders about the do’s and don’ts in the area and educate others about travelling responsibly.

There may be no need to memorize Geography anymore, but if you’re planning to go out of town, might as well know where you’re going. I mean, really know where you’re going. Just because you’re a guest doesn’t mean you call the shots and it doesn’t really take much to be a pleasant visitor– however the same thing can be said for jerks so try to be the good one in the bunch.

Remember, responsible tourism is the travel goal.