1. I will learn how to say more than just “hello” and “thank you” in the local language.
Ignore what the guidebooks say—regardless of whether you plan to spend one week or one year in a country, basic manners are the bare minimum. (Otherwise, you might end up like one of our writers—trapped in a taxi for nearly an hour with no way to communicate her desired destination—all because she only knew how to say “thank you” in Mandarin.)
It might sound daunting, but making the effort to learn even basic phrases not only demonstrates your respect for your host country and its people—it also leads to more enriching travel experiences.
2. I will ensure that my tourism dollars reach the hands of worthy recipients.
Even when it comes to travel, you're voting with your dollars. You can start by saying “no” to the ever-tempting all-inclusive and cruise ship vacations. Yes, I know it’s January and I know it’s miserable and cold outside. We’ve all been there. In fact, that’s why I’m not telling you to flat-out say “no” to Mexico—I’m just pointing out that there are other places to stay and eat other than those offered by sterile package holidays.
Sure, stepping off a plane and being bussed directly to your resort—like sheep being led to boring buffets—is easy. But most resorts are foreign-owned, meaning that as much as 95 per cent of the money you spend won't stay in the country. That's why a little extra research and planning is worth it. Seeking out hotels and restaurants that are owned by local people supports livelihoods and leads to more authentic travel experiences.
Next, apply this same principle to tours, excursions and attractions. It may be tempting to ride an elephant or visit a tiger temple, but before you do, think carefully about what your hard-earned cash is really supporting. (Trust me lads, you didn’t really need that new Tinder profile picture anyway.)
3. I will travel in an environmentally friendly fashion.
The travel and tourism industry has a terrible track record when it comes to the environment. It’s led to water inequity, pollution and environmental degradation. Granted, cultural norms and facilities for waste management vary greatly, but there’s no reason that you can’t treat each destination like its your home country.
Here are some easy ways to start:
• Ditch bottled water (where possible) in favour of your own water bottle. Most airports have filling stations that you can use after you pass through security. (You'll save money, too!)
• Ask the airline attendant to refill your cup (or water bottle) rather than using a brand new one each time. (Do we really need to use more than one plastic cup per flight?)
• Carry a reusable bag. (Don’t worry about offending anyone. The 7-11 employees on Bangkok's Khao San Road have seen foreigners do far stranger things than turn down a plastic bag.)
• Walk and bike whenever you can. Or, if you have the time, travel “low and slow”; take the train or bus instead of flying.
• Use biodegradable personal hygiene products, and refill your own mini bottles rather than using prepackaged travel-sized items.
• Consider your destination carefully—will your presence affect the destination’s natural environment? Will it affect the local population’s access to or quality of natural resources?
4. I will try to sit down with a local in every new place that I visit.
When I interviewed G Adventures’ founder Bruce Poon Tip a couple of years ago, he mentioned that he never leaves a country without sitting down with a local person for a meal. Regardless of ethnicity or language, food is universal. He explained that that’s why the act often fosters a profound (albeit sometimes brief) cultural exchange. It seems like a policy that we should all adopt.
5. I will do my research before volunteering abroad.
Really, if you’re doing anything abroad, you should do your research first. But volunteering abroad is a special case. New service providers continually pop up, many of which are so focused on making a quick buck off of would-be volunteers that they forget to ensure their programs have a positive community impact.
That’s why it’s up to you to ask questions and do your legwork. Where is your volunteer fee going? Are the programs sustainable? Is there community buy-in? Does the organization follow best practices? And finally, what are your own intentions or expectations? (Shameless plug: If you find yourself lost in an Internet black hole, our Go Global Expos are the perfect chance to speak with the experts.)
6. I will share stories of my travels in a socially responsible way.
Repeat after me: “I will not use TIA as a hashtag. I will not use TIA as a hashtag.”
Make 2016 the year to stop perpetuating stereotypes. This includes the photos you share on Instagram and Facebook, the tall tales you tell at the pub, and the quick tweets you punch out while on the road.
7. I will travel safely.
Here at Verge, we don’t believe in fear-mongering. What we do believe in, however, is a whole lot of common sense. Every year, dozens of travellers are injured or die because they engage in activities that they would never dream of doing at home. (Think about it—would you get on the back of a motorcycle without a helmet in New York? Then why would you do it in Cambodia?)
Some good rules of thumb:
• If your gut tells you that it’s dangerous, it probably is.
• Ask yourself: Are the locals doing it? Or are just the tourists doing it?
• Want to avoid gastro? Wash your hands! (Hand sterilizer is not enough.)
• Wear all the safety gear that you would at home: a helmet, a seat belt, a condom and lots of sunscreen. (Bonus points if you manage to wear these all at once.)
8. I will foster and encourage diversity in travel.
This is actually one for the Verge editorial team. This year, we resolve to make sure a wider range of voices are represented on our website and in our magazine. Diversity abroad—particularly in terms of access to study, work and volunteer abroad opportunities—grows increasingly important in a global economy. Travel is a valuable component of education, helping young people to develop the skills they need to excel in a competitive and intercultural marketplace.
Experiences abroad also vary greatly when viewed through different lens of gender, sexual orientation and race. That’s why we want to make sure those voices are being heard. (Interested in contributing? Get in touch.)
9. I will travel to become a better global citizen.
This is the most important resolution, and the one that's at the heart of Verge's mission. Deepening your understanding of other countries, cultures and people empowers you with the information and connections you need to make transformative change both on the road, and at home.
After all, going abroad isn't just an opportunity to see the world—it's a chance to become an active participant in the world.Add this article to your reading list