In our many years of traveling and living abroad, we’ve seen all too often well-intended travellers leaving a negative footprint on the countries they visit. What we came to realise though, these curious adventurers were not intentionally trying to be harmful, they just were ignorant to the fact they were being dicks. So we decided to make it a little easier for our adventurous friends by compiling our top 5 points on compassionate travelling. We’ve creatively called it:
“Animal Allies Abroad’s top 5 ways to not be a dick while traveling”
1- Say no to animal exploitation:
“..Well darr” we hear you say, but you’d be surprised how many people are STILL riding elephants, taking photos with tigers or swimming with dolphins. They seem like the obvious ones, but there are others you need to look out for such as crocodile farms, religious bird cages and monkey shows.
There is a dark side of animal tourism, your 5-minute elephant ride or 3-second tiger selfie means a lifetime of brutal training and cruelty for the animals. Elephants are trained using the method called “Pajaan” or “the crush” and tigers are drugged and sedated with all their teeth hacked out, just to name a few.
So remember, if you have to stop and think if this is cruel or unethical, you probably already have your answer.
2- Children are NOT tourist attractions: Living in Asia we are constantly asked “What’s a good orphanage we can visit?” or “I want to go to a school for a day to see the kids, where can we go?”. Our answers are usually met with disappointment or annoyance when we say “If a school or orphanage let you in, you shouldn’t be there.” Ask yourself this question: Would your school in your home country let strangers barge into a classroom taking over the lesson and snapping photos of students without their consent? HELL NO! The police would be called. But for some strange reason, travellers forget this logic as soon as they step off the airplane. Children are not tourist attractions. The same rule applies when we see tourists snapping photos of children on the streets. If you MUST take a photo, ask them first, point to the camera and ask if they give permission for their photo to be taken, show them the photo afterward and make sure they approve. Otherwise just take a mental snap!
3- Shop Local
It’s almost a guarantee you won’t find fruit or veg any fresher than down at the local markets. It’s cheap, it’s fresh and it gives you the chance to really immerse yourself into the local culture while boosting the economy of the country you’re traveling in. The local markets are a great place to see the wonderful interactions and day-to-day life, as well as some of the juiciest mangos you ever did taste! Have some fun, barter and haggle, but don’t be too much of a dick over saving 2c, trust us, that 2c goes a lot further for them than it ever will for you. So grab yourself a fresh coconut and wander around filling your basket with all the colours of the rainbow!
4- Stay in socially responsible accommodation
This one really isn’t as tricky as it might sound. There are loads of hostels, guesthouses, hotels who give back to the community or that are child safe certified. Do some research before you book. Often the businesses will vocalise their community involvement. This could mean the hotel is environmentally friendly with their water supplies, or they use recycled materials. It may mean they are involved in community clean-up days, or they have education sponsorships for their staff. If it’s not obvious, email them and ask. Be responsible for ensuring your stay is contributing to the environment and the economy in a positive way.
5- Respect culture and traditions
Have the same respect for someone else’s culture and traditions as you would your own. If you are traveling to a conservative country, dress accordingly. If you are visiting a religious temple or landmark, don’t go dancing around in short shorts and bikini straps. It is considered very offensive and disrespectful. Research where you are going, ask a local what is appropriate clothing and behaviour. Immerse yourself into the unknown cultures and traditions. Ask questions, always ask questions. From our experience locals love sharing their culture with you. Dance, pray, eat, and try to see the world through their eyes for the whole time you’re in their country. You might just learn something magical.