Things You Can Do to Make a Big DifferenceChoose your destination wisely.
Find out about the current state of the destination you want to visit. If you decide to travel to a country that has economic problems, consider getting to know the people and, through your tourism, contributing to the development of their socio-economic situation. Choose accommodations that fulfill their social responsibilities and give back to the region.
Stay in places that have been recognized for their socially responsible qualities. Find out from tourism offices about environmental and social certifications that the country or region awards eco-friendly businesses. Consciously choose between international hotel chains and individually owned accommodations. Staying at individually owned places lets you get to know the locals and strengthen the destinationâ€™s infrastructure and economy. Respect the local environment.
Separate and recycle your trash at your vacation destination just as you would at home. Even in foreign countries you will easily recognize recycling bins by the drawings stuck to the sides. Be sure not to waste water and energy. Act just as you would at home, no matter how much you paid for your lodging. In many hotels, instead of changing sheets and towels every day, they are changed only when the hotel guest leaves them on the floor, thus saving water, detergent and energy. You should value this measure and cooperate with it. Make sure you pick up your trash, especially in natural areas such as mountains, forests or beaches. Carry your trash back with you to urban areas and put it in the recycling bins. Do not toss cigarette butts, save them in the cigarette box or bag until you find a trash bin. Be careful with fire risks; by tossing out a cigarette butt or glass bottle, or having a cookout or bonfire, you can cause serious forest fires. Refrain from playing golf in areas where there is a shortage of water, even if the golf grounds are irrigated with water that is unsuitable for drinking; this water is needed for the ecosystem. Avoid skiing in areas where there is a shortage of snow so that you do not excessively harm the environment. Do not use areas that are equipped with artificial snow or with snow that comes from other places, since these practices imply huge, irresponsible energy consumption. If you do not own a camera, borrow one from friends or family members. Do not opt for using disposable cameras, which only generate residual contaminants. Adapt your needs to the reality of the tourist site. In an idyllic, secluded place such as Tulum, do not expect an icy-cold Coca Cola and a camping tent with air conditioning. Respect the local culture.
Show interest in your destination's culture and be respectful of the native population. If you want to take a picture of a local, ask permission and respect their decision. In impoverished countries, do not expect the same standards as you have at home. People may not have the same standards or customs as you. Sample the traditional gastronomy of your destination instead of well-known, globalized food choices. You will contribute to preserving cultural authenticity. And never engage in sexual tourism of any kind. It cannot be justified by citing cultural differences or calling it by any other name. Sex with minors for money, food, or gifts is child sexual exploitation and it is illegal. Choose ecologically sustainable souvenirs.
You should not purchase or leave with any type of protected plants or animals whose exportation is a crime. You should also refrain from buying taxidermied animals or products that are made with protected plants or animals, such as jewelry. In impoverished countries, never buy souvenirs whose production could have taken place in situations with poor working conditions or in which children were exploited. You can avoid this by buying souvenirs in women's or artist's co-ops. An extra benefit is that you will be helping make the local business community stronger.
By adopting these guidelines, you will support tourism practices that respect the environment. You will interact with the people of a country and truly have an intercultural experience. You'll help a unique culture survive in its native country. And, you will contribute to a country's economic development in a way that is sustainable.