The Respectful Tourist

Tourism is a word that has two meanings. Not literally, but on the one hand there are hundreds of local economies which depend on tourist’s money to keep them afloat. On the other, people roll their eyes and purport to hate the influx of people and money.


I became interested in ecotourism before I knew what it was. As a teenager, I read a novel which included some highly westernized people taking a trip to a remote area of South America who needed the help of an indigenous tribe to guide them.

I don’t remember what the story was or who wrote it, but I did start to think about the acceptability of disrupting the lives of others forever just because we visited them for a day or two. I had become an ecotourist.

Travel in a way that doesn’t impact the natural environment

It makes sense to respect the places you visit. When we were little, my parents would plan picnics and days out to offset the chance of boredom during the summer. They insisted we leave a picnic site without any evidence we had been there. There would be a search around to make sure nothing had been left inadvertently, and it stayed with me.

Green traveling

There’s a list of tips to help the traveller respect the places they go. One of the first ones is to take on board a little of the local culture. Look up the customs and habits of the people you visit. Learn a few words of the language. You can communicate by pointing and gesturing but if you can say please and thank you, it shows you have taken the time to think about where you’re going.

Your tourist dollars make a difference in the local economy. Your injection of cash into the economy, however small, adds up to local revenue. That doesn’t mean you have to buy every tourist bangle that is put under your nose. But where you can, shop in the markets and eat at local restaurants. The big businesses will do fine without you. Try and help the smaller ones.

Get a local guide

This is another way in which you can contribute responsibly to the community. A local guide will know all of the best spots and even perhaps take you off the beaten track a little. Your guide, though, will always know where to look.

A few years ago, I had the experience of walking in the rainforest alone. The following day a local man took us around and we saw so much more than we would have alone. He knew where to look, and he also knew what to look for.

Tourism makes money for the places you go, sometimes money they badly need. So, please continue your plans to visit and see all you want to. But please do it in a way that respects the local culture, and leaves little evidence that you were there other than your goodwill and sensitivity.