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The Ethical Tourist: How to travel responsibly in a world with so many options

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Travel’s a privilege. It shouldn’t have taken a prohibitive pandemic to tell us that, but that’s the way the cookie crumbled in 2020. We reckon it’s probably changed the face of travel forever. 

Green, amber and red lists will disappear. One thing that probably won’t change is the attitude shift shared by people across the world. 

We’re all thinking more consciously about the way we’re going to travel when it’s possible to do so once more.

In normal times, all you need is a little determination and a pinch of savviness to get yourself anywhere in the world, even if you don’t have much in the way of cash, concerns or plans before you go. 

Also in normal times, 1.2 billion people travel every year, around 15% of the world’s total population, and a significant slice at that. Which means there’s a LOT of opportunity for doing good by making positive travel decisions (and sadly a lot of opportunity for making the wrong decisions too). 

That’s sort of what we mean by “ethical tourist”. 

What does it mean to “travel ethically”?

When you travel ethically, you use your time and put your money in places that’ll benefit the world in the long-run, rather than damage it. 

“Yeah but I’m just one person and my decisions really aren’t going to make much impact.”

But, pal, they will. Here’s a handy way to see how ethical travel works. Picture your favourite place in the world for a moment, or a place that’s always been top of your Bucket List. 

Now imagine how you’ll interact with that place and the local people and other tourists while you’re there. 

Now imagine for a second that every single other person who visits that same place does the exact same things you do. Fast-forward thirty years.

How’s the place looking? Beaches still pristine? Paths still walkable? Or is there litter around? Children begging on the streets? Are the locals happy to see you or do they look at you grumpily, rueing the day the first tourist set foot in their beloved community? 

Imagine if no-one ever boycotted SeaWorld because “one family can’t stop them putting those shows on”. Truth is, poor ticket sales is the only thing that’ll end that saga. 

So you really can make a difference in the world. 

By making a few simple, sensible decisions about the way you’ll behave and the things you’ll do while you’re away on your next adventure, you’ll not only help others and protect the environment, but you’ll feel a lot happier while you’re there too. 

Back when we started The Bucket List Company, we found that our most amazing experiences were always the result of really respecting our destinations and investing in them, and it’s the reason why we continue to do so for all of our adventures today. 

In case you haven’t already spotted it, we offer one incredible adventure in Tanzania. Here you’ll see the very best of the country and give a heck of a lot back while you’re there, painting schools and contributing to a local vulnerable community. 

Click here to find out more about The Best of Tanzania

In the meantime, let’s look at some simple ways you can change the way you adventure and travel ethically in future. 

UK and local guides

Ethical tourist tip #1: do proper research

Be sensible and sensitive from the moment you start researching to the minute you head home from your Bucket List adventure. That means taking time to find out why things cost what they do, and choosing your tour operators super carefully. 

There are tonnes of charlatan trekking and touring operators all around the world who’ll offer you a ridiculously low price. This usually means they’re compromising your safety or they are not paying their staff enough. And at the other end of the scale, there are plenty of businesses who’ll charge you more without really giving you anything extra. 

Don’t part with any cash without feeling confident that your choice won’t lead to someone vulnerable missing out. 

Ethical tourist tip #2: pack light

Most proper adventures will come with a packing list, and there will be some crucial items that you’ll need – like proper base layers and down coats for Mera Peak and the like. But there’s a HUGE market right now for travel items that you just don’t need too. 

Stick to the bare necessities and do your research carefully to make sure you aren’t purchasing any new items that won’t make enough of an impact on your trip to justify the consumerism. 

The Ethical Tourist

Ethical tourist tip #3: support local 

This goes without saying really. Wherever you are in the world, you’ll always have a choice between the massive conglomerates and the family-owned store down the side street. Go for the latter, at every opportunity. 

Taxi drivers, tour companies, accommodation, cooking classes… You name it, you can support the local community while you do it. 

The Ethical Tourist

Ethical tourist tip #4: support Fair Trade

Ask market vendors how and where items were made if there’s no sign that your chosen souvenir has been ethically made or is Fair Trade. If you can’t get to the bottom of it, don’t buy it!

Ethical tourist tip #5: get stuck into local culture

Get curious about how the locals do things. 

Eat at the stalls, head into the market and choose activities that reflect their way of life, like a traditional cooking class. You might not understand what everyone’s saying, but you’ll certainly pick up a caboodle of cultural knowledge and have a lot of fun while you’re at it. 

Ethical tourist tip #6: get involved with a good cause

If you’ve got skills and time, why not volunteer abroad to offset your journey there? There are no quick fixes to social challenges like poverty, but there are opportunities for you to make a small impact through existing community projects. Just like on our Best of Tanzania trip!

ethical tourist

Ethical tourist tip #7: dine consciously

No Big Macs, sorry. 

Speak to locals about the traditional delicacies and the best places to get them. Do some research to see if you can find a decent restaurant that supports a good cause nearby. You’ll feel much better and enjoy your meal a lot more eating there than you would in McDonald’s, trust us. 

Tagine

Ethical tourist tip #8: look after the environment

Don’t litter. Do not damage anything. Please wear reef-friendly sunscreen if you’re taking a dip in the deep blue. Enough said. 

Ethical tourist tip #9: respect the locals

Think carefully about everything you do in someone else’s backyard. Planning on wearing skimpy shorts in a majority-Muslim city? Reconsider. Assume you’ll be taking lots of photos of cute children looking sad on the street? Think whether you’d like someone to do the same to you. Bit intrusive and creepy, right? Always ask someone’s permission before you take their picture. Especially if there’s a chance that picture will end up on the Internet or social media somewhere. 

Ethical tourist tip #10: for goodness sake, don’t play with tigers

Or ride elephants for that matter. You might think that playing with “rescued” animals is okay. Sometimes it is, but the truth is, the more market there is for these activities, the more likely smugglers are to remove animals from the wild. 

If you’re really desperate to have some fun with nature’s finest creatures, look for animal rehabilitation facilities that release their critters back into the wild after treatment. 

Chitwan National Park safari

And know that any company that guarantees an interaction with any animal needs a closer look…

Nobody’s perfect

It’s true, nobody’s perfect and we all make mistakes, us included. 

But the more conscious we are of the things we’re doing while we’re away and the more we try to travel ethically, the more likely we are to make a small, positive impact on the world. 

Got any other ideas to make your next adventure more ethical? Drop us a line!

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