How to Travel Responsibly in India

Traveling through India | © Azer Koçulu / Unsplash
Traveling through India | © Azer Koçulu / Unsplash

‘I dislike feeling at home when I am abroad’ were words uttered by the great Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw. The concept of traveling was practised not just to click photographs, but to learn what the world consists of outside one’s own community. The difference in culture and traditions across borders is fascinating, but it can become daunting, too. In order to be a good traveler, it is best to learn some of the basic etiquette from your chosen location. Here is Culture Trip’s guide on how to travel responsibly in India.

Buy from local sources

India has local manufacturers in weaving and handicraft all over the country. There are government-run emporiums that curate items from local weavers and artisans but there are also many shops that make duplicates and sell them for five times the price! Ask your tour manager or research beforehand where to buy souvenirs from to get authentic items at a fair price.

Buy souvenirs from local sources instead of large retailers | © Mike Prince / Flickr

Don’t encourage ‘voluntourism’

While volunteering has its admirable intentions, it may result in unintended consequences—especially when travelling abroad. For example, many orphanages that offer volunteer programs are, in reality, money-making scams that accept donations and visits from foreigners but do little to help the children in their care. If you want to volunteer, make sure you do some thorough research and think very carefully about where and what you will be doing.

Be careful of where you volunteer | © Loren Joseph / Unsplash

Be mindful of wildlife abuse

The state of wildlife in India is, sadly, grim. Elephants, for example, are bred as entertainment for tourists—shackled and taught unnatural tricks from a very young age. Many places that offer the opportunity to bathe an elephant or to watch it perform tricks will also indulge in animal abuse. So, instead, support the conservation of wildlife by visiting the country’s national parks and forests.

Visit national forests and wildlife reserves | © Sridharan Chakravarthy / Flickr

Dress appropriately

In India, more is better. The culture of dressing in religious and conservative countries is quite different from that in European (and other Western) ones. Women, especially, do not wear clothes that show their legs above the knee. Sleeveless tops are fine, but ones with small straps—or skimpy clothing of any kind—may attract unwanted stares.

It’s always best to adhere to the dressing culture in the place you visit | © Akhil Chandran / Unsplash

Know when to tip

Tipping in India is very complicated. It’s not custom to tip waiters in restaurants because almost every eating joint levies a ‘service charge’ that goes to the staff. However, more often than not designated drivers and local guides will depend on tips. Ask your tour manager for a better understanding, but if you are unsure—don’t tip! Sometimes offering money can be seen as insulting or inappropriate.

Waiters in restaurants are not supposed to be tipped with the bill | © Connie / Flickr

Respect local culture

It’s always best to blend into the place that you’re visiting. Indians are very sentimental about temples and traditions that relate to their religion. For instance, in the Golden Temple in Amritsar it is mandatory for every person to cover their head. Adhering to such rules shows respect for the place you have chosen to visit.

It’s mandatory to cover your head in certain temples | © Prashant Ram / Flickr

Take time to research

Parts of India may not have the comforts and luxuries that one might be used to back home. It is always advisable to research your chosen location before you visit and read as many details as possible. Your trip will be much better if you go mentally prepared!

It’s always best to research and read as much as you can about the place you will visit | © Christin Hume / Unsplash

Choose eco-friendly lodgings

Tourism is great for the economy; however, the toll it takes on environment and the ecological system cannot be ignored. It is a good thing, then, that India has so many beautiful eco-friendly accomodations to stay in! The Apani Dhani Eco-lodge in Nawalgarh, Rajasthan is a family-run lodge that uses local produce to make the vegetarian food they serve. This lodge is built in local style and donates a portion of its profits to community development.

Apani Dhani is an eco-friendly lodge in Rajasthan | © Apani Dhani

If you are looking to have a responsible and adventurous time in India, check out Intrepid Travel.