How to Be a Better Tourist While Traveling Abroad
In all fairness, 2021 seems to be no more than a slight improvement over 2020. At least when it comes to international travel. Still, more and more of us travelers understand that having an adventure doesn't have to include flying halfway across the world. In fact, many of us have been exploring the world from the comfort of our own homes.
But, as the possibility of getting back on the road comes closer to reality, many of us find ourselves thinking: how can I be a better tourist when traveling abroad? After all, weren't we all obsessed with those reports about Venice's canals benefiting from the lack of tourism last year?
So, what is it that we can do to be better tourists when we're abroad? Let's look at a few options.
Rethinking Our Schedule
Most people take one or two big vacations per year and use them to visit faraway places. And, considering how difficult it can be to save up for a holiday and how much planning a week-long trip can take, that's pretty logical.
But here's the thing. Even if we offset our carbon footprint and use eco-friendly practices, we're still (unwillingly) contributing to the many problems of tourism. But does that mean that we should just settle for seeing less? Or is there a way to explore the world while minimizing our environmental impact?
Well, it is possible to check off (most of) the destinations on our bucket lists. And that's making schedule changes.
You see, by choosing to batch our travels in a way that allows us to only take one flight then use more energy-efficient transportation methods – like cycling – we're already doing something beneficial for the environment. Add to this the fact that immersive travel does a far better job at supporting local communities, and you have a win-win situation. And sure, getting a month off from work and saving up for an epic trip does take effort. But in the end, it's more than worth the work.
Doing Better Research
One of the common problems of traveling abroad is that we tend to focus on our experiences. And that's perfectly normal. But the thing is, our adventures aren't just a rite of passage for us. They can also have a profound impact on the people whose countries we visit.
For this reason, us travelers need to become better at research.
For example, if we're traveling to a Spanish-speaking country, we should make an effort to learn some Spanish phrases. This will make it easier for us to communicate with the locals (without them having to do all the heavy lifting).
Or, if we're going to an Asian country, we might find ourselves puzzled by the customs which are different than our own. Still, knowing and following them goes to show that we respect our hosts. Moreover, it shows that we're considerate enough not to cause the people around us distress (however unintentionally).
Even something as simple as dressing to fit in with the people around us can go a long way.
Does that mean we need to wear traditional clothing or buy a whole new wardrobe for our travels? Absolutely not. But making sure that we're not standing out and being respectful of relevant customs does send the message that we're not just another obnoxious tourist but someone genuinely interested in learning about a country's culture.
Supporting Local Businesses
One of the easiest mistakes to make when traveling abroad is falling into the trap of familiarity.
Yes, we might find comfort in the fact that we know precisely what to order when at a Starbucks. Still, passing up the opportunity to eat some genuine "Cacio e pepe" or gelato when in Rome isn't just a culinary travesty. It's also failing to support local businesses that make tourism worth it to the local population.
So, the next time you're abroad, think about how you can spend your money and lend your support where it matters.
For some of us, that will mean visiting the local farmers' market instead of a Tesco. Or, it might mean staying at a local B&B instead of an international chain. The choice is entirely up to you. What matters most is that we make an effort.
Small Considerations That Go a Long Way
Finally, we all must understand that being a better tourist doesn't have to mean making sacrifices.
After all, if someone cannot stay at a place where the staff doesn't speak English or take a month off from work, they don't have to stay home. But, they should try to make an effort to be a better tourist whenever they can. This can be as simple as having local currency on hand or practicing basic travel etiquette. Being a good tourist can even mean being mindful of how we view and interact with wildlife.
In the end, there are no rules to exploring our wonderful world. Except for, maybe, that we should do our best to make our impact as positive as possible. Sure, that may not mean making our overseas trip carbon-neutral or becoming an integral part of a community. But there's plenty of GOOD we can do while we're working up towards those goals.