“Driven by curiosity, and guided by respect”. -Daniel Noll and Audrey Scott
Travelers are drawn to explore by way of their curiosity. There is, after all, nothing quite like being in a brand new space where everything feels unfamiliar and new. While visiting new destinations is a wonderful adventure in and of itself, making the effort to travel mindfully will likely provide you with a uniquely enriching experience.
There are many dimensions of mindful travel, but, perhaps the most important one of all is ethical travel. While the prospect of traveling ethically may sound restrictive or overwhelming, it is actually a great way to gain distinct insight into the region you are traveling to.
Here at No Desk Project, ethical travel is core to our beliefs. We strive for No Deskers to really understand different cultures, engage with their new surroundings thoughtfully, value the importance of compassion by supporting local communities, and garner a more global perspective.
Whether you are traveling solo, with a group, or via No Desk Project, traveling ethically is essential. This simple guide will provide five tips that will help you travel ethically — regardless of where your next dream destination may be.
- DO YOUR RESEARCH
Doing your research is essential and is something everyone should do before venturing off on their next trip. This step might not seem very exciting, but by familiarizing yourself with the current conditions of the region you will be visiting will help you understand what you need to be mindful of during your time there. In certain situations, it may even be particularly helpful to do some prep before stepping foot in your new destination, so doing your research is always a good idea.
2. BE AWARE OF YOUR ETHNOCENTRISM
To put it simply, ethnocentrism is the act of judging others and aspects of their culture through the lens of your own culture. Ethnocentrism can play a big role in travel, especially when going to regions that have a drastically different culture than your own. Ethnocentric views usually lead to a negative bias against local people and their way of life simply because it is different from what you are used to — this is the antithesis of ethical travel. The heart of ethical travel stems from compassion. Compassion arises from realizing that some people live in a completely different context from your own and that those differences are in no way less than — and they should be respected. It may not be possible to rid yourself of your ethnocentrism completely, but you should be constantly aware of it and never let it dictate your experience or your interactions.
3. IMMERSE YOURSELF
Perhaps one of the most effective ways to challenge your own ethnocentrism is to travel immersively. Immersive travel is a wonderful way to get to know a region on a larger scale, while also allowing for you to get to know some of its inhabitants in a meaningful way. The primary way that you can strive to immerse yourself is by engaging with locals. You can engage with locals by:
- Learning a little bit of the local language — Most locals will appreciate your efforts. And don’t worry about memorizing everything, there are great apps and small phrase books that can help in a pinch.
- Shopping local — Going to local markets and shops will give you a unique insight into daily life and will allow you to directly support local entrepreneurs.
- Eating regional cuisine — Food is such an integral part of culture, and eating what locals eat will give you a unique appreciation for the area you are visiting.
- Homestay — If you want to go for the fully immersive experience, you can always try to arrange temporarily living with a local.
4. BE RESPECTFUL OF LOCAL CUSTOMS
Every region has a different set of social structures in place and ignoring these structures can often be deemed as disrespectful and could even make the locals uncomfortable. Be aware of the different expectations surrounding clothing, mannerisms, speech, etc. — and do your best to observe them while you are at your destination. If needed, you can even create a little cheat sheet for yourself so that you remember what you should, or shouldn’t be, doing. This will likely make your travels go more smoothly and will probably help you as you interact with locals.
5. SUPPORT LOCAL GRASSROOTS EFFORTS
Often times, those who travel with the desire to volunteer have good intentions. Unfortunately, misinformation usually leads people to take part in the controversial act of voluntourism. If you would really like to find a way to make a difference in the community you are visiting, look up local grassroots organizations that are working on a cause you are passionate about and reach out to them. These smaller organizations have in-depth knowledge on how various forms of outreach affect the community and they will likely let you know the best way that you can contribute to genuine improvement in the community you want to help.
While traveling ethically may take a little more work, it is, without a doubt, the most rewarding way to travel. Not only do you get to experience the country you are visiting in a more intimate way and, thus, get to take great memories with you — you also have the potential to leave a positive impact on the communities you visited behind.