How to be a more conscientious traveler in a developing country

Developing countries, particularly those in Latin America and Southeast Asia, are often viewed from an “anything goes” perspective. Stunning natural environments, exotic culture and wild nightlife combined with attractive exchange rates attract adventurous travelers looking for the best value.

Aside from vacationers looking to let loose, places like Mexico and Bali have also become hubs for digital nomads to settle into the post-Covid world. Tourism has the potential to bring significant economic change to local people who desperately need it. Unfortunately, it can also work against the favor of local communities if not managed properly. With an open mind and a little research, however, conscientious travelers can ensure that their presence (long or short) is positive.

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Thanks to a good education, many travelers coming from westernized countries have already developed the habit of considering the natural environment. Don’t forget to pick up these habits on the go!

Take steps to avoid single-use plastic

Single-use plastic is a huge problem all over the world. However, in developing countries, waste management usually involves setting everything on fire (plastic and all). Bring a reusable water bottle to fill with the drinking water provided in your accommodation rather than buying small bottles from the store. Even better if it’s the insolated type – then it can also be used for morning coffee. Also bring a reusable bag to use for your daily groceries!

Consider pressure on services and infrastructure

Due to corruption and poor planning, the population often grows faster than the local infrastructure. One important thing to remember is not to get angry with hosting hosts for things like slow internet or power outages. They live with it all year round too, and it’s completely out of their control. Here are some ways to compensate for the problems:

  • Power: limit the use of the air conditioning to certain times of the day. Never leave it on when you are out of the house. The same goes for lights, fans and appliances. Use only what you need, when you need it.
  • Water: take cold showers. It saves gas/electricity while encouraging faster turnaround. Also, don’t leave the tap on while you’re doing the dishes, brushing your teeth, etc.
  • the Internet: Do research in advance and plan accordingly. Avoid stress by letting your friends, family, or employers know ahead of time if you’re traveling to an area known for poor internet quality. Consider bringing a mobile hotspot.

Respect nature and leave no trace

One thing that almost all vacation hotspots in a developing country have in common is stunning scenery. This, of course, is one of the main attractions of tourism. However, hordes of visitors can be hard on nature, so it’s important to be mindful. Even being responsible for your own trash, it doesn’t hurt to take over for others who weren’t. If there’s anything on the floor that shouldn’t be, throw it away.

Here are some additional tips:

  • Never participate in tours or attractions that exploit wildlife. Instead, look for places where rescue, rehabilitation or conservation is the focus. Often, volunteers are welcome (and needed) too!
  • Leave seashells on the beach. Not only are they an important part of marine ecosystems, but in some places taking shells is even illegal! Carefully return the sand dollars and starfish to the water as they may still be alive. A conscientious alternative is to simply take a photo and then pick up trash and cigarette butts on the beach.


Line the pockets of the right people

Gentrification affects communities around the world. In developing countries that are tourism hotspots, the effects are even more polarizing. At the same time, tourism dollars can be a lifeline for locals. This is where research and planning is important.

As tourism develops, destinations become more attractive to foreign investors. This displaces local people as properties are turned into vacation rentals. That said, the injection of income has also enabled entrepreneurship among the locals. When booking accommodation, be sure to choose something locally owned. Not only is it an ethical choice, but staying in a home or apartment owned by a local family provides guests with a great source of information and information during the stay. Besides hosting, avoid foreign companies that have created direct competition with locals already providing the same service. Buy local and dine on the spot.


Finally, don’t insist on bartering at the lowest price. A little saving is insignificant to someone on vacation but makes a huge difference to local sellers. Along the same lines, don’t be rude to street or beach vendors. If you can afford what they are selling, buy it. In many places, they work long ruthless hours in extreme heat. Always tip at restaurants! No matter how fancy it is, local hospitality staff don’t get a living wage in any developing country.

Related: How to communicate with people in Spanish-speaking countries

Be aware of cultural norms

Becoming a more conscientious traveler will earn the respect of the locals. Consider being in a different culture and act accordingly.

Language

First, don’t expect everyone to speak English. It’s completely understandable that there’s a language barrier in a new country, but there are polite ways to navigate it. Learn some basic phrases to at least be able to ask “do you speak English” in the native language. If the answer is no, use a translator app or a phrasebook. Do not just speak in English slowly or loudly and above all do not get angry. When dining out, make an effort to pronounce things as they are written on the menu or point to them on the menu, rather than just using the default English. A little effort goes a long way!


General behavior

Many developing countries have strong religious undertones (Catholicism in Mexico, Buddhism in Thailand, Hinduism in Bali, to name a few) and a fairly conservative indigenous culture. Skimpy swimsuits are fine for the beach, but travelers can avoid stares and critical comments by covering up for shopping and dining. This also applies to men; sitting in a restaurant with a sweaty shirtless man dining at the next table is not appetizing for anyone. If you wouldn’t do it at home, don’t do it on vacation.

Speaking of attire, ladies, don’t go topless in crowded, family-friendly areas. It is extremely offensive to locals and can also be a security risk. Reserve topless sunbathing for secluded or designated beaches.

When you stay in AirBnbs and vacation rentals, they are often located in residential areas. This means that not everyone is on vacation. Be aware of noise levels, especially with loud music late at night.

Mindful travel is mutually beneficial

Most travelers have had the chilling experience of witnessing other people’s bad behavior while on vacation. Sometimes it even creates the urge to dissociate from other strangers. Making small changes and becoming a more conscientious traveler will help turn negative stereotypes into positives. At the same time, it creates a more authentic travel experience!


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