5 Steps to Responsible Travel
1. Remember you're a guest
Don't forget, this country is someone's home. It doesn't exist as poverty porn or as your personal party island. It might be popular with tourists but that doesn't mean the place is there for tourists. Real people are living their lives around you. Try to see the country for what it is through their eyes. Be conscious about considering how your actions and purchases affect them. Don't intrude, and ask permission to take photos or enter homes.
2. What's good for the goose isn't good for the gander
As we touched on in point 1, you're a guest in this country and you should act like one. Just because others drive dangerously or litter does not mean you have the right to contribute to these problems. Tourists should only be a positive and enriching experience for locals, and you shouldn't be leaving the country any worse than before you arrived. If you're going somewhere with poor sanitation, make eco-friendly packing decisions (a lot of our toiletries pollute water systems) and try to set the best example for picking up rubbish and disposing of it correctly.
3. Support small business
Choose to help the little guy whenever you can and avoid falling into tourist traps. Your patronage doesn't mean much to a large corporation, but it could mean everything to a small business owner who might turn a profit that day. Choose roadside stalls over supermarkets, buy your souvenirs from street hawkers over large corporate chains. Make you purchase meaningful!
4. Follow cultural norms
Make sure you've researched cultural dress expectations and basic etiquette before you arrive in-country. If you're going to an Eastern country, you probably have to cover your knees and shoulders. Know how to greet people and say thank you, and whether it's appropriate to shake hands. In a lot of cultures men and women shouldn't touch or even make direct eye contact. Know whether to haggle or not. These little things can make the big difference in how locals perceive tourists and whether the experience is mutually positive or not.
5. Seek businesses doing good
Travelling is basically one big spending spree. As we're away from our home and possessions, we essentially have to pay for everything all day long. This is a good chance to direct your money towards those that do good in the world and boycott damaging practices. Search for companies that have environmentally friendly or responsible socio-economic policies (bonus points if you can get both in one!). Read labels for the vegan products with less harmful chemicals. Spring for an eco-hotel if you have the dosh. Patronise social enterprise cafes (Friends Restaurant in Phnom Penh springs to mind). Journey out to volunteer at animal rescue sanctuaries. Pay extra for ethical tour companies. Buy your gifts direct from Fair Trade factories.
When setting foot in someone else's home, remember your anonymity and distance from home does not exclude you from the repercussions of your actions. Your pleases and thank yous can go a long way. The world is watching!