1. Use less water.
At home I try to turn off the faucet while brushing my teeth, or washing dishes. But I never realized that on average, tourists use up more water when on vacation than they do home. We take long showers, and we generally relax because, at a hostel or hotel, we know it’s not our home or our water bill to worry about.
In naturally drier regions this becomes an even bigger problem. A report by the United Nations estimated that tourists in Spain use up to 440 liters of water a day (almost double of what an average Spaniard city resident would use). Some reports have also said that in places like tourist-heavy Goa, India, locals struggle walking further and further to find fresh water as most of it is now used for tourists hotels and hotspots.
Take short showers, don’t leave faucets running, and if you’re staying at a hotel, tell them it’s not necessary to wash your towels or sheets each day of your stay.
2. Produce less trash.
When it’s not mine to take out every day, again, I got lazy while traveling. It was easy for me to lose awareness of how much I actually accumulated. In Puerto Vallarta, it is estimated that tourism accounts for approximately half of the total waste stream. Tourists alone can produce around 350 tons of garbage a day.
Be mindful of how much you’re accumulating while traveling, and whenever possible, try to keep up the same recycling habit you may have at home.
3. Give up the Cheerios during your trip.
While traveling, it felt so great to finally find a hostel that served American Cheerios, or a store that stocked chocolate chip cookies and peanut butter. But I didn’t know that countries spend a huge amount of money importing American and other internationally renowned brands only to please tourists like me who are homesick and constantly asking for these items. Sometimes tourist companies budget far more money to afford these items instead of raising wages for local workers.
With that in mind, try to keep the nostalgia and homesickness purchases to a minimum. Whenever you can, buy local brands.
4. And save the cuddles by the fireplace for a special occasion.
When I was trekking in the Himalayas in Nepal, every day while hiking I’d look forward to the cozy fire I’d find at our final rest spots. What I didn’t know was that the trekking industry has led to mass deforestation in the region. Tour groups, eager to please tourists like myself, request significant amounts of firewood to make sure we are sufficiently cozy at all times. The United Nations also estimated that one trekking tourist can use up to five kilograms of wood a day.
Just like at home, think of a warm fire as a treat for a special day, and not an expectation.
5. Stay at locally-owned hotels.
It’s hard to argue that your tourism is benefiting the economy when your accommodation is owned by someone abroad. This is by no means a rarity: in Costa Rica, the United Nations estimated that close to 65% of the hotels belong to foreigners. A report by socially conscious travel agency Altruvistas claimed that 90% of coastal developments in Belize are foreign owned.
Whenever possible, book accommodation owned by local families.
6. Take the bus.
Flights emit an incredible amount of greenhouse gas. Instead of instantly checking flights when you’re ready to leave on a trip, use this chart to figure out what the greenest way to travel is depending on how far you’re going and many people are traveling with you (and even whether you’re taking first class or coach)
7. Use reef-friendly sunscreen.
Oxybenzone is a chemical found in many popular sunscreens that harms coral reefs. If you’re on a beach vacation this year, check out this list of reef-friendly sunscreens and bring those along instead.
8. Challenge your “single story” about a country or continent.
Particularly in the West, the messaging we receive about foreign countries can be limited at best and stereotypical at worst. In her famous TED talk, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called this “the danger of a single story” and argued “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.” This year, diversify your media sources and reading lists so that your news and knowledge about the world comes from a variety of global perspectives, and get you closer to the complete picture.
9. If you’re a native English speaker, learn another language.
In a previous article for Matador, writer Gloria Atanmo realized the privilege she had as an English-speaking traveler to have almost everything always translated for her. While this may be convenient, she argued that we shouldn’t take it for granted, particularly when bilingualism brings so many benefits to your mental and physical health. If you’re spending a significant time abroad, consider spending a significant amount of time this year learning a language that can help you communicate while you’re there.
10. Check your implicit bias with your fellow travelers.
When #AirbnbWhileBlack trended on Twitter, it became clear that many of our fellow travelers harbor less than welcoming feelings for black travelers and travelers of color. Sometimes, this even happens with well-intentioned people who aren’t aware of how their actions could be discriminatory. Read up on the advice experts have given on how to train your brain to combat this inclination for bias.
11. Acknowledge Western privilege.
As Sian Ferguson described in a previous Matador post: “Since colonization shaped world history, travelers from Western Europe and the US experience Western privilege over the rest of us. As Westerners travel throughout the world, it’s important to remember the social and historical context of their presence in other countries and the privilege that comes with it.”
If you’re a traveler from the Western world, take the time to research and reflect how your presence may be perceived by non-Western cultures.
12. Reflect a little bit before publishing that blog…
Writers in the travel industry are infamous for using racially insensitive and ignorant language to describe the places we visit and the locals we meet. As travelers, it’s crucial that our writing helps empower, not degrade, those in others countries.
13. …or that Instagram post…
Sustainable travel organizations have written at length about the proper etiquette for taking photos abroad. Before we’re quick to snap a photo, we can ask ourselves questions that ensure these photos don’t contribute to stereotypical, biased, or harmful imagery of certain people and places.
14. …and be careful with those selfies.
Tourists have knocked over, destroyed, or damaged historical monuments — all while attempting to capture the perfect photo of themselves. Don’t be that tourist.
15. Before deciding to volunteer, look for the red flags.
With voluntourism now a billion dollar industry, it’s unfortunately all too common for travelers to get taken advantage of. Take the time to do some preliminary research to make sure you are working with organizations that legitimately do good work.
16. Stay at a green hotel…
This list helps travelers find eco-friendly accommodation whenever we’re on the road. These hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, hostels and lodges have all committed to reducing their environmental impact by following best practices for sustainable business.
17. …or one owned by people of color.
Research suggests that the average black family in the United States would need 228 years to build the wealth of a white family today. For Latino families, it would take 84 years. Around the world, there is also a huge gap between who makes money from the travel industry and who doesn’t.
Travelers can help close this wealth gap by staying at black-owned hotels when traveling throughout the United States, or staying in accommodation run by locals — not Western foreigners — when traveling abroad.
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