We travel for work but also for fun and learning. New places and people...we scoot by and look at faces and scenes we'll never see again. New restaurants, new heritage sites, galleries, temples and basilicas, new architecture...it has been there forever and we just pass through for a quick peek. But these places are homes for people like us who live and work there. How would you want visitors to behave in your own home? Think about it! When you are host, it's great fun to show off what you have... but when the visitors leave, you hope they've cleaned up after themselves and taken only good memories, not some of your heritage!
If we are good tourists, wherever we go, we try to make it a little better because of our visit. There are many ways of doing this without sacrificing our own holiday. In fact, it will add real pleasure being a builder and not a spoiler.
Do your homework. Read up on the places you want to visit. This is not so time consuming with all the sites in the internet and people sharing their own experiences freely in the web. As an example, maybe feeding pigeons is accepted in your home...but in some cities, it is a criminal offence, and that's just one example! Guides will help you when you get to the site...but is that the best place to go? Is it popular only because the one day tourist can see it easily or is really a worthwhile place to visit. . You can get information from sites like Sustainable Travel International or Stay Another Day on eco-friendly products and services in your target area.
Go green. There are many occasions to do this starting in your hotel with towels and sheets. If you are staying longer, ask them to do your sheets and towels not every day but when they are ready for the laundry. Do the right thing around air conditioners, heaters, and other electronic gadgets. Turn them off. Better still, stay in hotels that have recycling programs well in place and abide with their guidelines.
Support local businesses. Try to buy something from the local stores with local brands. Why buy the same thing you can get at home? You will help circulate money in the local economy and support or create jobs for local people. Try to patronize businesses that are not engaged in illegal trade and exploitation, the exploitation of humans, especially children and the looting of artifacts. Every year, an estimated $6 billion of the world's cultural heritage is stolen and sold. Stealing peoples' heritage? Don't do it!
Experience the place. So often, we go on tours and retreat to our hotels for meals. Walk around, even if only in the streets closest to your hotel. Eat in local restaurants. Talk to the locals. Learn a few words in the local language and use it. You will surely get a smile from the hotel staff and street vendors. Challenge yourself to go off the beaten path, a step beyond your comfort limit each time you take a trip. You will be surprised at the experiences you will get to treasure in your memory.
Respect the cultural practices of the local people. Be discreet when people are praying in churches, mosques or temples. Wear appropriate clothing. Respect the silence and the restrictions placed on these sites. If you see a pile of shoes outside a place, take your own off. Don't be a doofus...think!
Help preserve the heritage. Most of the sites you visit may be visited by millions of people a year, so care needs to be taken to allow others to enjoy this as well. Be mindful of other visitors. Take your litter with you and for heaven's sake, do you really want your name emblazoned on the walls or the caves or the sides of the mountain? Do you absolutely HAVE to take that picture of yourself on top of a monument especially when the signs say "NO"? Some of these monuments and artifacts are so old and fragile that they are sensitive to the touch of hands or bags and shoes. For more information on this, go to Heritage Watch.
Always have a cloth bag with you. This way, you don't encourage the use of those plastic bags that fly all over many sites and foul the water and waste systems of some very fragile ecosystems. You can use this bag to carry some cookies to give to beggars and kids. Giving them money will just encourage dependency. If you really want to give, there are agencies you can donate to or where you can volunteer some of your time. This will surely be an experience especially in the more disadvantaged countries.
Don't be a critic. It ain't all pretty! Deal with it and keep quiet. Remember...home has its problems and with all the resources we have, we can't seem to solve these.
And here's the big one....good manners are nearly universal. A pro tourist is polite and positive and eco sensitive. If that doesn't sound like you, then give the world a break and stay home. These are just simple things. What we need is just a little desire to make our world a much better place to be -- not just for ourselves, but for everyone.