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Tips for the Ethical Traveler

by Annemarie Kropf | Published September 2007 | See more Condé Nast Traveler articles

How to make a positive impact—and still have a good time—while on the road

Make a Difference with Conde Nast Traveler1. Brush Up. Before booking your trip, consult guidebooks to learn about a destination's history as well as its environmental, social, and political issues.

Why: Imagine if you didn't know about Hurricane Katrina and went to New Orleans, or if you went to Sri Lanka without knowing about the tsunami. An informed traveler makes for a responsible one.

2. Investigate. Contact tour operators and hotels before visiting an area and ask them about their environmental policy (if they have one)—energy-saving programs, support for local conservation, any eco-awards they've won—and the percentage of employees who are local. If the hotel staff doesn't know the answers, that doesn't necessarily mean there is no program; but it does mean that social responsibility is not being promoted within the company as an important distinction. Look for hotels that have been independently audited and certified by organizations such as Green Globe 21.

Why: You'll feel better staying at a place that is doing good. And even just asking will prompt companies to be more conscious of doing the right thing.

3. Go local. Most sustainable tourism experts say it's best to patronize locally-owned inns, restaurants, and shops. The best option is to stay at an eco-lodge that works to reduce its energy and water consumption; if that's not possible, then stay someplace that is eco-certified.

Why: You want to make sure you are supporting the local economy. That said, a multinational hotel chain that employs local people can have a positive impact on the local economy if staff is paid a fair wage, food and other items are sourced locally, and it sets a good example in environmental management, recycling, minimizing waste and conserving water. Think about scale. Is a large hotel destroying the local cultural environment?

4. Speak in tongues. Learn a bit of the language. Bring flashcards on board the plane.

Why: Just knowing phrases such as "hello," "goodbye," "thank you," "have a nice day," etc. and knowing numbers from 1-10 (or even 1-50) goes a long way in showing your respect for another culture.

5. Have an open mind. Leave home without your preconceptions. Learn how to listen to people.

Why: The world is so globalized now that they ARE your community.

6. Do Like the Romans. Learn the traditions and taboos of your host country. One country's hello gesture is another country's middle finger. For example, in Thailand, the head is considered the most spiritual part of the body, so patting a child on the head or tousling his hair is a no-no. In Tibet, throwing garbage into a fire can be insulting, since fire is sacred.

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