When I consider my trip, it’s important to me that I try to travel responsibly, without doing too much harm in the places that I visit.
It can be tricky. When you’re in a new place trying to figure out all the rules it can be so easy to get caught up in the excitement of haggling and become vicious, perhaps forcing a seller desperate for a sale to go lower than he should, or to feel bad for the begging child and give them money, without stopping to wonder if maybe they’re being kept out of school to do this. Maybe you saw the salesman as just another person trying to scam you out of your money by inflating prices (and of course they exist) without considering that he is doing his job, trying to make a living, and probably makes much less than you. And of course you feel bad for the children, and it hurts to turn them down time and time again, and you don’t want to think of a mother who would purposely keep her kids out of school. Not that I can judge the mothers too much either; I don’t know anything about their situations.
But there are all sorts of landmines like this. I believe it’s important to try and find out about the reality behind such situations in order to be prepared. Of course, each person must choose for themselves what they will and won’t do, but in order to make an informed decision they have to know these things.
Slightly more tricky is when a country has practices you really don’t agree with. You can choose not to go to the country, and many do, or you can choose not to mention it so that you don’t start a fight. These are good options that many people take. However, if you do want to discuss it, it should be handled properly (and be careful in countries where voicing a negative opinion may get you into a lot of trouble!) This is really a general life rule more than anything, but yelling at people and accusing them of being horrible people never accomplishes anything. Now, this is hard because different cultures have different rules of communication, but it’s much better to try and approach the topic as trying to learn their point of view and share your own. Even if you have to stop for a bit to calm down and then continue later. It may not change anybody’s mind, but both sides may understand each other a little more, and you never know!
There are other aspects to travelling responsibly that I could go into, but the most important thing is to keep in mind that you are a visitor and to try to do more good than harm. And if you do make a mistake somewhere along the way, I believe it’s equally important to forgive yourself for it, try to learn from it, and do better next time. After all, travel is all about learning and growing as a person, at least to me.
Shortly after I published this, I came across this National Geographic article, which covers some other aspects of travelling responsibly better than I ever could. Check it out!