Traveling is great, whether it’s to the posh streets of London or the slums of Johannesburg, but there is a certain responsibility that I believe everyone should make an effort to take while abroad. Western values aren’t valued everywhere, and sometimes the best thing you can do for a local economy, isn’t the easiest or most convenient thing for you.
So here are a few tips from me about how you can travel with an eye to more social responsibility:
- Refrain from encroaching on or anything that makes a spectacle of the local wildlife. I know, seeing an elephant in the flesh is exciting, and riding one is probably a dream you’ve carried with you throughout your life – but for the most part, these animals are often treated quite cruelly. There is a sustainable way to view wildlife – there are safaris throughout Africa, you can even pay to see the wildly endangered Eastern Mountain Gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, or Uganda. You can find tour companies that operate sustainably, and a good amount of the profits go back into conservation or into supporting the local villages, so the locals don’t feel the need to poach. When I went on Safari in Tanzania I took my time in choosing a company that was run by a local, paid fair wages to his staff, and would respect the wildlife.
- Take the local transport! I’m a big believer in local transport, it not only helps your carbon footprint, but it’s a great way to experience local culture. Plus, you’ll usually leave with a badass story to tell… or one to embellish.
- Shop local. The best thing you can do while traveling is to support the local economy – it’s not to give money or biscuits to children and it’s not to volunteer for a day. Support the growth of the local economy. Instead of buying some beautifully crafted souvenir from the western store owned by some ex-pats, go to the local market, where you will for sure see the same thing, for half the price, sold to you directly from the person who crafted it. Stay at a local guesthouse! Even if that guesthouse is owned by ex-pats, they are at least creating jobs for the locals, and probably compensate them quite well (for their economy). And, if you dare, eat at the local restaurants. They usually have a plastic chair and table outside, you may question the hygiene, but it will be delicious, it will be an experience, it will be authentic… and you may spend all night on the toilet. But it’s an adventure! And it’s an adventure that makes a difference. (You can also take probiotic pills in anticipation of eating at restaurants that have less than western hygienic standards.)
- NEVER give money to children. This is something that is quite hard for me, because I feel so much sympathy for children living in desperate situations, but you aren’t helping, you’re hurting. For one thing, it encourages them to stay on the street instead of going to school, perpetuating the cycle of poverty. Another reason is that often these children don’t keep the money, and they don’t give it to their families either, there are a lot of bad people out there who take advantage of children and put them on the street – sometimes even kidnapping them – and collect the money they receive from tourists. They treat these children terribly, sometimes even going as far as blinding them or cutting off extremities so tourists feel more sympathy and are then more likely to give them money.
Travel responsibly, make a difference, make a change.
If you have any questions or comments feel free to share them below, and I will take my time to answer them.
Written by: Mollie Mac
Mollie Mac is a graduate of New York University and has traveled independently to 40 countries, always with an eye to environmental and social sustainability.