5 Things to Keep In Mind When Traveling Abroad

girl traveling with camera
Photo: iStock
Ask not what the country can do for you, but what you can do for the country.

It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of planning a trip and forget about the impact you'll have on the place you're visiting. Of course, tourism helps many cities and countries economically, but there are also ways visitors can have a negative impact, often times unknowingly. As tourists, it's in our best interest to help these communities thrive. Not only do the people who live there benefit, but we do too. Don't you want to keep going there? From preserving resources to supporting the hard-working locals, there are plenty of things we can do to make sure our visit has a positive impact on the destination.

We chatted with Céline Cousteau, documentary filmmaker and sustainability ambassador for the TreadRight Foundation—the charitable arm of the Travel Corporation which includes group travel brands like Trafalgar and Contiki. (And if her last name sounds familiar, it's because her grandfather is famed conservationist and explorer Jacques Cousteau—the passion runs in the family!) Cousteau works with the foundation to create ways to ensure that the places they visit remain thriving. She also practices what she preaches, making sure she's a conscious traveler on solo trips as well. Below, see the sustainability tips and tricks she's developed through the years.

1. Volunteer on your trip.

What better a way to really get a feel for the place you're visiting than by working directly with locals? Cousteau suggests adding a few extra days to your trip to volunteer for a local nonprofit. “Research opportunities online, or if you go on a tour, ask the tour director for ideas," she says. One thing she also loves to do is bring donations to animal rescue organizations in the area. Contact them ahead of time to see what items they need that could fit in your suitcase. According to the Humane Society, shelters are always on the lookout for things like pet toys, bedding, cotton towels, etc.

2. Eat local.

You may feel tempted to stay in your comfort zone and eat at the hotel or a chain restaurant that you've heard of before, but Cousteau suggests venturing out. “Support the local economy," she says, reminiscing about the time she was in Nepal and found some neat locally-owned food spots to experience. Besides the fact that these authentic meals are the ones you're most likely to remember, it puts money directly into locals' pockets and is a way of honoring their culture.

3. Resist bargaining.

Speaking of putting money directly into locals' pockets…. When it comes to bargaining at markets, think twice before talking the price down. Sure, there's some excitement about getting a good deal, but it's important to remember that every little bit helps locals. “I don't bargain much," Cousteau says. After all, a dollar probably won't make a difference to a tourist but it might to a local. Cousteau likened it to tipping. “If you can afford to go out to dinner, is a dollar really going to make a difference as opposed to being generous?"

4. BYOBottles.

Those little hotel bottles of shampoo and conditioner are wasteful, which is why Cousteau makes sure to pack her own. “I bring re-fillable shampoo and soap bottles and try never to use the hotel's containers," she says. Cousteau also recommends bringing your own utensils to use while you're eating on-the-go at airports.

5. Don't get your linens and towels washed.

If you're staying in a place that has the option to not have your sheets or towels washed while you're there, take advantage of it. “I'm a stickler for this," Cousteau says. “What I've noticed is that at some of these places, even if you have the card out saying not to wash them, they'll still wash them. So make a comment and tell the hotel manager." For programs like that to have an impact, they need support from travelers.