Being a responsible traveler comes down to making conscious decisions. Here are ten choices you can make to improve the quality of your next trip and the quality of life for people in the places you visit.
Choose to educate yourself on your destination. And I’m not just talking about reading the history section in the Lonely Planet. What kind of government runs the country? What are the current environmental challenges for the region? While you’re there, read newspapers and engage locals in conversations. Sometimes you have to ask whether you should visit a place at all—Burma, for example, is a controversial destination since it can be difficult for travelers to avoid inadvertently supporting the oppressive military junta. You have to weigh that against the importance of spreading truthful accounts of traveling within the country’s borders and promoting the cause of the Burmese people.
Choose conscientious travel mates. If your travel buddies go heavy on the party and light on the political awareness, you’ll probably be boasting a beer gut instead of curiosity about local culture. But if you hitch your wagon to a crew that cares about the environment and sustainable living, you’ll be making conscious choices almost by default.
Choose to learn the local language. No one’s asking for fluency—especially when you’re in your seventh country on a round-the-world ticket—but mastering a few basics goes a long way in smoothing interpersonal relations. At the bare minimum, I always learn greetings, the terms for “please” and “thank you,” and numbers one through ten (plus variations for “hundred,” “thousand,” or whatever’s most useful for the local currency). Personal info vocab is also helpful (names, ages, interests), as is knowing how to pronounce the names of local dishes (and brews).