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How to be an Ethical Traveler.

Most of us live ethically without much consideration. In our family relationships, friendships, occupations, extracurricular activities, and frequent social settings, we have adjusted to the social norms and values already established. There are certain unspoken rules we govern ourselves by. The Golden Rule is one we have learned from childhood. "Do unto others..."Most of us follow that without second thought.

But travel is different. Right? I mean... We are going on vacation to escape, to break away from the routine. To get away from the rules. It's okay to just "be yourself." And while all of those ideas are true, the trip will be more enjoyable for you and everyone else, if you will keep a few thoughts in mind as you travel. The following are a few ethical travel habits that will help you navigate a successful journey.

BE KIND... Kindness is a universal language. It doesn't matter where you travel, kindness is easily recognized and most often reciprocated. We have often found that locals, even in destinations with a reputation for not being hospitable to tourists, are usually friendly and receptive when we approach with a humble and polite attitude. So, be kind to those you encounter, and be kind to those you are traveling with. The trip will produce lasting positive memories when you are considerate of the feelings of those around you.

BE PATIENT... A basic rule of travel is, "Things will not go as planned." Inevitably, something will go wrong. Someone will get sick. A reservation will be cancelled. Traffic will keep you from reaching a destination on time. The weather will shift. Etc... If you want to be a good traveler, learn to enjoy the journey. Each detail that happens is part of the story that will be remembered when you get home. You want those memories to be warm and impactful. So, stay cool, create positive vibes, say a prayer, take a deep breath, and practice patience.

RESPECT NATURE... A big part of our travels is exploring the natural wonders of the world. Most destinations with beautiful scenic views have natural habitats that the locals are working hard to preserve. It is disrespectful to desecrate or pollute that habitat in any way. Someone once said, "When you go, leave only footprints." That means more than just making sure you don't leave trash behind. Study before you arrive or ask the locals in the area about what is acceptable and not acceptable in the natural environment. For example, when we were in Hawaii, we learned while snorkeling, there were certain, greenish rocks leading to the water that we needed to avoid stepping on. During low tide, those rocks were in the walking path, but in high tide, those rocks were completely under water and had algae that was important to preserving the fish and turtles that live in the area. Stepping on them in low tide could kill the algae and damage the ecosystem. That is simple, but often, it is the little things that make a huge difference.

RESPECT WILDLIFE... This should not have to be written. However, I am always surprised at the number of people who have very little situational awareness when traveling. When visiting Yellowstone National Park, it was crazy how many people would try to stand right next to the bison to take a picture or get a little closer to the bears. It's a 2-ton animal with horns. Or, that's a man-eating grizzly bear. Sometimes I just have to ask, "why," while shaking my head in unbelief. The reality is that many animals have gotten used to being around people, but they are not tame or domesticated. They are still very much... Wild. Wild means unpredictable, and unpredictable means dangerous. So, if posted, don't feed the animals. Stay the recommended distance from each animal. Don't infringe on their habitats. If they have small animals with them, stay away completely, as most animals are very protective of their young. And here's a great tip... If you need to get closer for better photos, invest in a different camera lens.

RESPECT LOCAL LAWS... Remember you are not home, but you are near someone else's home. Respect local laws and policies, knowing that although you may not understand why they are in place, they are probably there for good reason. You may not like that the speed limit is 35mph when it would be 55mph at home, but just relax and obey it anyway. The trip will be much better without getting a large ticket or fine, and the slower pace may just be what you needed. Following the rules is not always fun, but when you travel, it's a good practice. Especially because, depending on where you travel, the consequences for breaking the rules can be a lot harsher than you'd expect. Better to safe than sorry.

BE ADVENTUROUS, NOT STUPID... It's okay to explore. Most of us have that natural desire to occasionally throw caution to the wind and feel bold in facing the unknown. There is nothing wrong with that sense of fearlessness that pushes us to the edge and encourages us to have experiences most would consider impossible. However, taking a picture mere centimeters from a cliff with a 2,000-foot drop is not the same as participating in an extreme sport. The picture will look just as good from a few feet away, without the risk of you dying. Use caution and wisdom in your travels. Don't put yourself or others at risk by trying to push the envelope too far. Respect warnings or flags on beaches. Don't wander off into restricted areas on hikes. And know and be willing to admit your physical limitations. Chase adventure, but do it responsibly.

KNOW THE DANGERS OF THE AREA... Research ahead of time to know the local dangers. Know which trails are probably out of your or your groups physical capabilities. Know what areas are high in crime and should be avoided. Know which areas you need to plan to have food, water, bug spray, safety gear, or first aid kits. Know areas of extreme temperature changes or weather extreme patterns. Know unexpected dangers. In one place we traveled, one of the number one causes of deaths to tourists was coconuts falling from the trees. That is great information to have before you arrive. Researching your intended destinations can keep you safe.

KNOW WHAT TO WEAR... Quick research ahead of your trip will tell you what clothes are recommended for the environment you're traveling to. Comfort is a concern. If you are uncomfortable, you will most likely be irritable. Also, getting sores, blisters, or other injuries will affect how well you travel. Being too hot or cold makes a difference. So, prepare ahead of time. Make sure you have the right shoes, clothes, and gear for every activity you plan to do.

EAT AND SHOP LOCAL... When possible, it is a good habit to support the local economy and people by eating and shopping non-chain places. Most of the places we have traveled, the locals are very appreciative when you visit their establishments. When visiting, remember all the above rules. Be patient. Be kind. Be polite. Also, if tipping is acceptable, make sure to leave a decent one.

ASK THE LOCALS... One of our favorite things to do is ask the locals their favorite places to eat and activities to do. Ask them where they like to hang out and why. You will find some pretty cool places and experiences off the travel brochures by simply communicating with the people who know the area well. Naturally, do not be naive. Make sure you are talking to people who look trustworthy. And we never go somewhere isolated based on one person's recommendation. As a general rule, we only try a place off the beaten path if it has been repeatedly mentioned by most of the locals we talk with.

WAIT YOUR TURN... Back to the patience thing. Don't get entitled. Don't push past others who are waiting so you can have your turn quickly. We see this often when people are trying to take in a certain view or get to a designated spot to take a picture. Others have been patiently waiting their turn, and inevitably, someone else jumps the line and pushes in like they own the place. Yeah... Don't be that guy. Just don't!

HAVE REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS... Plan ahead. Have basic, reasonable expectations for yourself and those you are traveling with. Make sure everyone is in agreement with the pace of the trip, the activities, the locations, the food, etc. Traveling in a group is about give and take. Some items on the agenda may be your favorite thing to do, while other items you may not personally enjoy as much. Just remember it will usually be that way for everyone. Suck it up and make the most of it. Work to appreciate each other just as much as the location, and the journey will be much more enjoyable.

BE SPONTANEOUS... I know. I know. I just said, plan ahead and have reasonable expectations. However, included in your itinerary should be some time to enjoy the spontaneity of the vacation. Don't be so rigid with the schedule that there is absolutely no time to enjoy the simple pleasures or moments that will arise. You never know what you will find that you didn't know existed before you got there. It's okay to go with the flow and enjoy the adventure.

WORK WITHIN YOUR BUDGET... Don't expect something for nothing. The prices at most places have been competitively set before you arrived. Don't haggle locals over prices or tell them they are "ridiculous" for what they charge. If you don't like the prices, just avoid the place. Travel to places you can afford, so you aren't stressed the entire time about the cost of traveling. It's crazy to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to take a vacation and then disgracefully haggle a local over a few dollars. Also, while traveling in Guatemala, bartering over price was part of the grind. It is like that in some parts of the world. It's okay to negotiate a better price, as that is usually a fun part of the song and dance between local and tourist. The local will usually start off the price extremely high, knowing that unless you are completely naive, you will barter them down. It is exciting. However, there comes a point when the local can really go no further and make a profit. Don't continue to haggle or 1-5 dollars just to "win" the negotiation. That amount of money probably doesn't mean that much to you, but in less privileged economies, it could go a really long way. It means much more to them. Be considerate of that!

CONSIDER CHILDREN... Specifically, your children if you have them. Don't allow them to terrorize local establishments or people. Pay attention and keep them safe. Keep them respectful of others. Make sure they are respectful of personal boundaries. Don't let them make unnecessary messes that you don't intend to clean up. Of course, kids will be kids, and for the most part, everyone is aware and accepting of that fact. But just remember that although you may be on vacation, but you are not on vacation from being a responsible parent.

These are just a few tips that will help you be an ethical traveler. I am sure there are many more. I am also certain that being an ethical traveler will make your trips smoother and more memorable for everyone, allowing you to truly enjoy the journey.


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Jun 15, 2023

An excellent article, well written, with great tips and reminders.

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