404 Raising Responsible Travelers

Raising Responsible Travelers

Intelligent Travel’s Leslie Trew Magrew recently interviewed author Elizabeth Becker. Becker’s Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism examines our impact as travelers. In the interview, she sites France as a model of sustainable tourism, embracing the culture that people go to France to see. Cambodia exemplifies the worst case scenario, exploiting the sites and people to make more money. Governments and tourist offices are burdened with finding ways to balance the influx of tourists with the local resources. However, it is not just their burden. Responsible travel is our burden. As parents, sharing our love of travel with our families, what can we do to make sure that the places we visit now will still be an authentic experience for our children’s children?


Sacre Coeur, Paris.

Responsible Travel: Proper Preparation

Using a Staycation to Better Understand a Vacation

One way Becker suggests approaching the issue of responsible tourism was taking a staycation.

My advice is to first be a tourist where you live. Explore the museums, the farms, the churches, the night life, the historic monuments–and then read up on local politics and history. If you’re interested in volunteering overseas, first volunteer at home. Then when you’re planning your next trip abroad, use that experience as a template and study up on the destination you’re about to visit.

I admit, other than a lower carbon footprint, I didn’t quite understand how this would help. Then I read a little more about responsible travel in Cambodia and the idea of visiting orphanages was brought up. In bold letters the site asked

THINK TWICE BEFORE VISITING AN ORPHANAGE …Would you go to visit an orphanage in your home country? Would somewhere that puts the best interests of the children first allow random visits from strangers?

This helped me put it in perspective. The way we would approach travel where we live, that’s how we should approach travel somewhere else. How do locals like to be treated? What types of things are off the tourist radar, but worth the visit? How do we connect to the community?

With children, seeing what their own community offers helps them make a connection outside of their community. An added benefit to staycations? Learning more about our family’s travel style.


Becker mentions the Baedeker Travel Guides from the late 1800s and early 1900s. These “were written in consultation with historians and archaeologists who presumed the tourists wanted to immerse themselves in a country.” As opposed to many of today’s guides, the Baedeker Guides focused more on the history, culture, politics and even language of a country and only a small space for hotels and restaurants.

Keep this in mind when preparing for a trip. Make sure the amount of time searching for the perfect hotel is matched with taking the time to gain a greater understanding of the country itself. Include children in this preparation. Whip up relevant meals, read stories set in the location, look up phrases and photos online, and do a search on youtube for videos. This knowledge gives everyone, kids included, a better appreciation for the country and compassion for its people.

Responsible Travel: The Local Impact

It’s important to understand just how travel impacts the local community. Becker’s Cambodia example shows that their shortsightedness is actually destroying the very reason people started traveling there in the first place, “In Angkor, a thicket of new hotels has outpaced infrastructure and is draining the water table so badly the temples are sinking.”  And that’s just the beginning. The greed exhibited there has made Cambodia popular for sex tourism and even profiting from tours to the killing fields.

This is an extreme, but unfortunately, small example of the effects of tourism. An influx of tourists will have both a positive and negative impact to the local community, in every community. Responsible travelers, educating future travelers, must find an appropriate way to travel  with minimal negative impact.

The Ethical Traveler suggests to

Be aware of where your money is going, and patronize locally owned inns, restaurants, and shops. Try to keep your cash within the local economy, so the people you are visiting can benefit directly from your visit.

Fortunately, according to a list by Conde Nast’s Wendy Perrin of what kids say they really want, this should coincide nicely. They want a place that is completely different from home, preferring the experience of a local market where they can the varieties of food then going on a picnic at a park later, and purchasing souvenirs directly from the maker.

This topic is far larger than these simple points I mention above. Acknowledging our impact is the first step. By educating ourselves we can find the balance to make more right choices for our families and the places we visit.

This is definitely a subject I will return to again. In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts on responsible tourism and any challenges you might face as a traveling family.

If you are interested in other articles about this topic, please visit the following sites:

International Center for Responsible Tourism

The Sustainable Tourism Gateway

I-to-I Volunteering

This post is part of Friday Daydreaming at R We There Yet Mom?sexe vibrognail


  1. This is definitely something we think about with every trip we take. I will have to check out this book!

  2. I will have to check out the book, too. It’s available on the kindle, so that makes it easier for me to do so.

  3. Well said. I find that it is more difficult to be responsible tourist with kids because (just as I am when I am at home with them) I am focused on just coping. The staycation idea is a good one.

  4. Lots of interesting points to think about – particularly the idea of approaching travel in other countries the way that we would approach travel where we live. I think too many travelers treat other countries like their personal playgrounds rather than someone else’s home.

  5. We love staycations – we plan several a year!

    Thanks for linking up.

  6. Lisa, yes, exactly. Other countries being treated like our own personal playground. That’s the perfect description. And Danielle, I agree that it is more difficult to feel the responsible tourist when so focused on our kids. But, in some ways,having kids has probably made it easier/more natural to be better travelers. I mean, I am more likely to want to stay at a nicer hotel that isn’t as good to the locals (I don’t know how to find this information out on a per-hotel basis) or want to go to a restaurant that I know my kids are more familiar with, but I’m also more likely to avoid the huge crowds and even try quiet restaurants away from the tourist area.

  7. I’ve really been struggling with this while traveling through Asia. When we went to Chiang Mai, I was unsure about visiting a long neck hilltribe village. Was I perpetuating a lifestyle that they’re maintaining only because it’s a source of income? In the end I was glad I visited since the women I talked to indicated that their life is better making and selling handicrafts in the village rather than working in the fields.

    I don’t know what I’m going to do in Cambodia, though. In my brain, I know that giving the street kids money only encourages their parents to continue sending them out to beg. Not giving them money will help them in the long term. But in the short term, they will be deprived of whatever that money buys, like food. That just breaks my heart, especially when I know that my picky eaters will probably leave food behind on their plates in Cambodia.

    In Penang, Malaysia where I live, I visited a school for Muslim refugees from Myanmar. They don’t get have a right to education here, so it’s led entirely by volunteers and donations. When I left, I realized that the airfare that we were using for our Australia trip would have paid for 5 years of rent for that school. That really weighed on my mind for a while.

    Us travelers are so fortunate to be able to take our kids to see the world. But sometimes it doesn’t seem quite fair for those children who can’t even get a decent meal or education.

  8. We really enjoyed our visit to Cambodia a few years ago. It was off season so it was hard to gauge how heavily touristed Ankor has become. Hopefully they will come around and do things that are done in other places (like Machu Pichu) to limit the number of people coming through to a manageable level.

  9. Traveling off season was recommended by the book’s author. It’s also just so much nicer as a visiting tourist. I’m not sure what the difference is for high and low season in Cambodia. For example, I visited some castles here in Germany during off season and that meant that the gardens weren’t in bloom, the fountains were turned off and covered, and many of the rooms were being refurbished. It also meant that we had two people in front of us in line, had a group of 3 families on the tour, and we could take our time. Cambodia has a milder climate than Germany, so I wonder if off season there just means more rain?