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Developing countries, especially those throughout Latin America and Southeast Asia, are often viewed from somewhat of an 'anything goes' perspective. Stunning natural environments, exotic culture, and wild nightlife combined with attractive exchange rates lure in adventurous travelers seeking the most bang for their buck.

Aside from vacationers looking to let their hair down, places like Mexico and Bali have also become hubs for digital nomads to set up shop in the post-Covid world. Tourism has the potential to bring significant economic change to local populations who desperately need it. Unfortunately, it can also work against the favor of local communities if not managed correctly. With an open mind and a bit of research, however, conscientious travelers can ensure their presence (long or short) is a positive one.

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Related: Stay Green: Best Eco-Friendly Destinations for 2022

Reducing Your Environmental Footprint

Thanks to good education, many travelers coming from Westernized countries are already in the habit of considering the natural environment. Just don't forget to take those habits on the road!

Take Steps to Avoid Single-use Plastic

Single-use plastic is a huge issue worldwide. In developing countries though, waste management generally consists of just lighting everything on fire (plastic and all). Bring along a reusable water bottle to fill up from the drinking water provided in your accommodation rather than buying small bottles from the store. Even better if it's the insolated kind - then it can also be put to use for morning coffee. Bring along a reusable bag to use for daily shopping too!

Consider the Strain on Services and Infrastructure

Due to corruption and poor planning, population often grows faster than the local infrastructure. One important thing to remember is not to get angry with accommodation hosts over things like slow internet or power outages. They live with it all year round too, and it is completely outside their control. Here are some ways to offset issues:

  • Power: limit a/c usage to certain hours of the day. Never leave it on while out of the accommodation. The same goes for lights, fans, and appliances. Use only what you need, when you need it.
  • Water: take cold showers. It saves gas/electricity while also encouraging a quicker turnaround time. Additionally, don't leave the tap on while doing dishing, brushing teeth, etc.
  • Internet: research ahead of time and plan accordingly. Avoid stress by notifying friends, family, or employers in advance if traveling to an area notorious for poor internet. Consider bringing along a mobile hotspot.

Respect Nature and Leave No Trace

One thing that just about every vacation hot spot in a developing country has in common is stunning scenery. This, of course, is one of the main draws for tourism. Hoards of visitors can be hard on nature though, so it's important to be mindful. Even when being responsible with one's own trash, it doesn't hurt to pick up the slack for others who were not. If there is something on the ground that shouldn't be, dispose of it.

Here are a few more tips:

  • Never participate in tours or attractions that exploit wildlife. Look for places where rescue, rehabilitation, or conservation are the focus instead. Oftentimes volunteers are welcome (and needed) too!
  • Leave seashells on the beach. Not only are they an important part of marine ecosystems, but in some places taking seashells is even illegal! Gently place sand dollars and starfish back in the water as they may still be alive. A conscientious alternative is to simply take a photo, and then collect trash and cigarette butts off the beach instead.

Line The Pockets Of The Right People

Gentrification affects communities worldwide. In developing countries that are tourism hot spots, the effects are even more polarizing. At the same time, tourism dollars can be a lifeline to locals. This is where research and planning are important.

As tourism grows, destinations become more attractive to foreign investors. This displaces local populations as properties are turned into vacation rentals. With that said, the injection of revenue has also enabled entrepreneurship amongst locals. When booking accommodation, be sure to choose something locally-owned. Not only is it the ethical choice, but staying in a home or apartment owned by a local family provides guests with a great source of insight and information during the stay. Apart from accommodation, avoid foreign-owned businesses that have created direct competition with locals already providing the same service. Shop local and dine locally.

Lastly, do not insist on bartering for the lowest price. A small saving is insignificant to someone on vacation but makes a huge difference to local vendors. Along the same lines, don't be rude to street or beach vendors. If you can afford what they're selling, buy it. In many places, they work long, unforgiving hours in extreme heat. Always tip at restaurants! No matter how fancy it is, local hospitality staff is not getting paid a livable wage in any developing country.

Related: How To Communicate With Locals in Spanish-Speaking Countries

Be Aware Of Cultural Norms

Becoming a more conscientious traveler will earn the respect of locals. Be considerate of being in a different culture and act accordingly.

Language

First and foremost, don't expect everyone to speak English. It's totally understandable that there is a language barrier when in a new country, but there are polite ways to navigate it. Learn a few basic phrases to at least be able to ask 'do you speak English' in the native language. If the answer is no, use a translator app or phrasebook. Don't just speak in English slowly or loudly and definitely do not get annoyed. When at a restaurant, make an effort to pronounce things as written on the menu or point to them on the menu, rather than simply defaulting to English. A bit of effort goes a long way!

General Behavior

Many developing countries have strong religious undertones (Catholicism in Mexico, Buddhism in Thailand, Hinduism in Bali, to name a few) and a fairly conservative native culture. Skimpy swimwear is fine for the beach, but travelers can avoid judgemental glares and comments by covering up for shopping and dining. This applies to men too; sitting in a restaurant with a sweaty, shirtless man dining at the next table isn't appetizing for anyone. If you wouldn't do it at home, don't do it on vacation.

Speaking of attire, ladies, do not go topless in crowded, family-friendly areas. It is extremely offensive to locals and can also be a safety risk. Save the topless tanning for secluded or designated beaches.

When staying in AirBnbs and vacation rentals, they are often located in residential areas. This means that not everyone is on vacation. Be mindful of noise levels, especially with loud music late at night.

Conscientious Travel Is Mutually Beneficial

Most travelers have had that cringe-inducing experience of witnessing the poor behavior of others on vacation. Sometimes it even creates the urge to disassociate with other foreigners. Making small changes and becoming a more conscientious traveler will help to change negative stereotypes into positive ones. At the same time, it creates a more authentic travel experience!