How to Travel Responsibly in Developing Countries

Responsible tourism dos and don'ts

The first step to becoming a responsible tourist is to learn what it means to travel responsibly in your chosen destination. If you are traveling to a developing country, there are many small things you can do to have a positive impact on the communities you visit.

Many of these considerations are not obvious, even to seasoned travelers. We've put together this list of advice to help you ensure your next trip is a win for both you and your local hosts.

1. Patronize small family-owned accommodation

Staying at small homestays helps ensure your spending goes to families of more modest income, rather than hotels run by wealthy business owners. It also makes for a more rewarding travel experience, as small home-based establishments can provide more personalized service as well as the chance to interact with a local family. There are few travel experiences more memorable than being "adopted" into a welcoming host family, where you arrive as a guest and leave as a friend.

Genuine family homestays can be challenging to find, as many of the listings on platforms like Airbnb are actually hotel rooms, and it is often not clear from the description that the room you are booking is part of a large establishment. At Adventure Homestay, we only allow listings for small homestays located in the residential home of the host. If you book through other platforms, ask the host or read reviews to get a sense of the type of the establishment before booking.


2. Use booking platforms that allow on-site payment

Many well-intentioned travelers are unaware that when they book through platforms that charge credit cards for stays, hosts located in developing countries often receive little more than half of the amount paid.

Part of the payment goes to the booking platforms, which charge fees to hosts as well as to travelers. However, most of the loss occurs when transferring the payment to the host. This is because developing countries lack efficient payment infrastructure, especially for receiving transfers from overseas. The transfer options that do exist often carry exorbitant fees and unfavorable foreign exchange rates.

In some authoritarian countries, transfers from international travel platforms must pass through government-controlled exchange systems, which allow the government to skim off a portion of the value, or to control and monitor how hosts spend the funds. For example, in Cuba, payouts from Airbnb do not go directly to hosts, but are credited to a government scheme which issues debit cards that can only be spent at government-run stores, while the government keeps the actual dollars paid by travelers.

In much of the developing world, low-income families lack the financial resources or documentation needed to open bank accounts or receive international payouts. As a result, travel platforms without on-site payment are not accessible at all to prospective hosts from economically disadvantaged communities.

Unlike other platforms which are optimized for use in the US and Europe, Adventure Homestay is designed from the start to benefit socially responsible travelers and hosts in developing countries. We don't charge any fee to hosts, and travelers pay hosts directly upon arrival. This removes the largest barrier preventing families of more modest means from accessing travel booking platforms, while ensuring that your host receives the full value of your payment.


3. Be mindful of utilities usage

Many of us who take abundant air conditioning and hot water for granted don't realize that these utilities are a major expense for hosts. Households in developing countries often don't have unlimited subscriptions to utilities like electricity, water and internet, but pay according to the amount used. Especially in homestays at the lower end of the price range, utility consumption can make the difference between hosts earning a fair compensation and actually losing money as a result of your stay.

Try to limit your usage of electricity, water and Wifi to what is reasonably needed for your convenience and comfort. Turn off lights and water heaters when they are not in use, and only run air conditioning or heat when you are in the room. If you do end up consuming an unusually large amount of any utility, consider giving your host a tip that will cover its cost.

homestay meal

4. Give responsibly

Many travelers wish to donate something to help people in need. This can be helpful, but there is a right and wrong way to go about it.

You should avoid giving money or other handouts to children. In most cases, your gift will end up in the pocket of an adult, and giving to children incentivizes the practice of sending them to beg money from tourists instead of to school.

In general, it is best to donate money to a reputable organization that works with the community you wish to help. Local NGOs are best placed to determine how to allocate resources effectively, and are often starved for funding.

If you have extra capacity in your checked luggage allotment, consider getting in touch with Not Just Tourists, a nonprofit organization that supplies travelers with free suitcases of donated medical supplies to deliver to clinics in developing countries.

host and guest

5. Try locally led experiences

Locally hosted experiences are things like guided visits to less touristy neighborhoods, cooking classes and meals in local family homes, artisanal demonstrations, dance classes, outdoor adventures, or anything else offered by local experts eager to showcase the unique character of your destination.

Patronizing locally led experiences ensures that your spending goes directly to locals rather than large tour companies. It also creates an economic incentive to preserve cultural traditions, historic and natural sites. At the same time, participating in locally hosted experiences allows you to connect with the uniqueness of a destination in a more varied and enriching way.

camel adventure