1. Whenever possible, take the bus.
Unfortunately for us, travel is an activity that puts a lot of carbon in the atmosphere. This isn’t to say we should never travel, just that we should be thoughtful about the way in which we travel. The most carbon efficient way to travel (aside from walking or biking) is by bus. The least efficient option is to fly first class. The Union of Concerned Scientists made up this handy little chart to help you figure out the best way for you to travel in any given situation.
2. Stay away from big hotel/hostel chains whenever possible.
Tourism does wonders for local economies. But only if you’re actually spending the money locally. Spending at big hotel chains sends the money straight back out of town. Do your research ahead of time, and find nice locally-run hotels and hostels to stay at instead.
3. Pick ethical destinations.
Every year, the non-profit Ethical Traveler puts together a meticulously researched list of the most ethical countries to visit in the developing world. Check the list out, and pick one of these spots for your next trip!
4. Instead of giving to beggars, give to charities.
Tough as it may be, it’s probably best not to give any money to that begging child. If you feel bad for not giving, give to local charities instead. If you’re worried about whether the charity you’re giving to is spending your money well or not, check out websites like GiveWell or The Life You Can Save.
5. Be very, very careful with voluntourism.
It sounds like a great deal, right? You visit a foreign country, lend a helping hand, and everyone’s better off.
Well, not necessarily. Voluntourism has a lot of ethical issues, particularly if you don’t have a specialized skill set that isn’t already available in the community you’re visiting. Read Matador writer Rich Stupart’s cautionary piece on voluntourism, and look into long-term, sustainable volunteer options instead.
6. Be mindful of the souvenirs and food you buy.
Found a cool tropical fish for sale? It may have been captured in a reef using cyanide, a method which is contributing to the destruction of the world’s coral reefs. Want to try a local delicacy like shark fin soup? Shark finning has driven many shark species to the brink of extinction. Love the look of that ivory trinket? Poachers are murdering elephants and rhinos for their horns left and right. The Northern White Rhino is down to a single male because of this practice.
There’s often more to that exotic souvenir or meal than meets the eye. Educate yourself ahead of time.
7. Stay away from animals in captivity.
Not all zoos treat animals badly, but some do, especially in the developing world. If you see an attraction that advertises interaction with wild animals, be very wary. The Tiger Temple in Thailand, for example, did not treat its animals particularly well, but remained a very popular tourist attraction until it was shut down by officials, and there are almost always serious problems with keeping elephants in captivity. The safe bet is to just avoid any attraction based around animals in captivity. Try seeing them in the wild instead.
If you see something that makes you uncomfortable in the country you’re visiting, don’t start thinking about what the people are doing wrong, or about how they should do things differently. Instead, ask them about it, and really listen to what they have to say. Everyone you meet has something to teach you. Find out what it is.
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