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Travel Smart: How to be a responsible traveler

As a traveler, you have more power than you think. “During the past year or so, travel has surpassed heavy industry to become the world’s largest business,” says Jeff Greenwald, cofounder of the nonprofit Ethical Traveler. “Trillions of dollars a year are spent on travel. That makes travelers one of the largest political action groups in the world.”

In fact, travel and tourism supports 260 million jobs worldwide and generates 9 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.

You can vote with your travel dollars by visiting countries that are doing good things, both ethically and environmentally. To help people make informed decisions, Ethical Traveler compiles an annual list of the 10 best developing countries to visit. “We consider things like how women are educated and how clean the air is,” says Greenwald, noting that countries on the 2014 list include Mauritius, Dominica, and Palau.

It’s also important to leave a positive impact.

“Travel in a way that doesn’t change the places and people you visit in a negative way,” says John Poimiroo, an ecotourism expert and writer.

To be a responsible traveler, be mindful of these things.

Go local. Patronize locally owned inns, restaurants, and shops.

Never give money or gifts directly to children. “Kids learn it’s more profitable to approach strangers than to be in school,” says Greenwald. “Find out what’s needed. They often could use things such as maps of the world or magnifying glasses—distributed to the schools, not the children.”

Tread carefully in nature. “Never leave anything behind,” says Poimiroo. “Leave the place cleaner than when you got there. Stay on designated trails—don’t hack new ones.”

Do your research. Ethical Traveler (ethicaltraveler.org) has “Thirteen Tips for the Accidental Ambassador,” and the International Ecotourism Society (ecotourism.org) offers “Principles of Ecotourism.”

Recognize your power. “People who travel feel a sense of stewardship for the world,” says Greenwald. Use it.

AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.

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