How to travel responsibly in Asia
To us, responsible tourism is not just a buzzword; it’s always been an essential part of how we travel. Reading some simple best-practice guidelines prior to departure can make a big difference while you're away. Keep reading to find out how you can make a difference before you go, while you’re away, and on your return. You can read Selective Asia’s Responsible Travel policy in full at the bottom of this page, read more about our Wildlife Policy here, and learn more about the charities we work with here.
1. What you can do before you depart
Take some time to research the destinations you are travelling to before you leave home. Find out about the specifics - these could be ecological, cultural or religious - and ensure you understand how best to respect the local sensibilities.
On the Departure Lounge section of the website, you'll find information about local customs & etiquette, and responsible travel tips (your password is provided when you make a booking).
When it comes to clothing, plan carefully and think about what may be considered offensive to others. When visiting temples and historical buildings it is essential that you cover your shoulders, sometimes your entire arm, and your knees. In all but the most touristy beach resorts it is never suitable to walk the streets or eat a meal in a bikini or just a pair of shorts. When packing try to avoid carrying products that are enclosed in disposable packaging - can you leave this packaging at home?
Further details on all of the above can be found in the Departure Lounge.
Before you leave, these actions can make a surprising difference:
- Turn the fridge's temperature down
- Cancel the newspapers
- Turn off the hot water
- Put lights on a timer rather than just leave on for security reasons
- Unplug all unnecessary electrical items
2. During your Selective Asia Holiday
Always ask before taking a photo of anyone. Pointing at your camera with raised eyebrows will usually suffice. Respect your subject’s wishes if they decline your request - put yourself in their position and it doesn’t take long to work out why some may say no.
Having said that, many people are more than happy for you to take a snap, if only to be able to admire the picture you have just taken of them… the wonders of the digital camera! If you get the opportunity, make an extra print and you’ve got a friend for life. It is not good practise to offer any payment for taking someone’s photo.
Try and learn a little, even just a basic greeting and thank you. You’ll find that people respond very well to this; the locals will appreciate the effort you are making and your attempts are often a great ice-breaker.
In most instances, we strongly recommend you do not give money or other ‘gifts’ to beggars, no matter how hard it is to resist. Children miss out on a basic education because they are forced to beg by their parents. In the most extreme cases, they may even be deliberately maimed to increase their earning potential.
Your guide can point you in the direction of schools where you can make a more meaningful donation of pens or other equipment to. These donations actually reach the intended benefactors.
Monks receiving alms is not considered begging as the monasteries are supported by the local communities. Ask your guide or a local how to go about giving alms if you wish to.
Caring for the environment
At your hotel:
- Request that your towels are replaced less regularly. Most hotels have a system in place for this.
- Switch off the lights and air-conditioning when you leave your room.
- Unplug any devices that you are charging before you go to bed.
- Try exploring the streets instead of a sweating it out on a running machine.
On the streets:
- Take care to not litter; most developing countries do not have a refuse collection system.
- Avoid buying items in disposable packaging. Do you really need a carrier bag for that t-shirt?
- Show people that you are concerned. In the west we are often more informed on these matters than in Asia.
When bartering don’t try and squeeze every last penny out of the deal. You are expected to raise your initial offer at least once and in most cases several times. Make a game out of it and you’ll come to enjoy the experience. A tip is to think about the value of the item to you rather than the price. Give yourself a reality check every now and again and you’ll realise that you are probably sticking over 50p…very little to you and I but a vital profit margin for the seller.
Reducing plastic waste, One Bottle at a Time...
Tap water in Asia is not always reliable, and bottled water is often a necessity. Although buying bottled water in Asia may not hurt your wallet, the environmental cost is huge. Inspired by our Destination Specialist Annie, Selective Asia launched an initiative called One Bottle at a Time. To reduce the plastic bottles waste our clients create, we're providing refillable aluminium drinking bottles and carrying canisters of drinking water in our vehicles. Working with our local partners, we've also introduced a scheme that allows our clients to refill their own reusable bottles from water stations at key partner hotels, as well as our portable water canisters. Find out more about One Bottle at a Time here, or ask your Destination Specialist.
Wilderness & wildlife
We appreciate that making absolutely no negative impact on the environment when travelling to Asia is simply not possible, however, we strive to minimise it as much as we can We rely on you and ask that you use common sense and follow local and international wilderness guidelines.
- If you carry it in, carry it out – please don’t dispose of litter along the way. This includes cigarette butts and used matches, as well as paper, plastic, clothing and food scraps. Fruit leftovers may be biodegradable but they are unsightly and can take a while to decompose. Carry a plastic bag to collect your litter during the day and take it away with you. And if you're happy to set a good example; pick up litter left by other, less considerate individuals.
- Don't feed wild animals - food scraps should not be considered ‘biodegradable’. Be aware that rabies and other diseases are prevalent in many countries. Wild animals should never be touched, and we also strongly advise you to refrain from touching domestic animals such as cats and dogs.
- When trekking and mountain biking you should stick to marked paths at all times. This is for your own safety and also helps to prevent unnecessary erosion.
- Try to buy any basic products from the local communities you visit rather than carry them in. This helps to support the local economy in a small way.
- The protection of water resources is vital. Please do everything possible to avoid polluting vital water sources when trekking and using home-stays. Ask your guide and locals to show you which water to wash and bath in.
- Only use biodegradable soaps and shampoos that do not contain phosphates. Please avoid using soap and shampoo directly in any fresh water sources such as waterfalls or lakes.
- If bathing or swimming, consider local sensibilities, both in terms of what you wear and the fact you are in ‘their’ water. Bathe downstream from water collection points and villages, and if you’re using shampoos and soaps, lather up and rinse well away from the water’s edge.
- Learn more about our position on elephant camps and wildlife sanctuaries on our wildlife policy.
An unfortunate by-product of travel in some developing nations is sex tourism. Selective Asia wishes to advise all its guests to give anything of this kind a very wide berth. Enough said.
People, Customs and Etiquette
Wow, a minefield… Asia is overflowing with customs and particular etiquette. Please try and adhere to these where possible and practical. In truth, it’s half the fun of travelling in Asia and not only will local people feel respected, they will respect you in return, allowing you to enjoy a fuller travel experience. You are in their back yard, remember.
- Don’t be surprised if local people, especially in more remote regions, treat you with a touch of curiosity, even suspicion at times. Keep an open mind and learn from each experience. One of the great benefits of a Selective Asia holiday is that you won’t be turning up with 15 other camera-wielding tourists and ‘taking over’ the village for half a day… as a private 'group' you’ll do a much better job of blending in!
- You may find you are asked questions by locals that seem direct. We’ve been asked how many children we have, how old we are, if we’re married, what our salary is, and more on numerous occasions. Try to realise this is simply a way for many to practice their English and open a conversation with someone from a culture they don’t know. Also privacy can mean something very different in Asia and the norm is to be married and practice a religion. It’s up to you how or if you answer these questions – we recommend with good humour!
- Please respect local customs. Read up before you go and you can always ask your guide, or a local, once you are there. In all but the most remote areas, people understand that you come from a different culture and any errors you make will most likely be met with laughter.
- Nudity, scanty or inappropriate dress often causes offence. Modest dress will help minimise the risk of sexual harassment, and will help to ensure both you and future visitors are treated with respect.
- Formalities such as greetings can be quite different to what you are used to. It’s never a problem to offer your hand but it may be found very amusing – again, take your lead from the locals.
- Please be aware that public displays of affection are taboo in many communities.
- Try not to lose your temper in public, it is considered very rude by many Asian people and should be avoided at all costs. Save the argument for the hotel room.
- Likewise, never turn bartering into argument - it will not benefit you. Throughout Asia a trades-person will never be seen to lose face by buckling to the demands of a red-faced tourist.
- Abide by all the laws of the country and community you’re visiting… they apply to everyone.
- Children are not tourist attractions. We advocate the work of www.thinkchildsafe.org and are moving away from including visits to children’s centres, orphanages and schools. We wouldn’t accept tourists visiting these intuitions in our own countries and hope this way of thinking is the same for our clients in Asia.
Visitors to religious and historic sites should pay particular attention to the following:
- Be sure to dress appropriately and follow local guidelines
- Be mindful of your manners and respect local etiquette
- Never remove anything from religious or historical sites: this constitutes theft, not a souvenir.
3. Upon your return
It’s all down to sharing your knowledge with others at this stage. Any information, hints and tips that you can pass on ensures that those following in your footsteps will be better educated and more responsible.
You may also want to make donations to groups and charities that work in the region you have visited. For further details on a select number of organisations that we believe are truly making a difference to peoples lives and animal welfare, as well as helping to sustain communities, please click here. Your donations and help are always very much appreciated.
Our approach to responsible travel
Accountability & points of action
Working with wildlife