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How to Be a Responsible Traveler While Studying Abroad

Welcome to the International Year of Sustainable Tourism Development and World Tourism Day! If you’re studying abroad and can’t wait to travel a bit, take a look at our guide to being a responsible traveler. Let’s take a closer look.

Sep 20, 2017
  • Student Tips
How to Be a Responsible Traveler While Studying Abroad

Want to study abroad? Learn how to be a responsible traveler.

In March, we reported on the benefits of sustainable tourism, as we celebrate the v. Today, we’re looking at four ways you can apply these benefits of sustainable tourism while studying abroad.

1. Learn about local customs and support the local economy

How does learning about local customs and economy help you be a responsible traveler? Showing an attempt at understanding the culture where you are goes a long way toward global understanding. What does that mean? It means that you’re beginning to learn to recognize that you’re not the only one on the planet.

Learn a few key phrases in the local language, like basic greetings and polite requests. Always ask to take photos before you take them. Buy locally-made products, pay a fair price, and don’t engage in purchasing counterfeit products prohibited by local and national laws.

Want to learn about local customs and support the local economy at the same time? Hire a local, reputable guide with an in-depth knowledge of the area to take you around town one day. It’ll be worth it—and you’ll develop a new respect and appreciation for where you are.

2. Reduce your environmental impact

Tread lightly. Cherish natural resources—enjoy them, but look at your role as guardian, rather than a consumer of them. If you travel to protected areas, access only the places for visitors. Avoid using or purchasing products that make a negative impact on endangered plants and animals.

One you may not consider? Minimize your water and energy use. Water, heat, and electricity are expensive. Less developed areas pay a premium for clean water and light switches—be mindful.

With any luck, you’ll adopt some of these practices at home, too.

3. Stay informed

Do your homework before you go. Take appropriate health and safety precautions before your trip—and during. Know how to contact your embassy, and consider telling them that you’re traveling.

Choose tourism operators with smart, reputable community and environmental policies. Don’t just go for the “ecotour” only to find that you’re on an oil-spewing truck or boat with tour operators out to make a few bucks.

Interested in volunteering? Make sure you do the right research before engaging in any kind of volunteering.

Our best advice? Ask questions before you go. Don’t get swept up in the hype of advertising. While nothing is perfect, there are better choices than others. You know how to make them. Do it.

4. Be respectful

Sometimes this is easier said than done. Support and respect other human beings—observe local and national laws and regulations, in addition to following local customs (see #1). Support projects that help poor children, instead of giving them money in the streets. Take only pictures, and offer clear, honest travel reviews to promote your positive experiences.

Never forget your manners—and understand that your manners may not be the local ones. In some cultures, it’s rude to look someone in the eyes when speaking. In others, burping or slurping tell your host you’ve enjoyed a meal. Know these customs before you go.

Speaking of burping, do you have dietary restrictions? Make sure you have a way to explain this when you travel (pro-tip: carry an illustrated translation card for medical needs or translation book with pictures), and if you eat at a restaurant, make sure you know how (and when) to tip.

You’re probably packing, and dressing for convenience, but make sure you’re aware of local perceptions of modesty and appropriate dress – and remember that some countries have strict regulations that could make your innocuous tattoo or heirloom necklace a major offense. And whatever you do—always attempt to say hello, please, and thank you in the local language.

Ready to go? Good. Learn about the place you’re visiting, keep an open mind, and mind your manners. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and never do anything that goes against your basic sense of ethics.

Traveling expands your mind and gives you a sense of the world. Traveling responsibly shows that you care not just about your experience, but about those of others, too.

Go forth. Learn. Have fun.

Learn more about studying sustainable tourism.