Used to think little about responsible and sustainable travel. The topic was alien to me in an uncertain way. I traveled as I was traveling – without worrying. In hindsight, every trip was a lesson. Each trip had taught me a new aspect of responsible and sustainable travel:
be it to be clear about its expectations (Greenland), the importance of language (Spain, Peru), clothing (especially Bangladesh, Myanmar / Burma), poverty and the exploitation of people (Bolivia, Nepal, India, Bangladesh), sex tourism (Thailand, Laos), cruising speed (South America), environmental impact of tourism on nature (Nepal) and the good and bad effects of tourism in general (each of my visited countries).
For me, responsible and sustainable travel was and is a continuous learning process.
Because only the differences from the individual countries, from other travelers and me, terrible reactions on my part, a lot of faux pas, the many reading of books and reports about traveling as well as conversations and feedback from people let me understand some things better.
What I soon realized was:
Table of Contents
- Everybody leaves a footprint.
- Tip # 1: Gather information about the country (and what you should consider when traveling as a woman)
- Tip 2: Make yourself aware of your expectations
- Tip 3: Learn the most important words in the national language
- 4th tip: Dress yourself appropriately
- Tip 5: Handle respectfully – you are a guest in the country
- Tip 6: take photos – but please not outrageous
- Tip 7: Be patient and always be friendly
- 8. Tip: Watch the nature
- 9th tip: how best to deal with wealth and money
- Tip 10: Volunteer Tourism – please think carefully
- Tip 11: Travel slowly – the eco-balance of transport
- Tip 12: Read, read, read – further links
Everybody leaves a footprint.
At the people. In the culture. In nature.
You should always be aware of that!
What this footprint looks like can only influence you. My tips for responsible and sustainable travel to leave as positive a footprint as possible have now been summarized.
The correct technical terms for this topic are “sustainable travel” and “sustainable tourism.” I prefer a mix of “responsibility” and “sustainability.” When it comes to responsibility, the “I” reference is given more prominence to me, and in the case of sustainability, the idea of the environment.
Tip # 1: Gather information about the country (and what you should consider when traveling as a woman)
Before traveling to an unknown country, it makes sense to learn about the country. This is not only to learn about the country’s attractions but also to find out the information needed to prepare for your trip. Everything about entry, visa and health preparation (e.,g. required vaccinations) need certain lead time.
It should also gather information about the current political situation, the population groups of the country (I am very interested in dealing with minorities, for example), language, religion and culture, especially about Do & Don’ts.
If you have some basic knowledge, you can better assess situations, get involved in new things and avoid cultural faux pas.
As a woman, of course, I am particularly interested in the position of women in society. For those who travel alone as a woman can read out hints for their actions and behavior.
Because traveling alone as a woman is different.
As a woman, there are often special behavior or clothing rules to observe. These do not necessarily have to be compulsively complied with, but they can make your life much more comfortable. Sometimes this knowledge is needed to maintain respect for culture.
For example, in Myanmar / Burma, certain religious places and rooms may only be entered by men. Or it may not be served directly to a monk by a woman (the detour via the begging bowl is added). Even the touch of a monk is not allowed to a woman. What can easily be kept on the road, leads to crowded, local transport to strange situations (because then may be required a certain seating order).
There are also unwritten “laws” with which one is confronted only as a woman. Reading between the lines may be necessary.
For example, for my dedicated guides in Bangladesh, I found it extremely uncomfortable for me to pay for the bus or food for both. Because it is not common for women to do this in the company of a male person. As a man, it’s no problem – no matter what your nationality. To spare my guides in this unpleasant situation, I secretly gave them the money in advance and let them pay.
It also makes a big difference whether you are traveling alone or with a man as a woman. But one is received openly, curiously eyed, faced with a thousand questions, much more is observed in the good (in the form of protected) as well as in the bad (considered a light victim) and you get – in my opinion – much more attention.
For example, if a man is involved, the situation changes. In 90% of the situations, attention is focused on the man. There are hardly any questions left.
Tip 2: Make yourself aware of your expectations
Being aware of your expectations beforehand and also during the journey is extremely reasonable.
It is about having adequate expectations of the trip/ trip/vacation. If you have found out the most important information (1st tip), you should be clear about the environmental conditions that await you in the destination country. For example, traveling to a developing country can not expect a steady supply of energy, wifi, and always hot water for showers. Or a room that is clean according to European standards – of course, free from insects and small animals, a western toilet, food like home or a well-developed, lumber-free motorway through the whole country.
When you are aware of the environment and situations you are in, it is easier to cope with the sub-local, perhaps unfamiliar conditions. Deviations from expectations can be accepted more easily.
My prime example of this situation is that of the long-awaited, warm shower after a multi-day / week trekking trip. When I return to the “civilization” and then, contrary to expectations, this shower does not exist due to power outage/lack of water, etc., I was very disappointed at first and was carried away by inappropriate reactions. Although I’m disappointed in the meantime, my reaction is different.
Tip 3: Learn the most important words in the national language
Even a little knowledge of the national language makes a huge difference. Engaging in the language of a country shows interest in people and also in culture. The reactions of humans change abruptly. When trading this can bring significant benefits.
But even with the language must be differentiated. There are thousands of dialects and languages spoken by minorities who are not the official language.
For example, in Peru, the official language is Spanish. Anyone who speaks little or no Spanish is definitely at a disadvantage regarding communication. Depending on where you are, the language of the population in Peru is not Spanish, but Quechua. Spanish allows for basic communication, but a few words in Quechua make a small difference.
4th tip: Dress yourself appropriately
The first impression counts. Your clothes can help you quickly assess whether you’ve dealt with a country’s usual clothing habits. I’ve never been to any country outside of Europe, where it was a common and common practice to walk around in hot pants or short shorts. Also, Spaghetti straps, a large neckline and Ringer shirts are less welcome. For me, it has to do with a sign of respect to adapt to common clothing styles. This does not mean that the country clothes should be copied 1 to 1, because this procedure may be inappropriate. It means finding mediocrity between respectful clothing and one’s own culture. The only exceptions are countries (e.,g. in Iran), where there are legally prescribed clothing regulations (for women).
In most countries it is sufficient to observe three clothing guidelines:
- keep your shoulders covered
- Pants to over the knees, best long
- prefer wide clothing to a sidecut
Those who follow these three guidelines usually will not be offensive in any way. Of course, there are country-specific differences and should be considered additionally. For example, another traveler told me that in an area of China or Japan (I can not quite remember) it was not enough to cover the shoulders, but also that the sleeves had to have a certain length.
In Bangladesh, where there are few travelers, I would advise every woman to keep the breast area covered with a scarf and to travel with a long top that reaches over the buttocks. Alone for the reason that one already receives due attention by the origin and fair skin color.
Religious sites have a special place in clothing worldwide.
Regardless of whether it is a visit to Christian churches, Buddhist temples, Muslim mosques or Jewish synagogues, attention is paid everywhere (usually to the clothing regulations described above). Only subtleties such as putting off the shoes or covering the head with a man or a woman make another difference.
The more important the religion is in a country, the more the aspect of appropriate clothing should be considered.
Tip 5: Handle respectfully – you are a guest in the country
If you want to travel and get to know another country, you should bring along two things: openness and the ability to face people, religions and traditions without any value. By that, I mean a certain kind of curiosity, honest interest and unbiased demeanor.
It does not mean that human rights violations, a disadvantaged position of women in society or certain traditions should be welcomed or accepted merely. But those who try to get to know people and their culture with criticism and disregard of existing values will not learn much. Because it is first convergence and mutual acceptance. If you are lucky, then you may ask questions. Or maybe get it in return, because people want to find out for themselves why this is different for “us.”
The knowledge of cultural behaviors is another cornerstone to behave respectfully as a guest in the country. For example, in all Asian countries it is forbidden to point the soles of the feet in the direction of a person, the head of a person should not be touched, instead of greeting each other, a spoken greeting suffices, the word thank you is usually sparser The use of the left hand should be omitted when eating, handing over or accepting things (because the left hand is used for cleaning after using the toilet).
Even gestures have different meanings in many countries. A wrongly used gesture can annoy people without knowing it. Or your understanding is limited because you do not understand the gesture.
- For example, it is common that nodding is understood as an affirmative. In most Asian countries, on the other hand, the head is slightly bounced back and forth for a yes.
- It is inappropriate to point your finger at a person in Asia. Instead, the entire hand is waved in the direction of the person.
- Whoever wishes to wave a person around while moving his palm upwards with his palm towards the palm of his hand will achieve the opposite in some countries. Because there it may be usual to let the palm look down
With care, political or cultural questions should also be asked. The own opinion should be expressed only with restraint.
But those who are respectful, friendly, have time, and a little bit of luck may be rewarded with the best experiences of travel: experiences in the form of true hospitality. Mutual expectations should be estimated and considered in advance.
Tip 6: take photos – but please not outrageous
A special topic of respectful action is that of photographing. Who wants to photograph people, should ask for permission. Because it is extremely unpleasant without consent to be photographed – whether from a distance or in close-up.
Since mobile phones with camera are available in most countries, it comes more and more to a balanced relationship. Especially in India, it is now very common to be part of a snapshot with or without consent.
Those who do not want to be photographed show this, though not through words through body language. The wordless message should also be respected.
It is also worth noting that the photographing of certain religious sites or even ceremonies (e.,g. burials in India) is forbidden or frowned upon. If you are unsure, you should ask in case of doubt.
The advantage of traveling with an older camera
Since I used to travel with a very cheap and older camera, I have children my camera in suitable situations to take pictures. In addition to photos of the sky, chickens, trees I also got photos of people who I would not have dared to photograph. The children photographed themselves, their uncles and aunts, parents and grandparents, me alone and me with them. Each time, this resulted in a funny situation with a pleasant atmosphere.
Tip 7: Be patient and always be friendly
The, in my opinion, the greatest and most difficult virtue of traveling is that of patience.
In not all countries of the world do people have the same sense of time as in Central Europe, where punctuality and speed are of great importance? With local buses in Peru or Bolivia, it can take two hours before the bus finally leaves after scheduled departure time.
But also asking for information, searching for suitable means of transport or acting becomes more promising with an honest smile, patience and friendliness. Those who are hectic and do not compare quality and prices, regardless of whether goods or services will be annoyed in most cases later. Toughness often pays off. Maintaining peace of mind is easier on some days than on others.
A travel anode I experienced at the Indian / Nepalese border station in Sunauli. My acquaintances had all risen on the bus to Kathmandu. I stayed alone at the border post at half-past five in the morning. I wanted to go to Lumbini. For that, I had to go to the next place to take the bus from there. Nobody wanted to give me information. Instead, I was surrounded by a bunch of rickshaws and taxi drivers who assured me that there was no bus now. I just waited and let her talk. When a bus started, the bus driver took pity on me and picked me up. The bad part: I was standing next to the right bus the whole time. But no one had told me. But my patience and tenacity had finally paid off.
8. Tip: Watch the nature
That should be a matter of course – no matter in which country – be. But it is not about taking his garbage and above all to make none. It’s also about sparing with water (when showering) in water-poor areas or pay attention to how it is heated (wood/ gas/electricity?). It is often advisable to take a shower in the afternoon when the water is heated up with solar energy instead of in the evening.
It is about staying on the trails while hiking to avoid destroying vegetation.
Or to think about waste disposal in the respective country. Because there is not everywhere such a great supply of garbage as in Europe. Anyone who asks in some countries where and how batteries are disposed of will often be faced with a frown.
“Does not exist,” may be an answer. Therefore, if possible, only rechargeable batteries or rechargeable batteries should be used.
9th tip: how best to deal with wealth and money
The issue of dealing well with money has several facets: not to showcase its wealth, to pay reasonable prices, to give appropriate tips and donations, to spend money in different places and to give as much as possible to the local population. To understand what I mean, please read on.
With two Dutchmen, with whom I was traveling in Bolivia, I had a pretty mean game. We found tourists along the way and had fun together “about how they got their money out of their pants.” So we called it, for example, if a fat wallet in the back pocket of the pants was to see or they carried a camera bag with at least five lenses with him. They were people who wanted or unwilling to see clearly where the “coal” is at home. We were convinced that the “money-hungry tourists” would be far more likely to be robbed than we were.
Well, of course, it can be very different … Exceptions confirm the rule.
But in order not to raise false expectations and increase his safety, the “own wealth” as little as possible should be put on display.
That’s one of the reasons why I still prefer travel books or roadmaps in paper form to various electronic aids. In a developing country, I find it extremely uncomfortable with a modern smartphone that guides you through the streets by GPS. Or squeeze in the local bus between people, goods and chickens on the laptop or tablet to read.
In some countries, it is basically enough to come from the West. The West is equated with wealth. It does not matter if this person is rich in the respective country or not.
However, to avoid straining exactly this prejudice, appropriate handling of money is required. It means finding the local prices as fast as possible to negotiate either this or a price level of 10% or 20% more. Because without negotiation, it can otherwise happen to pay three to five times the price. Anyone who pays that price without batting an eyelash, and in fact a few people (especially those who think that it’s much cheaper than at home) wakes false expectations.
But it is also important to know the prices in the opposite situation. Because sometimes it happens that the local price is offered right from the start. If you want to negotiate in this situation, it annoys people.
If it is common in the country to tip, then you should do so. Sometimes the employees need a tip!
But who gives with a bill of 5 € not 50 cents, but 5 € tip, raises false expectations. For 5 € can be equivalent to a wage for several days in some countries. That such a spin-on with money leads to a wrong conclusion is not surprising.
Where his money is spent should be considered as well. Those who live in hotel chains or all-inclusive facilities largely support foreign companies with their money. The local population does not benefit from the expenses. Therefore, it is better to leave your money for accommodation in small family run guest houses or hostels and eat in small restaurants or snack bars. If possible, souvenirs should be bought in different places and shops. Distribute your expenses so that many people benefit!
Another important point of the issue of the correct handling of money is that of donated or donated money. Giving money to begging children is an absolute no-go. I would also advise against distributing candies, pens or pencils. Because instead of going to school, they will instead rather pursue the lucrative business of begging. In my opinion, any direct donation to children – of any kind – has this negative effect. This can be seen most clearly in very touristy places.
Begging women with babies or small children is a widespread phenomenon in tourist areas. These usually ask first for milk and then for money. It seems to be the more effective strategy. Those who buy products for them should remember that they usually exchange the purchased products for money. It is therefore recommended to open the packaging before handing over. Those who do this will be able to tell from their reaction whether they need the goods. Try it out!
If you do not want to be dissuaded from bringing in donations, you should distribute them in the most untouristic places possible. Therefore, think in advance, if you ever come to little-visited places. It is best, of course, to donate money or goods directly to aid organizations or schools.
In guidebooks, it is also recommended that donations in kind such as school supplies are better to buy locally instead of bringing. Sometimes things from other countries are not used at all because of their special features.
Tip 10: Volunteer Tourism – please think carefully
I’m going to save the world for a few days because I do not have time. – Sure, it’s a good thing to volunteer. But the fine line between good and good is narrow.
One distinction that has been established over the past year is the distinction between volunteering and voluntary tourism. Volunteering usually takes place in a period of 6 to 12 months. The focus is on supporting a specific service project for a specific period. Voluntourism programs combine social commitment in an aid project with included excursion offers. The period is usually shorter and they can be booked as a package holiday in the all-inclusive package.
But even as an individual tourist, short-term assistance in local projects is possible and often easy to organize. In Asia, I met many people who worked in orphanages or retirement homes – all organized on their initiative. At the Mother House in Kolkata, India, participation is only possible for a single day. Prerequisite for this is registration the day before directly in the Mother House.
But in all the enthusiasm, the decision should always be well considered where and how to engage socially. The selection of a suitable activity, an appropriate period of support and critical questioning of the organization should always be included in the voluntary work deliberations.
Because demand generates offers.
And in several directions: in addition to the commercialization of volunteering by travel agencies and the emergence of their volunteer travel literature developed in parallel in several countries offers to give the mass of volunteers at all a place to get involved.
Orphan tourism – orphan tourism is the negative keyword and prime example. Orphanages where children live, who are well relatives and artificially created.
Orphanages are not a tourist attraction and not the right place for a quick break. It is not without good reason that reputable providers no longer offer volunteer work in orphanages. Who wants to work with children, should take time and not “pass by.”
Tip 11: Travel slowly – the eco-balance of transport
The share of tourism in global greenhouse gas emissions is around 5%. Around three-quarters of this is caused by the means of transport during arrival and departure. Tourism contributes significantly to global warming. Main climate killer is the plane. In descending order follows the car, the bus and the train.
The best climate contribution would be to do without flies all together.
Honestly – for me an unimaginable idea. Far too much it draws me into the wide world.
So what to do?
- fly as little as possible and stay as long as possible
- Avoid short-haul flights and instead, take the bus or train
- Participate in climate protection contributions to compensate for greenhouse gases
- buy and eat as many regional products as possible
- If you would like to receive more detailed information on several topics that I have addressed, I recommend that you read on the homepage of the Naturefriends International in the category ” Sustainable Tourism.” There are many different aspects taken up: barrier-free travel, women in tourism, “green” outdoor clothing, an explanation of the quality labels in the sustainable tourism sector and much, much more. Especially worth reading is the brochure ” Traveling with Respect,” which is provided free of charge in the download area.
- Great tips and advice on environmental issues, especially regarding hiking and trekking, are available at the Kathmandu Environmental Project Education Project.
- Entertaining and interesting, Tourism Transparency has worked up guidelines for tourists visiting Myanmar / Burma. The comic form explains Dos & Donuts for Tourists. The instructions can be used worldwide with only a few exceptions!