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Leave No Trace: Travel Edition

July 22 2020 – Kristin Shearer

You’ve probably heard of the Leave No Trace principles by now. These 7 principles teach you how to be responsible and ethical in the outdoors. It includes guidelines like respecting wildlife, packing out your trash, and more. The general ethos is that when we’re in the backcountry we’re not in our own home, and it’s important to acknowledge and respect the flora and fauna that live there. Similarly, when we travel we should recognize that we are visitors to someone else’s home, and that comes with a responsibility. We put together some of ethical principles we can follow when we travel, the Leave No Trace: Travel Edition.
1. Research bathroom etiquette. Going to the bathroom around the world probably warrants its own blog post. I’m sure we all have our own hilarious story of the first time we encountered a toilet we’ve never seen before, and the chaos that ensued trying to figure out how to use it. But for now, let’s just say this: not all septic systems are designed to accommodate toilet paper. Research in advance if it’s typical to flush toilet paper in the country you’re traveling to. If you see a trash can next to the toilet, play it safe and throw your TP in there instead of flushing it. It’s also helpful to bring your own toilet paper when you travel, as some public restrooms won’t offer it. Lastly, in many countries you need to pay a small fee to use the bathroom, so be sure to have some coins on hand. 

2. Respect local customs. If the country that you’re traveling to has a dress code, make sure you know in advance. In some countries, it’s offensive to show any skin above your knees or on your shoulders. Make sure to pack accordingly. There also may be eating customs. In Norway, you should eat your meals with a fork and knife, even if you’re eating a sandwich. In Japan, it’s considered rude to point with your chopsticks.

3. Be respectful about photography. If you’re visiting a museum or religious place, it’s very likely that photography will be prohibited. Look for signs, or take social cues from people around you. You also may be tempted to snap a picture of everyday life, like the vendors working the local fish market. Make sure you have their permission if you’re photographing people, you wouldn’t want someone showing up to your work taking pictures of you without your permission, would you? Lastly, don’t jump any fences or climb any monuments to get a better angle or a view that isn’t disrupted by other tourists. We’ve all heard the horror stories of ignorant tourists climbing sacred religious statues, or people getting seriously injured or worse after hopping a safety fence to get the shot. Don’t be that guy.

4. Learn some of the language. A simple gesture that goes a long way in respect is to learn a few basic words and phrases you know you’ll need on your travels. While your pronunciation might be subpar, it’s much more rude to assume the locals speak English. Simple phrases like “yes”, “no”, “hello”, and “where is the bathroom?” should be enough to get you started. It may help you avoid some miscommunications, too. For example, in Greece it’s considered rude to nod your head instead of saying “yes”. In the UK, it’s considered rude to ask “what?” if you didn’t hear something, it’s much more polite to replace that with “pardon?”.

5. Read up on gratuity expectations. In some countries like the US, gratuity is expected and it’s responsible for most of the waitstaff’s income, so it’s really important to tip well. In other countries like Japan, good service is the expectation, so it’s actually considered rude to tip. There are a number of countries in between, where tipping might be appreciated but not expected, so a small sum would be plenty.
At the end of the day, it comes down to research. Knowing the expectations in regards to the 5 principles above will allow you to visit anywhere in the world without leaving a trace. What principles would you add to the list?

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