3 Ways You Don’t Know You’re Hurting a Culture When You Travel

hurting culture travel

Traveling with sustainable and environmental concerns in mind can always be a challenge. Even the most experienced and conscious travelers can be unaware of how they are hurting the local people, culture, and nature. I know I have been guilty of making some less-than thoughtful choices in the ways I travel, and I’m still learning about how I can make a greater effort to properly help the places I visit.

Thinking about how you can be responsible when you travel can make a world of difference (quite literally). Traveling can be incredibly eye-opening, but it can also be tough on the places we visit.

Here are some ways you might be doing more harm than good when you are on the road and seeing new destinations:

1. You’re volunteering at organizations that are harming rather than helping

Finding the right organizations that help the environment and local culture rather than harm it can be tricky. Not all tours or volunteer opportunities really have their communities and the natural world in mind. They might act as though they have everything all figured out and appear professional from afar, but doing your research and finding out which organizations actually care about making a positive impression can make the difference between helping and hurting the places you’re trying to support.

Try not to choose establishments that encourage volunteering at orphanages or animal sanctuaries where the animals are still being used for labor. Visit.Org is a great site that encourages sustainable travel.

2. You’re taking pictures of everyone and everything

As a shutterbug myself, it’s hard not to snap a photo of everything you see. Candid photos of people and places are hard to get, and that’s why travel photographers deserve so much credit for the work that they do. However, you might want to think twice about aiming your camera at locals in some locations. Different communities have beliefs about photography and having pictures taken, so you will want to take this into account before you choose to snap. Always ask for permission and think twice about taking pictures of children without the permission of the parents.

This is something I’ve had trouble with in the past because I’m shy, but I think it is important to respect the subjects of your photography. It’s better to look back on those pictures and know that you followed the right protocol rather than to wonder if you did the right thing.

3. You’re not packing as light as you could

This might seem like a strange thing to consider, but the heavier the items you’re bringing, the more fuel you use overall. It’s an abstract concept, but that extra weight over thousands of flights a day really does use a lot of jet fuel. We all need to have items with us when we travel, and I’m as guilty as anyone for over-packing sometimes. However, much of the time those extra items will go untouched the entire time you are traveling and you will wish you had the space for souvenirs or to make it easier on you to get from place to place. Can you refill certain items like shampoo and conditioner? Or is there a way you can combine both? These things do add up after a while, and the less luggage you can carry, the better. (It’s also better for your back if you’re carrying your things!)

Finding ways to help the planet along with enjoying new destinations has become a passion of mine. What I didn’t know when I first started learning about sustainable travel is that it often requires the smallest changes—and that they can make a big impact.

How have you learned to be a more sustainable traveler?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander


12 thoughts on “3 Ways You Don’t Know You’re Hurting a Culture When You Travel

  1. Haha, I love expecially your last tip. I mean, I knew about the previous ones, but I haven’t thought about my heavy bag causing this! But I pack light anyway as I can’t carry heavy bags on my back. 🙂

  2. Oh gosh you read my mind – I’m planning writing about this topic (I saw a news article the other day that absolutely drove me up the wall) – I agree entirely with everything you said. I’ve personally seen people taking photos of (possibly unwilling) complete strangers because it makes a good photo – no!! Ask permission first!!

  3. More I travel, more I’m concerned about sustainable and responsible travel. I simply need to treat people and surroundings well, and of course I get angry with mass tourism and all the destruction it brings… thank you for this article, we need more articles of that kind 🙂

    1. I’m glad this spoke to you. I agree–I think with more time, the more we as travelers are starting to see the impact we have on local cultures and the environment.

  4. This is a great post and I’m glad you write about this topic.
    I will go to South East Asia in three weeks and I’m really afraid of misbehaving unconsciously.
    For example, I would like to go running but I don’t know what they will think about my running clothes. So I guess I will ask the people in my hostel because I don’t want to be the “bad tourist”.
    Also the photography thing is very important, I mean I neither want a stranger taking shots of me while I’m sitting in the bus or on my way to work without permission.
    Very interesting post though.

    Have a nice day

  5. Thanks for sharing about Visit.org! It’s true, travel can be harmful to local culture, but if it’s done in a responsible way, with organizations that are fully vetted, then it’s a win-win!

  6. Point number 2 i so agree with you, sometimes it’s quite embarrassing to ask someone if they can appear in your photo, as most of ppl don’t feel comfortable with that, specially mums when it comes to their kids, they always say NO, for a travel and stock photographer that’s my pain point most of the time! 😀

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