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Responsible Travel - Advice For Backpackers "Travelers never think that they are the foreigners." - Mason Cooley Attitude There are many great travelers who realize that they are guests in the country they visit and behave accordingly. Unfortunately there are also people who believe that they can behave any way they want to just because they are not at home. It is very depressing to see these people disrespecting local customs, throwing garbage everywhere and loudly complaining that the food is not like back home. You need to be aware of what is acceptable and what unacceptable behavior in different countries. This article tries to give a few pointers for responsible travel. Check your guidebook for specific information for your destination. If you want everything to be like home - stay at home. If you get really upset that you have to wait a bit until you get your food or that the third world hotel is out of orange juice for breakfast maybe you should reconsider if you really want to travel to a third world country. There are plenty of great places which are similar to your home country where you may find yourself more comfortable. Do not be ethnocentric (looking at the world primarily from the perspective of your own culture). Drugs When you travel in some parts of the world there will be plenty of opportunities to easily get hold of drugs. If you chose to do drugs and take the consequences it has on your body that is one thing. You should be aware however that you support the drug trade which many times are run by ruthless criminals mistreating the local population. You also set an example for young people who want to be just like the cool westerners, what was a one time experience for you may turn into a (short) life time of drug addiction for them. If the moral issues do not appeal to you then maybe the idea of spending 15 years sharing jail cell with a smelly fat guy nicknamed "The Pig"and being traded around for a pack of cigarettes will. There are plenty of foreigners in prisons abroad. Your embassy can not get you out just because you are a foreigner. The cool guy who sold you the drugs may have a friend in the police who he calls to collect a reward or to get a cut of the bribe you have to pay to get out (if you are lucky). If you can not do the time, do not do the crime. Personal Experience - Full Moon Prison I had been on Koh Pha Ngan in Thailand for a few days of sunbathing and partying during one of the infamous Full Moon Parties. On my way back from the island I sat next to a British guy who had just seen one of his countrymen being arrested the day before. The guy had bought three ecstasy pills for him and his friends to use and was now locked away in a Thai prison waiting for the embassy to open three days later. Not the best day of his life. Communicating If people do not understand the language you speak: SHOUTING WILL NOT HELP Gestures mean different things. In some places people show that they want to hitchhike by making a fist with the thumbs up or to indicate "OK", do that to an Australian and you will be in big trouble. The sign for OK (making a circle with your thumb and index finger) is also very inappropriate in some countries. If you are a gesturing kind of person be aware of this and find out if your favorite gesture is acceptable. If you communicate with someone who has limited language knowledge simplify your vocabulary e.g. "Have room?"instead of " Do you have any accommodations available?" Dress code Be sensitive to what is an appropriate dress code. Tourist areas and major cities are usually more relaxed and not so strict whereas the countryside may be more conservative. When you enter a place of worship make sure that you are adequately dressed, this may mean that you need to cover your shoulders and hair, remove your shoes or wear long pants/skirts which cover your knees. In some places it may be inappropriate to wear leather. Entrance may be denied to women if they are on their period. Appropriate dress code also applies to the beach. In some parts of the world sunbathing topless or completely naked may be okay but in other it is completely inappropriate. Endangered species Do not purchase endangered animals, plants or coral reefs. As long as there is a market there will be people who violate these laws. Do not injure nature unnecessarily e.g. by standing on coral while snorkeling or diving. Litter It can be depressing to see the amount of litter people throw away on the street and in the woods. Some people seem to think that just because there already is litter it will not make any difference to throw some more. Well it does. If you can not find any garbage can to throw your litter in then pack the litter in your backpack and throw it away when you get to a place which has one. Follow the old saying: "Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints" And follow my own first law of responsible travel: "Do not break anything but hearts" If you smoke do not leave your cigarette butts on the ground, it is just as bad as throwing paper. If you are too lazy to throw them away in a suitable place at least make sure that they are extinguished before you throw them in the forest and start a fire. If there are refill services of water bottles use them. Not only is this cheaper but it helps to get rid of some of the plastic litter which seems to be everywhere these days. Climate change Travelling by air releases quite a bit of pollution in the atmosphere. If you feel that you want to offset your environmental impact check out Climate Care where you can calculate your impact on the environment and offset your environmental impact by donating to various projects. Bribes We do not encourage paying bribes and fueling corruption. There are times however where a few dollars can save you a lot of time or effort. How come that guy got a table even though the restaurant was full? Why did that taxi cut through the line at the customs check? This article is based on the free e-book The Backpacker's Toolbox It contains checklists, templates, FAQs and practical advice (and a few bad jokes) to make your backpacking experience as smooth as possible. http://www.hellobackpacker.com - practical advice for new and experienced backpackers for all trip stages: get inspired, plan your trip, advice on the road, tips when back home.
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