Perhaps we have replaced vacations with stay-cations recently, or maybe posh get-aways to top-end sites have been traded in for a family trip to a more “rustic” location.  More sites than ever are advertizing eco, green and sustainable tourism.  The reliability of those claims aside, we often overlook the impact that our trips have on out hosts (both willing and unwilling).  Here are a few rules of thumb anyone can use to be a better guest when visiting our global neighbors:

Keep an open heart and an open mind. We are, among other things, an infrastructure spoiled country, and we tend to want to travel without leaving the comforts of home.  From my own personal experience, getting a little dirt on your hiking boots will not hurt you and neither will a tepid shower.  The infrastructure in developing areas is often times lacking.  The ability not to judge a book by its cover is important here.  You may have to get past initial impressions of poor waste management or disorganization to meet some amazing people and learn about parts of the world that you would not have otherwise known.  Letting go of the idea that you cannot survive without a latte in the morning will open up a whole world of possibilities and adventures.

Along with being patient with places, try to be patient with people.  I have been guilty of thinking of my relationships as networking opportunities, but you miss many stories that way.  Treat everyone from your bus driver to the woman in the market as someone with whom you want to become friends.

Think local. While I cannot speak for the whole world, I do know that in many places in Guatemala there are well-trained and underappreciated local guides.  These men and women know the ins and outs of their community, and they can tell you anything from fun stories about the places and people you are seeing to the best place to have a local lunch.  In Guatemala, there are whole groups that have received training at a national technical center studying methodology, birding, cultural tourism and sometimes English.  Spend a little time researching off-the-beaten-path destinations, and ask about local guide associations.  In Guatemala, you can get information about trained guides through INGUAT (  Not only will you get a unique service, you will be helping to support community development.

Buy direct. Anywhere you travel, it is easy to find knick-knacks to buy.  Here in Guatemala, there are large artisan markets in any tourist destination.  However, the people selling there are usually intermediaries, and more than once, I have found items in these markets that were factory made being sold as hand-made items.  I encourage you to get off the beaten path, look around and buy directly from the groups or individuals who are making these products.  What’s more, ask them to show you how they make them.  You will likely get a better product at a lower price, and you will have some wonderful memories to take home with you.

Watch your waste. Waste treatment in developing countries is not what it is in the states.  Not littering is not enough.  When you throw your can or bottle in a trash can not only does it not get recycled, it is often thrown into a river basin.  Sanitary landfills and water treatment plants are sorely lacking.  Think about the products and packaging that you are buying and try to avoid disposable items while traveling to developed areas.  If you do need to buy items with packaging, consider stuffing old plastic materials into a dry, clean plastic bottle that can be used for construction (

Volunteer. In almost any part of the world, you can find organizations that are looking for an extra hand.  While you will have to look carefully at the project goals, and its sustainability, volunteering can be a rewarding experience to add to your scrapbook.

Leave a Reply.