12 Tips to Be a Socially Responsible Traveler

18 January, 2021

The year 2021 is all about responsible traveling. The world is finding ways to adjust to the new normal which resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. The wearing of face masks and face shields in the Philippines is now mandatory for anyone going outdoors. Physical distancing is strictly imposed in public places, especially in enclosed areas. Public transport networks and tourism-related establishments are required to observe protocols to ensure safety among travelers and their staff.

The present pandemic, however, is not the only crisis of the day. Climate change is wreaking havoc everywhere, affecting the poor and most vulnerable. Recent figures suggest that carbon dioxide levels in the air are at their highest in 650,000 years and that 19 of the 20 warmest years on record occurred since 2001.

What could be your best personal response to all these? Be socially responsible in your travels. Always follow health-and-safety protocols; go for sustainable tours and accommodation; and try to give back to the community. While you explore cultural diversity and capture Instagram-worthy landscapes, it’s also best to leave a positive impact in your dream vacation spot by practicing responsible traveling.

Below is your 2021 guide to sustainable tourism:

1. Strictly observe COVID-19 protocols.

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Make sure to follow Covid-inspired laws and local regulations, now that travel destinations have started reopening. Wear a face mask and face shield whenever you're outdoors to protect yourself and others.

Viral transmission within a community can mean the tightening of safety protocols and the possible closure of businesses. Tourism-related businesses took the brunt of the pandemic, with 78% temporarily closing shop due to the restrictions.

By observing rules on the wearing of face masks and shields and physical distancing, you can help tourism-related businesses and workers continue operating during the pandemic.

2. Use environment-friendly items.

There are now many eco-friendly products available in the market; so it’s impossible to say that there are no sustainable alternatives to your toothbrush, shampoo, or plastic cups.

From toiletries to cutlery, you can buy environment-friendly products online or at local supermarkets and malls. Help protect the environment by going zero waste on your trip.

3. Pick sustainable tours and accommodation.

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This tip may take a little bit of research. However, finding hotels and tours that promote sustainable development are beyond rewarding! These places may donate a portion of their earnings to support sustainable causes such as hiring more locals or donating to environmentally sustainable organizations.

4. Shop and eat locally.

Sustainable travel is typically associated with ecotourism practices and environmental responsibility. The World Tourism Organization, however, relates the human side of sustainability to community impact, also referred to as “social impact travel”.

Sustainable travel ensures that money spent on tourism stays in the community. So when you go on vacation, opt to shop and eat at local establishments. After all, the best way to experience a new place is to actually eat and shop locally. Doing so will expose you to cultural diversity through their unique food and products, and you will also directly help sustain the livelihood of the community by buying local products.

5. Bargain respectfully.

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In some countries and locations, bargaining is part of the culture. In fact, locals expect you to bargain and may be surprised if you don't. Still, you should look at the bigger picture. These locals are selling or providing cheap goods as a livelihood for their families and communities. This is nothing compared to your travel expenses such as your hotel or flight tickets.

Respect the culture by not abusing it. If you can afford the item, skip the bargaining and pay the actual price. This is especially true in regard to locally-sourced and made products or services.

6. Respect the local culture.

Different places mean different cultures. Since you’re a tourist, you must definitely find ways to show respect to the culture of the community.

Take time to read about cultural appropriateness in your chosen country or place. Learn about their dress codes and avoid possibly offensive practices.

Download an app to learn the language of the country, even just the basic greetings. By doing so, you show how careful and respectful you are of their culture and tradition.

If you are a foreigner visiting the Philippines for the first time, it will make a lot of difference to know a bit about the Filipino culture.

7. Remind others to be responsible travelers.

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If you decide to practice responsible traveling, you may as well encourage others to do it, too. Remind your companions to be more culturally sensitive if they happen to dress inappropriately for the place, or if they did say something possibly offensive. Also, report to the authorities if you see someone intentionally breaking environmental protection laws or committing cultural offenses.

8. Lend some time to community projects

Whether you’re traveling for a week or longer, you can make a difference by taking time to participate in community projects.

Explore volunteer tourism or the practice of doing volunteer work while traveling. If you are a skilled individual (e.g. a medical professional or an infrastructure expert), you can sign up for sustainable development projects needing people with your background.

If you’re not a skilled professional, you can still volunteer by asking non-profit organizations about other ways you can help in their missions that promote environmental protection and sustainability.

For instance, Boracay takes environmental issues seriously. You may ask its locals or the local tourism office how you could contribute to the island's environmental restoration programs. Another way to educate yourself about community issues is to enjoy the place like a local.

9. Share your experience on social media.

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Social media can be a powerful tool to promote responsible traveling. Use these platforms to leave good reviews for local restaurants and hotels, or share the locals’ environmentally ethical practices. This way, you help others choose these restaurants and hotels.

Additionally, let them know and encourage them to abide by environmental protection regulations everywhere they go.

10. Think twice before taking and posting a picture.

Understand that you cannot just take a snapshot of people or locations. Seek permission, first, before taking a picture of a local or a place. If your intended subject or the authorities say "no", don’t risk it. But if they agree, practice cultural appropriateness by thinking twice before posting the photo and writing your caption.

11. Help out in the right ways.

You might feel bad if you don’t give to financially-challenged individuals on the streets. On second thought, you are actually doing the right thing. Giving money to them can do more harm than good.

For example, you need to be culturally aware that some locals might be encouraged to beg tourists for money. Some locals might use this as a “business” to extort money from tourists when they actually come from well-off families.

Respect culture by not encouraging a begging culture at your travel destination. Help in the right ways by giving food and water, instead, or by supporting local organizations that help the poor through livelihood.

12. Treat animals kindly.

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Marvel at majestic and interesting creatures all you want, but make sure to go to ethical animal attractions.

Do your research before going there, and don’t proceed if the said attractions are reported for animal mistreatment. Also, take note of environmental protection laws and regulations that prohibit you from touching or feeding animals you may encounter on the road.

“Sustainability has a positive impact not only on the environment but the culture and the economy of the destination you’re visiting,” Impact Travel Alliance's Kelley Louise told the New York Times.

Responsible tourism is a must in this period of global pandemic and climate change. By observing health-and-safety protocols, you can help keep tourism-related businesses afloat and communities with a livelihood.

Always be environmentally-conscious wherever you may be and find ways of leaving a positive impact at the places you visit and on the locals you meet.