As a traveller and/or volunteer, you have an important role to play in travelling responsibly. We, at socialtours.com travels & socialtreks.com adventures, acknowledge that volunteers and travellers alike want to be responsible but are often not aware of the issues and the appropriate codes of conduct.
These guidelines are not intended to be exhaustive but to highlight a number of issues and provide advice that will help you to:
• Ensure your own personal safety.
• Show respect to the local communities, customs and values.
We always provide guidelines in our pre-departure information for the places that you will visit. If you are unsure or concerned about anything ask your coordinators or local hosts and respect their advice at all times. They are experienced professionals and are there to ensure you enjoy your experience but not at the expense of others or the wildlife you have come to enjoy.
The environment is our greatest asset and needs preservation. Exploiting it is short-term and yields unsustainable dividends whereas protecting it gives spiritual reward and sustainable dividends.
In many places freshwater is a precious commodity and should be used sparingly and wisely.
• Report dripping taps to hotel staff or the homestay owner. Only request a clean bath towel when absolutely necessary.
• Shower rather than bathe and use the minimal amount of water necessary. Never leave the tap running (even when brushing your teeth or washing your hands) and close tightly when finished.
• Never contaminate natural water sources with litter or chemicals, such as soap. When washing in natural water sources use biodegradable products and wash well away from the water source to prevent polluting someone else's drinking water.
• Where any toilet facilities exist, however unsavory, they should be used. Where they do not exist, always bury your waste and make sure it is at least 30-metres from a water source.
Energy for the main populated areas of Nepal is supplied by HydroPower, however, rural areas rely on alternative methods. Conserving energy can significantly reduce your impact on these communities.
• Take hot showers only when the water is heated by renewable energy sources, such as solar panels. An average length shower heated by a wood-burning stove uses 3 trees.
• Ensure all electrical appliances, lighting and air conditioning are switched off when not required. Do not use air conditioning or heating unless necessary. If you are cold put on an extra jumper!
• Try to avoid asking Teahouse owners to light wood burning fires for warmth.
• When trekking order the same meal at the same time as other trekkers. Dal bhat takes less fuel to cook than other meals offered, as it will probably be cooked for the family, guides and porters as well.
Waste disposal systems in many countries are ill-equipped to deal with the increased pressures that tourism brings. A few simple measures can make an enormous difference to your effect on the destination.
• Consider what you really need to take with you. Where possible remove all unnecessary packaging before you leave your home country. This will also help save on your luggage allowance!
• Trekkers leave behind approximately 100,000kg of water bottles per year. Plastic bottles CANNOT be recycled in Nepal. Instead use a canteen and iodine purification tables or alternatively fill up at one of the drinking water stations for a small fee.
• Pick up your litter as you would at home, apart from being unsightly, it can be deadly to wild animals. For cigarette smokers it is advisable to bring a small container, such as a used film canister, to hold your discarded butts.
• Make sure to dispose of organic waste properly as it can take up to 6 months to decompose. Not only is it unsightly for other trekkers and the local community, it also attracts dangerous animals into inhabited areas.
• Avoid using plastic carrier bags for shopping and instead use a reusable one or your day-sack.
With wildlife being a part of many of our trips it is imperative we respect their habitats. If we do not look after the wildlife today many well-loved species will become extinct in the not too distant future.
• Never buy products that exploit wildlife and/or aid the destruction of a species or its habitat. Do not buy souvenirs made from endangered species, like ivory; doing so will only encourage the trade.
• Although we insist that our guides maintain a suitable distance from the wildlife, thus allowing the animal a suitable escape route, there is always a temptation to get closer. For this reason we ask that you do not encourage your guide or driver to get closer to the animals than is acceptable.
• Never feed or attempt to touch the animals. On the trekking routes remember many of the animals are working. Give them a wide berth; it has been know for a donkey to knock a trekker or two over the edge!
PEOPLE & CULTURE
We hope that those who choose to travel with socialtours.com travels & socialtreks.com adventures do so with a genuine desire to enhance their holiday by learning more about the people of the host community. Remember that in any cultural exchange/interaction the desired outcome is for you to depart in the knowledge that you have done your best to leave a positive impression with your hosts. Be tourism ambassadors!
Remember culture is dynamic and not all cultural activities are based on the contemporary way of life but may also be based on a more traditional way of life of a bygone era. Accept these for what they are by acknowledging the value in celebrating past and present cultural differences.
Your coordinator and/or local hosts will brief you on the cultural sensitivities specific to the area that you are visiting and how you can minimise potential negative impacts of your behaviour (e.g. most appropriate dress code when in local villages, when attending traditional ceremonies etc.)
Take special consideration of and respect for gender issues to which you may have a different viewpoint. Without a full understanding of the culture, which is not possible to acquire on a short visit, you cannot afford to challenge these. Ask questions in an attempt to get clarity, but remember it is not for you to pass judgment.
It is easy in a small, simple community to appear an arrogant rich foreigner. Be aware of other people’s feelings and try to avoid giving offence. Learning even a little of the local language can help reduce these barriers.
Avoid extravagant displays of wealth, such as ostentatious jewellery and technological gadgetry. This can be an incitement to robbery, as well as accentuating the gap between rich and poor.
On the whole the Nepalese are a relaxed nation, however, there are a few etiquette points to be aware of. If you are unsure of the general etiquette of the area you are in, refer to your host, coordinator or guide.
• The use of bad language is uncommon and should be avoided. Remember most people who live in the cities or deal with tourists understand spoken English.
• Licking your fingers is considered bad manners.
• Blowing your nose in front of people is considered rude.
• Pointing the soles of your feet at anyone is offensive.
• Never touch the head or the cap of a Nepalese individual.
• Take off your shoes before entering someone’s home, especially when entering the kitchen or dinning room.
• Beckoning someone over with your finger is considered impolite. Instead use a subtle downward waving motion of your hand.
• Public displays of affection, such as kissing and hugging, are considered offensive. However, it is not uncommon to see same sex walking together hand in hand or with an arm around each other.
• Do not handle anybody else's food, eat off another’s plate or drink from another’s glass. These are all considered bad manners.
• It is common to slurp tea and other hot drinks.
Religion is a very important part of most Nepalese lives. Though most will accept that foreigners do not know much about their culture and practices, they will respect the fact that you made an effort to understand and show respect. If in doubt, please ask your host, coordinator or guide. Anyone will gladly help you.
• Always ask for permission before entering a Hindu temple or taking photos of the temple and its surroundings.
• Take off your shoes before entering a temple.
• You may leave a donation if you visit a monastery although it is not compulsory.
• Always pass a prayer wall on your right or walk clockwise around.
Many of the people of Kathmandu are becoming more westernized in the way that they dress; however, many Nepalese, especially in the villages, are still fairly conservative. Again, the Nepalese will accept a lot of practices coming from foreigners, however, there is no need to attract attention to yourself.
• Dress according to how you wish to be perceived.
• Men should always wear a shirt - it is inappropriate to walk around 'topless'.
• It is important to note cultural perspectives surrounding nudity. These differ from area to area in Nepal and between ethnic groups. If in doubt, ask your host, coordinator or guide.
Be careful not to cause offence through thoughtlessness. If in doubt, ask.
• Always ask permission before taking pictures of ritual events or special places, like shrines.
• Always be polite and respectful to local people by asking before taking their picture. If people seem reluctant or look away then don’t take the photo. When photographing children ask for their parents’ consent first.
• socialtours.com travels & socialtreks.com adventures strongly discourages payments being made for the privilege of taking a photograph as this constitutes a form of begging.
donations & gifts
Begging is a major problem in many areas. It is a sensitive issue and touches on the huge divide that exists between the ‘have’ and ‘have not’. One thing that we should all agree on is it is a distasteful practice, not only for the visitor but also for the communities that it affects.
Although children may ask for money and/or sweets, please refrain, even if it makes you feel good to give. The giving of money and sweets does not help in the long-term and it only perpetuates an underlying problem. Handing out sweets encourages children to be a nuisance by begging, and may well ruin their teeth in a place where there is no dental service. Remember at all times that most children have parents, and as the family providers, any giving should come from them.
If you are able, make a personal contribution to a local community development project in the area you have visited (e.g. local school, clinic, farming project, etc.). Channel this through the coordinator and it will go to the right hands and follow the correct process. Every action has long lasting ramifications, hence due care must be taken to channel funds appropriately.
Money is never the only goal – profits and money have to be made but never by means that go against moral values. Making a business a success is a Dharma (spiritual good) for the society, the workers and the family. This results in a good karma.
Try to buy locally made crafts and support local skills. By buying your souvenirs directly from the villagers you are ensuring that your money goes straight back into the local economy. It is illegal to buy antiques in Nepal, if in doubt ask your coordinator, host or guide.
Do not simply buy on price but on value to you. Bargaining for a lower price for both souvenirs and services is often the accepted and expected custom, but don't drive a hard bargain just for the sake of it. Remember what seems like a small amount of money for you can be a substantial amount to the vendor.
Try the local foods and specialties. Many rural areas around the world are under threat from a reduction in their agricultural base and by eating locally produced goods you will help the local farmers as well as the local economy.