For all of its kitsch, exaggerations and pratfalls, the 1985 film National Lampoon’s European Vacation still works as a cautionary tale on how not to behave during a trip abroad, with the fictional Griswold family experiencing the consequences of breaking every common sense rule on avoiding the “ugly tourist” stereotype and being oblivious to the locals’ reactions.
In the years since the film, of course, changes in technology, politics and climate have made the world a different place. Those changes, in turn, demand individuals go above and beyond the basic rules of respecting one’s hosts on their home turf. Parents planning family vacations, in turn, should teach their kids to follow suit in advance of the journey to ensure the best possible experiences, interpersonal exchanges with locals and memories of the countries in their itinerary.
These are some reasons why the Washington, D.C.-based non-profit Center for Responsible Travel is dedicated to generating public awareness about travelers’ responsibilities in treating the people, culture and environment of every country they visit with respect. According to Samantha Bray, the organization’s managing director, parents can use CREST’s 10 responsible travel tips to have meaningful conversations with their kids before, during and after their family vacations.
“Before the trip, we suggest talking with your kids about the research you’ve done on the places you’ll be visiting,” said Bray. “This will help them to have a sense of the culture, environment, and history ahead of time, and it will get them thinking about the choices you’ve made when planning the trip. For younger kids, these discussions will help them better understand what to expect and be prepared for the new things they might see and experience. For teens, these pre-trip conversations present a wonderful opportunity to talk about how to have a positive impact when you travel and why it’s important to get off the beaten path and avoid contributing to overtourism. These conversations can continue during your trip as well, as you’re learning new things together. After the trip, it’s a great idea to reflect as a family on what you learned and what your favorite memories were as responsible travelers.”
Before introducing the 10 rules, Bray suggests being truthful about why you have chosen one destination or activity over another, as this will help kids apply conscious consumer tips to both travel and their everyday lives. If the destination is not the typical kid-friendly tourist draw, it is especially important to be positive about the activities you have selected, and spread your enthusiasm to help kids understand why the choices you made will be helpful to animals, other children and their families.
“When going over ‘house rules,’ we recommend explaining that you are staying in someone’s home, and that it’s important to be respectful of both the accommodation and of the surrounding neighborhood where people live,” Bray explained. “In general, it’s helpful for kids to understand that while they may be visitors, there are many people who call the destination their home. They should always treat the places they are visiting like they would want their own home or their best friend’s home to be treated.”
From there, she advises reviewing these guidelines you followed in planning the trip:
- Investigate your destinations before traveling to see if there is a problem with overtourism. Consider not visiting a destination suffering from overtourism during the height of its tourism season. Instead, try to travel in shoulder or off seasons when there are fewer visitors.
- Research and seek out smaller cities and lesser-known destinations that offer many similar experiences and attractions. Resist the temptation to go only to the places you see on Instagram … destinations are suffering from the negative impacts of congestion, but none of the positive impacts of stay-over tourism.
- Consider traveling with a responsible tour operator: Intrepid Travel and G Adventures instituted measures to avoid contributing to overtourism, like organizing early entry when visiting popular attractions, taking travelers to less-visited sites within historic cities and offering alternative hikes to avoid crowded pathways and lead to less-visited sections of ancient sites.
- Be responsible about the photos you take. Get permission to take photos of individuals and respect the physical environment. Do not go off trails into restricted areas to snap pictures. Showing restraint will allow you to really experience the destination while remaining respectful of those around you.
- Use apps or other devices, when available, that can track and help to disperse crowds.
- Opt for cruises using smaller boats less overwhelming to the environment at a destination.
- If using Airbnb or another home-sharing site, check beforehand to see if they are legal and what regulations are in that particular destination. Same for Uber, Lyft and other rideshare services. Ask yourself if they are legal, and if so, what are the rules you should follow?
- Try to use accommodations, transport and restaurants certified as socially and environmentally responsible, and/or locally owned. Check the company’s website look for certifications or messaging about sustainability.
- Use your dollars toward good: Tourists need to be mindful of creating a positive footprint on destinations, rather than a neutral one. Spend on locally owned restaurants and hotels, locally made handicrafts and donate to social and environmental projects.
As the goal of many parents is to unplug from devices to ensure their kids and teens are present, Bray said it is necessary to have a conversation prior to the trip about the importance of really experiencing the destination.
“When you have that conversation, consider setting clear rules about phone use on your vacation,” she stressed.
“While we encourage responsible travelers to share their travel choices and start conversations about sustainability on social media, it’s also important to be mindful of the negative impacts that the overuse of Instagram can have. Help your kids set healthy boundaries by explaining how their photo-taking behaviors and social media use can affect local residents and other travelers. Encourage your kids to take photos that are meaningful to them and putting together a social media post about the trip at the end — after they’ve had a chance to reflect on how special the trip was. For international trips, it’s also important to understand what charges you might incur for phone use or roaming data charges, and to communicate that to your kids.”
Bray concludes by suggesting CREST’s responsible travel tips can be used anywhere as these acts of courtesy are tangible ways everybody can make a positive impact on the places they call home. “Eating at restaurants that source locally and are locally owned, prioritizing environmentally friendly transportation, and reducing the waste we produce are steps that we can all take, regardless of where we are,” she said.
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