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  • Responsible travel in developing countries

    photo by Luke PartridgeWe all want to travel responsibly, reduce our carbon footprints, preserve the environment and the attractions we like so that we’ll have something to return to even decades after our visit. Responsible travel is a matter of common sense, usually, but sometimes it can be tricky.

    What happens when we travel to places that are considerably less wealthy or economically developed than out home countries? Visiting poverty-stricken areas can land you with some dilemmas as to how you can enjoy the sights without feeling guilty, and how to help out without being overbearing. If you’ve ever been in this situation, here are some tips for responsible travel in developing countries.

    Giving and sharing

    Begging and homelessness are big problems in many poor countries, and if you look like a tourist, many people will assume that you are also rich. Regardless of how guilty you feel, giving money to beggars can encourage the begging culture, and often it is better to encourage local tourist-based economies by buying crafts, souvenirs, street food or giving to street entertainers. However, your spare change could be a big help to someone who genuinely needs it, so there is no easy answer to this problem.

    Spending money

    photo by Brian Lary

    Of course you will end up spending money when you travel, there’s no way around this. But if you want to help make a difference, however insignificant it might be, consider carefully where you spend your money.

    Using local services and buying local goods (going to markets, buying souvenirs from local craftspeople, etc) is a much bigger push to the local economy than dining at McDonald’s and spending your money at chain stores.

    Volunteering

    Volunteering is not a good idea only if you want to travel without spending too much money or because you want to list some exciting activities in your resume. Volunteering is worth it only if you can teach some valuable skills to the communities where you will be placed. Be realistic – if you are not absolutely sure your skills are needed, it’s better if you go on a regular trip and just help by being a responsible traveler.

    Paying a little more

    Because of low incomes in some countries, the mere fact that you can afford to travel will make you look rich. In some travel destinations, it is not uncommon that tourists should be required to pay more (more expensive entry fees to attractions, sometimes even higher charges at restaurants, etc). Don’t automatically assume that people are trying to cheat you – inform yourself about tourism practices at your destination, and if overcharging of foreigners is normal, then you’ll just have to tough it out.

    Blending in

    photo by Aneta Blaszczyk

    Respecting local customs is respectful, and while you don’t have to adhere to all of them, this is a great way of blending in and experiencing the local culture. Keep an open mind and don’t refuse to do something the local way just because you’re not used to it.

    Don’t be (and definitely don’t act) squeamish about things like table manners, crowded local buses, hygiene, and even if you can’t help it, try to refuse politely so as not to offend anyone.

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