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How to be a Responsible Tourist

Summer is here and people are going to every tadhana destination!

For the Department of Tourism bosing, Sec. It's More Fun Jimenez, that should be good news. But some destinations are already feeling the pinch of too much, too soon influx of tourists to their once tranquil communities. Do I hear Sagada and Batanes shouting from a distance?

Yes, a lot of places in the Philippines need tourists to help uplift their lives. But we could damage the environment, the culture and even their moral fibers if we bring in negative influences that the sites could not handle. I think it's time we heed the warning bells and take a close look at ourselves as travelers, no strangers, to other people's places. That we should strive to bring in positive, or at least benign presence to the tourist destinations.

Here are some things that we can do to become more responsible tourists.

The students or those who recently graduated would immediately sneer at this! But you really have to do this. Find out how to get there, the travel time, the kind of road, the accommodation facilities (you'll be surprised how many just travel the "bahala na si Batman" way!). This way you save a lot of energy pleading or even fighting for a bus seat or a place to stay. You don't have to knock on a local's door trying to beg for a place to stay if you do a good research.

Remember, you are a visitor, not some haciendero with a lot of entitlements just because you bring with you some tourist money. Respect for elders, respect towards fellow travelers, respect to service providers. You know, a simple nod and smile can go a long way. But it goes deeper than that. Like, how about respecting their privacy and way of life?

Walang tubig sa Sagada. Do you know that tourists consume three times of most things (like water) compared to the locals? And produce more than double the amount of waste? I'm not saying don't take a bath (pwede rin naman siguro). But one small deed you can do is to bring your own water bottle and avoid single-use bottles while on travel. Or that sunblock bottle that you are ready to throw away when you're done with it (tip: buy a big bottle and you save money also, and put the right amount in a reusable container so you don't have to leave an unwanted thrash in the site).

Ask First
This is actually part of pre-departure research, but when you're already in the area, make the habit of asking first. "Is it okay to walk on the rice paddy?" "What if we damage the rice paddy? Who will repair it?" Then you'll be surprised that its usually the old women (by no choice) who are left to take care of the rice paddies.

Take Your Memories with You
Mt. Pulag has enough memories to last it many years. It doesn't need another graffiti on the rocks, orchids taken as souvenirs and damaged campsites and trails because they looked good in your selfies.

Think First Before Buying
The tourism tragedy I am weary of witnessing in Batanes is that one day, even the locals could not  find food and things that they have been using because the tourists have taken them all. Like how many past tourists are guilty of ordering coconut crabs because they've seen them on TV or read about the delicacy from some bloggers? That it's so common in Batanes?.... That's a lot of bull. First of all, the coconut crab is an internationally protected species. Meaning, it's already endangered! Some (even locals) would say that it's still plenty in Batanes. But that's the thing - IN BATANES ONLY. And tourists are unnecessarily depleting them just because its part of the experience when visiting the destination. There are a lot of things that USED TO BE plenty until we started killing or harvesting them. You have an assignment when you're planning to visit Batanes - ask the old locals about the number of coconut crabs they saw when they were young. Then ask them to make a comparison today. Not only the number, but also the size, ha. Actually, I have another issue with the vakul, but I will leave that to another discussion.

Lastly, Haggle Less
Now, this goes against the basic rule in traveling - HAGGLE. Here's how it goes: determine first from whom you are buying. If it's the usual commercial area and haggling is a sport, then try to bring down the price to 20 percent (it might work). But if you see that the seller looks like a typical farmer or somebody who personally weaved the piece of cloth to sell, chances are, that person relies on every centavo to feed his or her family. To illustrate, try to imagine how much you are willing to pay for a 1x1 meter piece of cloth as a souvenir? Chances are Php200 would be your max. If you go down to reality of weaving it, the cost of the materials would probably be Php80. And it would have taken the weaver say three days to complete it. Now, how much is the minimum salary per day? Php300? So the labor cost alone should be Php900. That's the sad reality in many rural communities, the price of their products could barely cover the materials cost and they get only a few pesos for their labor. So if you were able to haggle well, you saved some of your disposable money and enjoyed the experience, but for the local, that could mean one missed meal for the family.

There are a lot of things to become a responsible traveler. Surely you can come up with your own and make your travel a bit more meaningful and less stressful for both the local community and you.