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A Guest Post By Shadia Garrison, The Mindful Tourist.

Ecotourism, sustainable tourism, green tourism, cultural tourism, responsible tourism, philanthropic tourism, voluntourism… Ack, what do all these terms mean and how can I ever live up to all of them?
How about this?  Just be a good person while traveling, think of others and the environment you are visiting, and treat it better than you’d treat your own home and neighbors. Be a mindful tourist: that is, be mindful of the environment, the local people and their culture, and the future of the site. You can probably figure it out yourself, but here are some ways I believe we all can travel in a mindful, socially conscious way:
 

1. Learn about and embrace the culture around you
Prepare yourself before you go to understand the local culture and where it comes from.  This doesn’t mean you have to accept the congealed blood sandwich offered to you by the tribe leader but it means you’ll be prepared and understand why this is an honor.  If things are done differently than in your home country, don’t sweat it.  Accept, don’t criticize. Share your own culture, too – in a meaningful and thoughtful way.
 

2. Contribute to the local economy
Stay at locally owned bed and breakfasts or other local lodging options (which also tend to be more eco-friendly than large resorts with heated pools); take tours with locals who can point out the local fishing hole or who will take you to their best friend’s run-down restaurant that serves the best fish tacos you’ve ever had.
 

3. Steer clear of eco-unfriendly activities such as swimming with dolphins, four-wheeling through the rainforest, or helicopter tours.  No explanation needed, right?Local trasnportation
 

4. Become a temporary member of the community
Pretend you belong: walk the streets; talk with kids playing cricket (better yet, join in the game even though we all know you have no idea what you’re doing!); and duck into the neighborhood dive bar to have a cold one with the locals.
 

5. Leave the place in better shape than you found it.
Strive to have a light footprint, don’t “love it to death,” give constructive advice if asked so that experiences are more authentic and even better for future tourists.  Develop sustainable and mutually beneficial relationships with your guides or hosts.   In short, instead of leaving behind your trash, leave behind some of your good will.
Remember, we’re all in this together.  Not to get all “rainbows and kittens” on you but everyone you deal with in your travels is a human being and is doing the best he or she can.  Your vacation is a part of your life – as such, it won’t be perfect in every way.  Accept that fact and be kind to everyone you encounter, even the bus driver who scowls when you request more toilet paper or the hotel staff person who objects to your switching rooms.  If you do that, you’re well on your way to being a mindful and socially conscious traveler.
 

Shadia was born in Cairo, Egypt to parents who met as Peace Corps volunteers living in Tunisia, and has since journeyed all over the planet.  She believes that the best part about traveling is the opportunity to learn from and appreciate past and current cultures.  She founded and writes at The Mindful Tourist.