I have many mantras for different areas of my life, and the title of this piece is my "mantra for traveling." I actually have many travel mantras, and the most important ten make up my personal Manifesto For Traveling. When taking a group to a country new to them, I first try to lead by example. I'm not perfect, in fact I'm far from it. My luggage is way too heavy (but I'm improving with each trip, as I try to reduce my carbon imprint not only at my destination, but during the stopovers along the way). I often forget to put my metal or bamboo straw into my beverage before the shopkeeper inserts her plastic one in first. I can get testy when jet lagged or needing some food or water. But I try to be aware and bring my best self with me.
Traveling is an opportunity to not only learn about others and their cultures, but to share our ways with them. It is important to understand the stark differences and not "flaunt" what may be perceived as "better than" or judge what may be perceived as "less than." Instead let's teach our new friends what we have to offer instead of just taking from our hosts.
It is crucial to respect our temporary home and not litter or pollute in any way. This includes respecting nature such as coral reefs by only using reef-friendly sun screen and not polluting rivers and streams with shampoos and toothpastes which aren't environmentally friendly. There's a great deal of attention being paid to the crisis our planet is in due to the "plastic problem." As I mentioned above, I carry a Metal or Bamboo Straw and Bamboo Utensils (which I sometimes forget in another purse or backpack). It is important to note that we mustn't "shame" our hosts by dramatically refusing their plastic straws or cutlery. They are, after all, providing these for us. WE started it. WE asked for straws because WE were afraid of drinking from a bottle which may be dirty. WE, the tourists, did this. So now WE need to politely say "no thank you" when handing them back their straw or spork. It really isn't a big deal to them.
Many years ago now (hmmm...2003ish) when I traveled with an Intrepid Group in India for a while, the trip leader handed our group burlap bags (with Intrepid's logo and the words "Say No To Plastic" printed on the bag). Peter, the guide, explained to us about the "plastic problem' in India (which I new well from living in Cusco where I was first introduced to the "plastic problem" and efforts by foreign owned Peru Rail, to educate the locals). We were asked as a group to try to use the burlap bags for our purchases and refuse the plastic bags. This was harder than expected, and continued to be so. In fact, until recently have I noticed that shopkeepers have given in to my polite refusals to put my goods in their plastic bags. It took years. But, although it makes me feel better, to use a Reusable Shopping Bag, the "plastic problem" is serious and extremely noticeable immediately upon landing in any lesser developed country (and many "first world" countries as well, such as Japan). The point here is this, we shouldn't go barging into a country we are visiting expecting to change anything. We are merely guests, passing through during our travels, with a round-trip ticket.
Let's leave the seashells on the sand for the waves to take back into the ocean to help rebuild the coral our snorkel fins chipped. Let's try not to walk on the roots of trees when hiking in the rainforest, otherwise, these trees won't last for the next generations of travelers. Let's just try to leave things just the way we found them: taking nothing away, leaving nothing behind.