We at Mzungu are big fans of our wonderful planet and even bigger fans of grabbing your backpack and wandering off in some foreign country.
However, being travelers in a foreign country we can have a lot of impact on the local life, and of course, "With great power comes great responsibility".
So, we have compiled here some rules to live by as a traveler, that will ensure a healthy impact on local communities, and also on our planet.
The 10 commandments of Backpacking
1. Travel like a local = Eat, Sleep and Ride like a local
this one is pretty straightforward - whenever there is a luxurious comfortable option vs a local simple option, try to go with the latter. This dilemma will meet you in many occasions along the way; eating at a small local food joint or a nice fancy restaurant; taking the public transport vs hiring a car or a taxi; sleeping in a local guesthouse or in a fancy hotel.
The common ground in all of these choices is that in choosing the local choice you are helping the local economy, and creating an opportunity to connect with local people.
Of course, traveling should not be a burden. There is nothing wrong in choosing luxury and you don't need to feel bad about it, what we are trying to do is simply to plant this seed in your head so you will see the benefits of this travel style.
2. Meet random people, learn about local life
In your trip, you can sometimes get sucked into a kind of "race" to see as many famous monuments and landscapes as possible, and in doing that you will miss the real essence of a true backpacking trip, which is the non-planned adventures with the local people.
3. Respect the culture
where ever you go, try to learn a few phrases of the local language, and do some reading about the history of that place. This will contribute to much more meaningful bonds with the local people and show them that you have respect for them for hosting you in their country. Important note - Culture is everywhere, not just when visiting some rural tribe that dresses or behaves differently.
4. Get Lost!
Don't you dare to have your full itinerary planned by the minute! leave some space for unexpected adventures. Don't be afraid to go out of your comfort zone, and being in places you have not planned on being, but of course while being responsible and not careless.
5. Don't take part in tourist attractions that harm the wildlife
Unfortunately, too many examples of this come to mind:
- Various places all over the continent in which you can "pet big cats". A simple rule applies here - if you are afraid approach it in the wild, you are not supposed to approach it in any other scenario. in many of these places, drugs are used and the well being of the animals is last on the priority list.
-"Blue Safari" at Kizimkazee beach on southern Zanzibar, basically chasing and harassing dolphins for amusement.
Unfortunately, there are many more examples of this kind of places. The best way to avoid it is to ask questions before the experience and to always think long-term - How does it affect the wildlife and is this organization committed to protecting the wildlife or not.
6. Leave no trash, Avoid plastic.
This one applies not only when backpacking or traveling, but can sometimes be forgotten during the trip. You will visit many places, some cleaner than others, but in all of them, try to leave the place cleaner than it was when you got there. Even if trash is out on the street, try to look for a better place to put your trash and don't contribute to that.
Regarding plastic, many places in Africa are already banning the use of plastic bags, like in Rwanda, Kenya, and Botswana. Take a couple of small folding reusable bags - they will come in very handy during your trip.
7. Don't give away ANY handouts.
Unfortunately, "Give me Money!" is a sentence you will probably hear on your trip to Africa. Kids in many countries will shout this out whenever they see a foreign person around. Giving away anything in this situation will have a terrible effect on many levels, it will keep them on the streets and will keep them in the state of mind of begging when they see a foreign person instead of seeing a fellow person or a potential friend. This phenomenon has had a few progressions, and you could hear children begging for sweets, school supplies or even a balloon. Although some of these may seem harmless, it is still better not to give away in this situation. In recent years some people gather food or cloth before coming to Africa, and the go to a certain school to distribute it to the children.
This could also have a harmful effect and make the children used to the fact that everytime they receive something it is due to the mercy of a foreign person. Gathering supplies and moving it to Africa is unnecessary, it's much better to spend money on school supplies or cloth at that same town and in that way support a local business. The distribution of purchased products should be done in a responsible way, preferably without the donor present.
Always think about the bigger picture and the potential negative effect your actions might have.