There's nothing like the feeling of traveling to a new place for the first time.
Whether it’s tasting some new exotic food, visiting a fairytale-like castle that's steeped in centuries of history, or taking in a breathtaking landscape for the first time, travel is a powerful way to experience different cultures and natural wonders firsthand.
But whether you plan to visit ancient ruins in Europe, wander the markets of Marrakesh, or see wildlife in Africa, it’s easy to find yourself in a situation that you’re not used to. When that happens, sometimes we get overwhelmed by all the differences and "newness" — and that makes the experience less enjoyable not only for you, but also for your hosts. Here are some easy and practical ways to make sure you're getting the most out of your trip while also honoring and respecting the places you visit (and the planet in general!).
27 tips that can help us all be more conscious travelers.
1. Try to learn at least a little of the local language, even if it’s just "hello," "thank you," or the customary greetings.
2. Shop and eat like the locals. Traveling can be a bit of a culture shock, so it might be tempting to stick with what you know, but not only will it be a more authentic travel experience for you, it will also support the local economy.
3. Wear clothing that's acceptable in the local culture. Some countries are more conservative, so do your research and dress modestly — yes, even if it’s humid or hot — to show respect.
4. Many places, such as those beautiful temples in Southeast Asia, also have rules about what you should wear and how you should act, so be sure to find out what they are and follow them, even if you don't love them.
5. Study (and observe!) the local customs as much as you can, especially when it comes to personal space, manners, sense of time, and dining. For example, in the Middle East, you should only use your right hand for eating or accepting food, and in France or Japan, blowing your nose in public is considered rude and repulsive.
6. Strike up a conversation with someone you meet! It’s often by talking and listening that we can reach a deeper understanding and appreciation of the people and places we're visiting.
7. Be ready to answer questions about yourself too. When you travel, the people you meet will be interested in you and where you are from, so be gracious in answering their questions.
8. Remember that you're the visitor, so it should be you who adapts to the local way of life — not the other way around.
9. Whether you are visiting an ancient ruin, an art gallery, or even a national park, respect the rules on where you can go and what you can do — don't be that person touching something you shouldn’t, disturbing nature, or taking things you shouldn’t.
10. Don't take selfies in places where it would be rude, offensive, or inappropriate — such as at memorials or holy sites. It can also be dangerous — even deadly — to take selfies from the edge of cliffs or while you are on the move.
11. Be careful what hand gestures you use because they can mean different things in different places. (Case in point: In many countries, a thumbs up means something quite different from "way to go.")
12. Avoid souvenirs that support harmful practices, such as ivory trinkets, which contribute to harmful practices like illegal wildlife poaching.
13. Be conscious about what you choose to eat as well. Some local delicacies — such as shark fin soup — are driving certain species to the brink of extinction.
14. If you haggle, do it with care. In places like Latin America or Southeast Asia, bargaining is a part of the culture, and it can be a fun way to interact with people — and even make a friend — but there are limits. Remember that it's their livelihood, consider the fair market value, and don’t be a bully.
15. If you're visiting a landmark that isn't too far away, walk or take local transportation (instead of a cab). It will give you the chance to see more along the way, and it will reduce your carbon footprint.
16. If you do walk, try asking for directions from a local. It will give you the opportunity to break free from tourist routes, find little hidden gems along the way, and keep you from getting lost.
17. Be conscious of your electricity and water use. In some parts of the world, electricity isn’t as basic as it is back home and clean water is a luxury.
18. Be mindful of your garbage. Waste management can be a major issue in some countries, and travelers can unknowingly contribute to the problem.
19. If possible, recycle or reuse what you can and carry a reusable water bottle. Pro tip: If you fill up your water bottle at a water station once you're through security at the airport, you can skip using a plastic beverage cup during the flight, too.
20. Leave a place better than you find it. If you come across a little litter while you’re hiking or walking down the street, why not pick it up and throw it away in the proper place? It's a small gesture, but every little bit helps.
21. Choose sustainable accommodations or tour operators. Find businesses that actively work with the local communities (e.g. ones that employ local guides from the area) and that use practices that help protect the environment.
22. Avoid activities that exploit wild animals, like elephant rides or taking photos with tigers.
23. If you do want to see animals on your trip, do it in a positive way, such as a visit to an ethical wildlife sanctuary. Opt for sanctuaries that are registered NGOs and are transparent about their business dealings, such as the Elephant Nature Park in northern Thailand.
24. Or plan a trip where you can observe animals in the wild from a safe, respectful distance. For example, Katmai National Park in Alaska offers outdoorsy people the opportunity to safely watch brown bears catch salmon from three viewing platforms.
25. Don’t compare everything to "home." You left home to see the world and experience something new, so don't forget that while you're away.
26. Embrace the differences you encounter — those differences just might change how you see the world and your home.
27. Be an example. We've all met that tourist who makes us cringe. Be kind, polite, courteous, and respectful, and maybe all that goodwill will spread.
Of course, no list could contain everything you should or shouldn’t do while you are traveling.
Nor should we feel like we have to rely too closely on a set of rules. But if we all try to treat others with respect, keep an open mind, and learn about each other, traveling is bound to be an enriching experience for everyone.