Summer is coming and with it waves and waves of visitors to Italy. Understandably so. Italy is beautiful in summer and that’s when most of us have the chance to take some time off.
Unfortunately, it also inevitably means news stories about tourists not living their best life. There’s the one that broke an ancient statue, another who defaced museum property, drunk revelers peeing on architecture older than their own country. The list goes on.
We already have our manifesto, but let’s look a bit deeper into respectful travel.
Respectful travel is caring about the place you go to beyond just what it can give you. It’s travel for love of a place, a culture, the people.
If you try to live an ethical life at home, why not extend that when abroad?
Tips to Travel Ethically and Respectfully in Italy:
Learn about the culture before coming
The easiest way to avoid cultural faux-pas is to know about the cultural in the first place. In some countries, it’s rude to sneeze in public. In others, you shouldn’t use your left hand to salute, give or receive anything. In Italy, you should salute people when entering into a store or restaurant with an easy “buongiorno” or at the very least a smile and nod. You’ll already be researching your trip, research the local culture as well!
Buy locally-made souvenirs
One of the best things you can do while in Italy is buy local, artisanal items. Not only do they support the local economy, but they’re sure to be higher quality than the knick-knacks and souvenirs from who-knows-where. You’re going to spend money in any case, so ensure that your tourist dollars are helping your destination of choice! Luckily, Italy has a long history of artisan crafts and a strong Made-in-Italy brand. Choose something with a home, a story, and a history to commemorate your travel in Italy.
If you’re able, stay longer. Choose one destination and really get to know it.
If you don’t have the time, embody the slow travel philosophy and try places less battered by the tourist tracks. Try the smaller towns nearby – they’re often the most charming anyway. Travel mindfully. Be polite and curious. Focus on experiences, not items on a list. By slowing down you’re able to soak in the atmosphere, get to know the area and participate in everyday life.
Italy’s food culture is strong, so many restaurants will only offer seasonal food no matter what, but with nearly half a billion tourists visiting the small peninsula every year, their demands are hard to ignore. I know you want to eat the local dishes, but those local dishes have a season as well, and pushing for it out of season threatens Italy’s traditions.
Like Rome-based food and beverage educator and journalist Katie Parla said:
“Creating demand for out of season produce has significant ramifications, both for the local culture, as well as for the environment. If you must have a deep fried treat from the Roman Jewish tradition in July, pass on the carciofo alla giudia and indulge in fiori di zucca!”
So what to do about it? Shop at the market! It supports locals and teaches you what’s in season.
Stay in an agriturismo
A mix of agriculture and tourism, an agriturismo is a farm designed to also receive guests, whether for a meal, accommodation or a combination of the two. Created to save rural architecture and along with it Italy’s farms, the agriturismo is usually in an idyllic location, budget-friendly and most all of the food is grown or made on-site. Here you support the local agriculture, minimize your impact and provide direct financial compensation for conservation of rural activities and agriculture, not to mention going totally local, getting off the beaten path and tapping in to the local culture!
Read more: What is an Agriturismo and Why You Should Go
Don’t touch anything you’re not supposed to
I’ve always been stupefied by stories of grown adults touching priceless works of art as if they were tiny children in front of crayons. And then, my slightly tipsy Italian friend pinched the cheeks of a statue in Palazzo Gonzaga, Mantova. I guess the pull of the forbidden is just too strong. The guard saw and immediately stopped him, but then he went on to explain why. Apart from the risk of knocking something over or dirtying it, the oil on our hand will, over time, break down the stone and eventually cause its decay much sooner than otherwise. Not only that, but it’s not yours, so be an adult and don’t touch it!
For that matter…
Don’t take pictures when you’re not supposed to
Ok, so I do think that some places ask for no photos simply because they want to charge you to take photos. BUT, listen to them anyway. That’s their prerogative and you really can’t know the reason. Churches often ask for no photos because they are still working, consecrated places of worship. It’s disorienting to be following mass and seeing tourists snapping pictures around you. Though you’re allowed to enter into some even during celebrations, do so respectfully and discreetly.
Then there’s the camera flash. The flash can damage cloth, tapestries and paintings just as much as our greasy fingerprints. So even when you’re allowed to take photos, turn the flash off! This isn’t just Italy’s wealth, it’s a part of the world’s cultural heritage, and it deserves protection.
Basically, just follow the rules.
Being a good citizen doesn’t stop at your country’s borders. If you don’t typically yell under apartment buildings at night or get drunk and deface property in your home country, don’t do it abroad either. (Or, just don’t do it ever.) Don’t litter, don’t steal, don’t cut in line. Being an ethical traveler is all about respect. You’ve traveled far to enjoy another country, show some respect.