Be A Conscious Student Traveler | 9 Responsible Travel Tips
The Impact of Study Abroad
So, you’re planning on studying abroad. Traveling has been a life-long dream of yours and this is your first step in that direction. You’ve read up on all the essential tips and tricks on how to travel efficiently. But, have you thought about how to be a conscious student traveler?
Study abroad can be a profoundly life-changing experience. You come into contact with people from a variety of backgrounds and get to experience wonderful places and a variety of cultures and traditions. At EDU Africa, we believe that every journey to the African continent should give students the opportunity to learn and transform, especially in the five areas we have identified and set as our Transformation Goals.
Apart from the impact that your study abroad journey will have on you, it will also have an inevitable impact on the environment, economy and community you will be visiting. Being aware of not only the positive but also the possible negative effects that your journey can have will allow you to make more informed decisions about where to go, what to support and how to engage with the people and places you visit. This is why it’s important to educate yourself on what it means to be an eco-friendly and socially conscious traveler.
Here’s our roundup of tips to keep in mind when planning your study abroad journey to Africa:
9 Responsible Travel Tips for the Conscious Student Traveler
1. Think about where and when you travel
Some popular destinations suffer from mass tourism during peak seasons, negatively impacting the environment and the routines of local people. Do some research: some of the roads less traveled often offer a more authentic and deeply immersive experience.
Did you know: According to the IIE 2019 Open Doors Report, only 4% of US study abroad students choose Sub-Saharan Africa as their host region.
2. Respect local cultures and values
Read up on the variety of cultural practices in your host country, and find out what kind of language or behaviors are considered taboo or seen as offensive. It is your responsibility to educate yourself on various cultural attitudes, values and beliefs, but it’s also important to foster an attitude of openness and flexibility towards the various peoples and situations you will encounter.
Tip: Learn a few greetings or phrases in a local language; these might enable you to initiate more meaningful interactions with persons in your host country.
3. Pack for the environment
What you pack for your study abroad trip will determine what you use and leave behind in your host country. By opting for plastic-free, reusable, and energy-saving options, you can travel with a clearer conscience. Here’s a list of 10 eco-friendly alternatives to pack in order to travel plastic-free.
Did you know: Africa is leading the way when it comes to legislation regulating the production and use of plastic bags. Several countries such as Rwanda, Kenya, and Tanzania have banned plastic bags.
4. Choose your transport wisely
That long flight to your host country will produce a whole lot of air and noise pollution. When choosing your airline, find out whether they have a carbon offsetting program and try to book direct flights where possible. While in-country, opt for exploring by foot (in groups), using bicycles and public transport, or pool together when renting a car to lower your impact on the environment.
Did you know: As part of our commitment to the environment, we support local organizations that plant trees and restore indigenous forests.
5. Save water and energy
Familiarize yourself with your host country’s environmental challenges and do your best to save where you can. Cape Town, for example, has faced severe water crises in the recent past. The ‘Save like a local’ campaign encourages you to take shorter showers, do your laundry as infrequently as possible, and close the tap while brushing your teeth. Remember to reuse your towels at your accommodation, and switch off lights and electrical appliances when not in use.
Did you know: According to the World Bank’s Electricity Access in sub-Saharan Africa report, only 42.8 percent of the population had access to electricity in 2016.
Make yourself aware of your host country’s policies on rubbish and recycling. Find out if your accommodation has any ongoing recycling projects that you can support. Try and create as little waste as possible and always properly dispose of your trash.
Tip: If you want to give back, you can take part in, or arrange, a beach clean-up!
7. Support local businesses
When shopping for souvenirs or produce, try to support vendors at markets where artists, craftspeople and entrepreneurs sell locally sourced and locally made products. Buy and eat locally grown foods, or enjoy a sit-down meal at an authentic local restaurant. In this way, you’ll directly contribute to your host country’s economy.
Tip: Negotiating with vendors can be part of the shopping experience, and might be needed to secure a more fair price. Remember to not exploit locals, as this is how they earn their living.
8. Beware of animal interactions
As wonderful as it sounds to walk with lions, or pet a cheetah in Africa, beware of institutions that exploit wild animals for entertainment and money. Always question the purpose of the organization — you should not support and encourage the breeding and/or captivity of animals that belong in the wild. The African continent is home to many national reserves and conservancies where these majestic animals can be seen in their natural habitat.
Did you know: The Southern African Tourism Association recently published a guide to assist when Evaluating Captive Wildlife Attractions & Activities.
9. Think before you help
As a tourist, you might be seen as an easy target and might be approached by economically disadvantaged people asking for help and contributions. Our first response is normally to give, but remember, that is not a sustainable way to help. When taking part in a service-learning project or contributing towards an organization, ensure that the communities involved are self-driving change and are being supported in order to support themselves.
Did you know: You can get involved in various sustainable service-learning projects in Southern and East Africa.
It’s easy to have an impactful experience and make the most of your time while studying abroad. Your own growth and transformation, however, should not be where the buck stops. Every study abroad student has a chance to be an agent of positive change. Start with these responsible travel tips and be an eco-friendly and socially-conscious traveler in your host country, and beyond!