A big part of our mission at CAS Trips has always been to provide eye-opening, meaningful travel opportunities that have positive outcomes for both students and the local communities we visit and support. We recognize that some forms of travel and tourism have negative consequences on the environment and regional population. That is why we recently pledged to acknowledge the problem and do better going forward.
We believe that in putting the travel industry on hold, COVID-19 provided an opportunity for reflection and cultivating better habits and practices as we venture into the ‘new normal.’ From our experience, we know that most travelers care about approaching their journeys responsibly and seek to impact the places they visit favorably. Still, it is not always easy to know where to start.
Here are some steps we can take as individual travelers to do well by the environment, support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and help bolster local economies.
1. Be mindful of the fact that you are a guest in someone else’s home
Responsible travel is about being socially and culturally aware of your surroundings, understanding the effects of your trip on the places you visit and trying to have a positive impact along the way. We like to say that one of the simplest ways to guide your behavior is to remember that no matter where you are, you are a visitor in someone’s home and should conduct yourself accordingly.
Approaching travel mindfully, as a privilege that carries with it responsibility and obligation to the host community, will naturally lead to more fulfilling interactions with the local people and help you maintain an awareness of the impact of your actions.
2. Take the time to learn about new cultures
Just as you would not visit someone else’s home without having any idea what would be expected of you upon arrival, it is essential to familiarize yourself with new destinations before you get there. Indeed, one of the greatest rewards we can have when we travel is learning about different cultures and religions. The world and its people are diverse and fascinating, and every location on the globe contains unique histories, stories, and lessons.
By understanding conventions such as dress codes, standard greetings, and gender dynamics—to the way locals do business, studying the customs before arrival will provide the basis for a more fulfilling experience and ensure you do not inadvertently offend anyone or misinterpret critical social cues.
3. Be educated and reasonable in your bargaining
Another local custom it is essential to be aware of is how commerce and bargaining works. When you are purchasing food or souvenirs, it can sometimes feel that adjusted rates for tourists are unfair. Take a moment to ask yourself, though, does a dollar or two really make a difference? As a visitor somewhere, you should not necessarily be offended by having to pay slightly more than a local. If you decide to haggle for a lesser rate, remember that you must do it to get a fair price and not necessarily the lowest price for the item.
4. Always go out of your way to shop locally
Of course, the best way to make sure your hard-earned money positively impacts the local community is by spending it at businesses run by people who live there. By having dinner at a small restaurant, staying in a family-run guest house, or purchasing a souvenir directly from the person who made it, you are helping to inject money directly into the local economy and creating a more authentic travel experience for yourself.
5. Respect the environment
From ensuring you find the appropriate place to dispose of your garbage to traveling by land when possible and choosing to stay longer in one location, there are many ways we can minimize our carbon footprint while traveling. Sometimes this does take a bit of planning or extra work, though. Keep in mind that many countries do not have sophisticated sanitation and trash infrastructure, and therefore it is essential to take the extra step to dispose of your waste responsibly. Being prepared by having your own reusable water bottle and a portable travel water filter or a device, such as a SteriPen or LifeStraw, will also help you minimize waste. Explore by foot or bike once at your destination, and generally look to leave a place as you found it.
6. Be conscious of how you document your trip
Although it is natural to want to document your experience encountering a new place and culture, it is vital to do so in a way that respects those you are interacting with. Do not take photos of people without their permission. Remember that unless you are a photojournalist, it is usually not in good taste to photograph people you perceive as being in less favorable circumstances than your own. By taking pictures of poverty or suffering, you run the risk of perpetuating negative stereotypes about the country you are in. Aim to empower people and places with the photos you take.
7. Give something back
Reciprocity is a core component of all CAS Trips. We believe the most genuinely rewarding way to engage with another community is by contributing something while you are there. From finding ways to share your unique skill set by cooperating with locally-run programs or simply taking the time to exchange knowledge and stories— you are giving something back.
Being a responsible traveler is not just about limiting plastic usage and going by bus. It is about taking a holistic approach and making decisions along the way that will positively impact locals, their economy, and their environment.