illustrations: Alana McCarthy / Three in a Box
1. Avoid prepackaged, all-in-one holidays. These might be convenient but they will swallow up almost all your money at the rich-world end and leave very little for the people of the area or country you’re visiting. Pay as you go – and put as much of your money in local hands as possible.
2. Seek out travel organizations that talk openly about their ethical policies and promise that a significant proportion of the money you pay will benefit local communities. Some of this might be ‘greenwash’ but, on the other hand, if a company makes no mention of such issues on its website then you can guarantee these considerations have not even entered its universe.
3. Think small. Of course there are big hotels with decent employment practices and good working conditions. Just as there are small guesthouses that exploit their workers. But in general there is likely to be some correlation between size and ethics. Homestays, for example, can provide a revealing insight into local life – with the money going directly into local hands.
4. Eat local food. Not just to experience diversity and the authentic taste of local cuisine and culture, but also because local dishes are more likely to use locally grown and purchased produce rather than imported delicacies.
5. Don’t play golf in a dryzone. More and more Majority World countries assume they must provide golf courses for Western tourists, even in chronically water-poor areas. These either drain dwindling water reserves or else depend on desalination plants burning vast amounts of energy. Love golf? Then choose a place to play where water is not (yet) a problem.
6. Be a person, not a consumer. This applies in more than monetary ways. Be sensitive to how the people around you are feeling. Ask before you take pictures of people, even children, and respect their wishes. Some people won’t mind their photograph being taken but others may feel you are stealing something of their soul.
7. Be generous. Many people visiting the Majority World see it as a point of pride to pay as little as possible. They haggle till the cows come home, as if they will be proving their own inadequacy if they pay two dollars for something instead of one. Your ego is not the most important thing here – and paying a little more may just make a family meal a little easier to come by.
8. Be wary of ‘ecotours’. Are you sure you won’t be harming the same local environment you have travelled so far to witness? That cruise ship may be anchoring in coral or importing ‘civilized’ viruses to places where they will do great damage. Look before you leap.
9. Be sensitive to local customs and religious practices. Think about what sort of clothing is appropriate for both men and women, for example. If the locals are covered up, what sort of messages are you sending by exposing acres of flesh? If you are tempted to do things overseas that you would never do at home, ask yourself if this is an improvement.
10. Be prepared to ask difficult questions or to confront your hotel or tour operator over practices that clearly disadvantage local people or harm the environment.