Travel is back! But to keep it that way, we need to be responsible with this privilege. Here’s how.
Just as much as we visit new and old favorite places for the landscape, part of what makes travel so enriching is also the people we meet whose cultures we get a fleeting glimpse of… which is why it’s important to also be a socially responsible traveler. Here are ways you can get more out of every trip without taking a thing from anyone else.
What does it mean to be a socially responsible traveler?
Seeking cultural understanding. But do so respectfully. Ask considerate questions, being careful not to stereotype or tokenize. Understand that American ideologies or ways of life are not universal, or better than how things are done in another country, and approach your experience with an open mind and adaptability. For example, if tipping is frowned upon, as it is in Europe, just don’t do it, despite your instincts. Your good intentions can be perceived as disrespectful and strong-arming, and following the norms of the culture you’re immersed in is just always best practice.
Remembering that your glimpse is a privilege - not a spectacle. When you’re invited to take an intimate peek at how life is lived elsewhere, be conscious of the fact that it is an honor, and what may be novel to you is everyday and commonplace to them. Be respectful and open-minded about customs that may be different from what you’re accustomed to, and try not to gawk at things you may consider foreign. And most important, don’t forget that just because things aren’t done the way we’re used to in the States, doesn’t mean our way is “better.”
Taking a community approach. Remember that when you go to a destination, you’re entering someone’s home. Treat it with respect, as if you were at a friend’s house… because ultimately, you are. Whether it’s a resort, a jungle, or a beach, real people spend the majority of their lives there, and the warmth of their continued welcome depends on the care you take while there. So pick up after yourself, follow recycling and waste disposal guidelines, and be kind to the place you’re in.
Caring for universal health. Getting vaccinated and wearing your mask isn’t just about you. It’s about protecting the people you come into contact with. Don’t ever forget that not everyone’s COVID-19 risk factors are obvious and that not everyone has the access to medications and vaccines that we do. This is especially important around hotel and park staff and other guests while traveling, so just take precautions to ensure that you’re catering to the lowest common denominator, for the health and safety of all. A mask may be a minor inconvenience to you, but if you’re an asymptomatic carrier, even if you’ve been vaccinated, it could be the difference between life or death for high-risk individuals, like the elderly parents the staff might go home to see.
Championing responsible travel. Lead by example, first and foremost, but also, don’t be shy about getting others to jump on this bandwagon. As Bryan Kinkade, the Vice President and publisher of AFAR has said, “the pent-up demand is real and means the travel industry needs to generate awareness and engage travelers now.”
Diversity is important. Open-mindedness and respect are critical. From it comes understanding, and from understanding comes connection… and small, incremental shifts toward achieving world peace. It’s in your power to play a role in that simply by being a responsible traveler. And if that’s not social responsibility, I don’t know what is.