Anyone who has been given the opportunity to travel abroad knows what a fantastic experience traveling can be. Meeting new people, experiencing unique cultures, and seeing sites you’ve only seen in movies are all part of the fun. With today’s new and improved technology and booming economies, traveling has never been easier. However, this new power comes at a price. Many popular tourist destinations have become swamped with tourists. This can erase the original culture and push locals out of once-desired areas. Air travel has huge environmental impacts. Huge masses of people can hurt local environments due to waste, vandalism, or trampling of local fauna. While traveling is certainly a worthwhile experience, understanding your impact before traveling abroad is an important step in becoming a responsible tourist.
Be a Responsible Tourist and Don’t Join the Crowds
If you’ve been to any of the big-ticket stops while traveling abroad, you’ve without a doubt seen the crazy amounts of people that some cities and sites attract. The sheer volume of tourists I saw while in Venice for a single day is indescribable. I crammed into a room in the Palace of Versailles with another 200 tourists. I squished myself into the Eiffel Tower’s elevator with another 20 sightseers while we oh so slowly crept to the top. The point is global tourism is at an all-time high. Understanding your impact on the local industries and economies is important. While tourism can be a huge boost to local economies, you have to consider what kinds of goods, sites, or restaurants tourists are buying or visiting to become a more responsible tourist or traveler.
While that cheap souvenir may be the perfect knick-knack, maybe there’s a local store off the beaten path that offers something better. Supporting small business owners and artists by purchasing unique goods rather than mass-produced ones can go a long way. Visiting restaurants that are actually authentic rather than watered-down versions of the real thing is disappointing for everyone involved. Wander around off the easy road. Look for a place where you know you’ll have to point at the menu for something at least once!
Although Airbnb and other home-share apps are both convenient and affordable, make sure to consider their impacts to marketplace demands. An oversaturation of home-share apartments may raise the local rent, which could leave local residents stranded or misplaced.
A responsible tourist might try out foreign language skills while exploring the city abroad. While it is convenient that so many tourist hot spots can speak English, it can also diminish the local culture. The founder of the company I work for recently returned to visit his home country of the Netherlands and found that many of the young people living there no longer spoke Dutch, but only English. He felt crushed that he couldn’t speak his native tongue to many of the people he came across in his home country!
Overcrowding has become a serious issue for tourist destinations abroad. This can cause backed-up traffic and general degradation to local environments. Beautiful natural landscapes can be trampled if too many people go to visit. If there’s a site that has a high fee or requires a permit to reach, take it seriously and remember that it’s a tactic that has been put in place to try and preserve the natural landscape. Sometimes these restrictions are put in place for your safety — I’ve seen countless news articles about people falling to their deaths trying to capture the perfect selfie. Try to use public transportation as much as possible. Ride-share apps and other taxi services may be fast and convenient, but it could lead to traffic congestion that hinders locals more than visitors.
Understanding your mode of transportation when traveling to the city is also important. Flight has revolutionized tourism abroad. However, as of now, airplanes are rather inefficient in terms of fuel economy per passenger. Some tourists prefer traveling via cruise ships, but these also have their downsides. Cruise ships can damage the local marinas and bays, and the sudden influx of tourists – especially tourists who don’t buy souvenirs, stop at restaurants, or stay in hotel rooms – contribute little to the atmosphere or local economies. In fact, cruise ships became caused such an environmental and overcrowding problem in Venice that protests erupted all over the city. Venice has now banned cruise ships from sailing through the Grand Canal or docking near the historic center.
Remember to Be Open and Respectful
While traveling abroad can be a great learning experience and is incredibly fun, it’s important to recognize that you are a guest in whichever country you are visiting. It’s not fair to expect locals to help you. This is especially so when many locals only feel the negative impacts of tourism (vandalism, overcrowding, traffic congestion, etc.). Go into every country you visit knowing basic, polite phrases: hello, good-bye, thank you, excuse me, I’m sorry, etc. Don’t expect everyone to be able to (or want to, for that matter!) speak or understand English. Being kind, polite, and understanding when interacting with locals will go a long way. The golden rule of treating others the way you wish to be treated applies around the entire globe!
Furthermore, be respectful of things that are different from your own culture. If people do things differently, don’t try to argue and grow frustrated. Remember to go with the flow and have a good time! You’re there to experience something different from your own culture. If you’re uncomfortable in a certain situation, try to make light of it and laugh at yourself. If this doesn’t seem reasonable, politely excuse yourself and gather your thoughts elsewhere. Think of yourself as a stranger in someone else’s home: because that’s what you are! Traveling is a great experience, but part of being a responsible tourist is being aware of your effect on locals. It is not only incredibly important for preserving the welcoming atmosphere that locals have created, but for creating a nice environment for future tourists as well.