Being a Responsible Traveller


By Ama H. Vanniarachchy

Many people love to travel. One reason for this could be that people love to take a break from their daily routine, enjoy time with family or friends. Some love to travel alone, keeping it closer to nature and enjoying solo time. No matter what your travel preferences are, you must keep in mind that travelling can cause harm to the places you travel, unless you are a responsible traveller. By being a responsible traveller, you can always cause minimal damage to the culture, locals and to the environment that you are travelling into. 

What does it mean to be a responsible traveller? It means having the right attitude and making the right choices. You must always remember that when you travel you are kind of invading a new place, a new environment and a new culture. Hence having the right attitude, being sensitive about other cultures, and being sensitive to nature is crucial. You must also remember that you are entering the others’ territories (this includes humans and animals of the new place), and it is a must to respect them. You must not cause any damage to that environment, disturb the locals and disrespect local cultures. Some have the impression that when you travel, you are entitled and have the liberty to be who you are; but, this attitude is wrong. You are not entitled, nor do you have the liberty to be who you are when you travel as you must abide by the rules, regulations, ethics and policies in those areas, locals and must cause zero damage to the natural environment. 

In recent times, we have seen many local travellers behaving irresponsibly and causing severe harm to the natural environment in places like Yala and other safari places. Some travellers mock the wild animals, follow them, disturb their peace and cause great stress to them. Some local travellers, we witnessed last month, have left piles of garbage in Sri Pada while travelling and some were even  with drugs.

Many incidents are reported where local travellers go hunting and demand bushmeat from locals. These are extremely damaging to the local environment. 

There have also been reported incidents of foreign travellers behaviour that has caused disrespect to the local culture such as posing for photographs by touching and sitting on or beside Buddha statues and posing for photographs in an inappropriate manner disrespectful to the local cultures. 

Here are a few tips to be a responsible traveller;

•    Before you leave home, study the places that you will travel to and read about the rules, regulations, ethics and cultures. Learn a few keywords of the language, religion, cultures and local rules and values. 

•    Do some background research about what is appropriate behaviour and body language.

•    Support locally owned businesses, hotels, restaurants and other local services including eating local food and beverages. Support public transport, hire a bike or walk whenever convenient, try to connect with the local people and get to know the local environments. 

•    It is best not to eat in restaurants, shops and stores, and not to visit shows, markets, zoos that promote animal cruelty and exploitation of animals. 

•    Shop from local and traditional artisans. Promote traditional and eco-friendly locally made products. By doing so you help keep alive traditional crafts and support local economies. 

•    Pay attention to what you wear when travelling. It is always advisable to dress respectfully with an awareness of local cultures, values and standards. Dress modestly if you visit religious places or culturally important places in local cultures. In many parts of the world, wearing shorts and t-shirts are not considered appropriate, and in many parts of middle-Asia and south Asia, women are expected to dress modestly. As travellers, you cannot battle these local cultural attitudes. In countries such as Iran, women travellers must obey their local dress codes by wearing a headscarf. In Bali, women are expected to wear a long skirt and in Thailand, women travellers must cover their knees and shoulders when entering a temple. In Sri Lanka travellers are expected to wear something below the knees when visiting temples such as the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy. It is a local tradition in Sri Lanka to remove footwear when entering a temple. When visiting mosques, both men and women should wear long pants and long-sleeved tops and women should wear a headscarf.

•    Find out if it is alright to wear swimwear on certain beaches, hotels, pools and public bathing places. 

•    Photography and videos are not allowed at certain places. Therefore, always ask before photographing or videoing places or people. If it is required, make sure to take permission from the relevant authorities. It is always nice to send them back copies. 

•    Be careful when giving gifts or money to beggars and to local communities. Check with the authorities before doing so. 

•    Always carry a garbage bag while travelling, and make sure not to leave anything in the places you go, unless it is a garbage collecting place. Take out all you take in.

•    Pack Reusable Bags: Throw a couple of reusable cloth bags in your luggage when heading off on a trip and bring them to the shops and markets. Refuse plastic bags when offered at shops.

•    Avoid buying plastic water bottles again and again while travelling. Opt for refilling your reusable water bottles. 

•    When you are bathing in natural water streams, lakes and ponds, be considerate not to use soaps and shampoos that can release chemicals that are harmful to nature. 

•    Make minimal noise: Do not disturb the animals and do not damage the flora and fauna. Do not use flashes, fire and make loud noises that cause fear, and distress to animals. 

•    Walk on The Path: Use the already used trial. Do not go out of the way and damage the flora and fauna. 

•    Take it all away with you: Whatever waste you bring into the forest or natural environment, make sure you pack it out with you. This includes toilet paper.

•    Bathroom etiquette: If there isn’t an established toilet, make sure you do your “number 2” at least 200 feet from a water source. Dig a hole around 8 inches deep, deposit the matter, and bury it.

•    Leave it alone: Don’t bring shells back from the beach, plants from the forest and definitely don’t bring any artefacts with you.

•    Don’t deface property: Whether manmade or natural, do not carve your name or write anything – anywhere.

•    Leave only footprints and take back nothing, expect for memories.

Remember that over-tourism is a global issue now. Many natural and cultural landscapes are now suffering from this problem. 

Also, remember that travelling is not lodging at fancy or high-end hotels; always opt for sustainable travelling and mind your carbon footprint. Choose eco-friendly lodging.