Most volunteer tourists are eager to go out into the world to help serve communities. Equally important to doing good is traveling good. As a voluntourist, you need to consider how you can be responsible toward the places you travel to and toward the local host organizations you volunteer with.
Traveling responsibly in a foreign country involves evaluating the social, economic, and environmental implications of your travel. Experiencing cultural diversity is one of the main reasons why you travel and you need to make sure that these differences are respected, maintained and not changed for the benefit of your own comfort. Responsible travel is about minimizing the impact of your travel and maximizing the benefits for local economies, environments and host communities. Here are some steps to maximize the positive impact of your trip:
* Travel with as much advance information as possible and travel with your eyes and ears open.
* Try to learn as much as you can about the customs and history of the people prior to the trip.
* Find out about the issues concerning the country.
* Try to learn some local language especially everyday phrases of greeting and saying “thank you.”
* Talk to the local people (such as the farmers, hotel staff, shopkeeper, etc.) about their country.
* Respect the cultural rules in the areas you are traveling. Be sensitive to the local customs. Treat people with respect.
* Ask permission before taking photographs of people. Local people may want a copy of their photo. Take their addresses and do send it.
* Eat local food and drink the local drinks.
* Buy handicrafts directly from the local artisans.
* Restrain from too much haggling or bargaining. It should be done respectfully and equitably so that the local seller makes a reasonable income. It may not be “fun” to haggle, but sometime you need to because of local customs in which prices are astronomically high because of built-in expectations for haggling.
* Dress modestly, especially in and around places of worship.
* Respect local religious and cultural practices, including those about alcohol and drugs.
* Do not give money or goods impulsively or randomly. Understand its implications. Giving to begging children reinforces that begging is an acceptable way to make a living for these children. Also, random giving accentuates an unequal relationship between locals and visitors. It also strips self-esteem away from people when they get money simply for being poor rather than for having solved their own issues of poverty through community action.
* Be careful not to pay for acts of kindness in monetary terms. You do not want to encourage the development of a society that equates every human action as a potential money making scheme. Giving your friendship, time and interest to interact with locals can be the best gift of all.
* Help the locals have a balanced understanding of western culture by sharing not only the advantages of your culture but also some of the negative influences that come from increased material wealth, on both the family and the community.
* Stay at hotels that ensure their workers are treated fairly and are paid a fair wage.
Act responsibly toward the local host volunteer organization that you have found (on your own) to do your service project. Remember most of these organizations have limited resources. Taking in volunteers costs them valuable resources – time to train and prep, cost to house and to provide meals, cost to operate facility, cost to provide project material, etc.
To alleviate some of the strains on the local host organization, responsible voluntourist should:
* Contribute some money to the organization to defray some of their costs even if there are no set program fees.
* Be flexible – understand things can be inefficient as a result of limited manpower or even cultural norms.
* Be a considerate house guest, don’t overuse resources such as phones and electricity and clean up after yourself.
Making informed choices is the single most important thing you can do to become a responsible voluntourist. You can make a difference when you travel, not only for yourself but for the people and places you visit!
Do you have other suggestions to add to our list? List them in our comment section – we love to hear from you!