Travelling is addictive. As soon as I’m back from a trip, I want to start planning the next. Travel has become a way of life for me, as it does for many others once you’ve taken that first leap into the unknown.
If you are one of the lucky few who is able to embark on such adventures, even small ones, you are in the minority. Often the people you’ll encounter on these journeys have never left their own country or even their village. It’s vital to remember how privileged you are as you travel through lands that are so rich in nature and culture, but which are too often poor in many others ways. Good tourism practice can be hugely beneficial, but bad tourism is all to often massively exploitative and destructive.
Responsible travel means travelling in a way which will benefit the communities and countries you are travelling to. It means minimising your impact. It means having the most authentic experience. Here’s 11 ways you can travel responsibly to keep your trips guilt free.
Keep an open mind
Embrace the environment you’re in. Take the time to get to understand the local culture by talking to people and respecting their customs. Put yourself in the shoes of someone else, not just in their country. It’s people who are at the heart of responsible tourism.
Dress appropriately when & where necessary
You may see other travellers behaving a certain way but that doesn’t mean it’s OK. Always dress appropriately, especially at temples and in rural villages. Maybe it doesn’t sit comfortably with your beliefs, but you have chosen to be in that country and should respect local customs.
Reduce your carbon footprint
Sometimes you might have to fly, but of course you should avoid adding to your carbon footprint as much as you can. The sorry truth about travelling is that you are creating an environmental impact every time an engine is turned on to take you from A to B. Be aware and take local transport to help minimise your footprint. Travel overland and try to share transportation. The fastest route is often the least eco friendly; focus on enjoying the journey instead!
Recycle and reuse
Even small efforts can make a big difference. Invest in a refillable water bottle and glass straw so you can avoid overdosing on plastic. It’s normal to take canvas tote bags shopping with you at home, so why behave any differently when travelling? Be wary of the unsustainable use of resources and avoid tours or trips that don’t actively support environmental issues. And always take your rubbish with you!
Hire local guides
It’s easy to find local guides who can take you around ethnic villages and communities. Ask around to find one, facebook groups are great for this as well as trip advisor, so don’t necessarily go with the first tour your hotel might recommend. You’ll learn lots more about traditional cultures and etiquette, and are actively giving back to the community.
Eat like/with the locals
Sometimes it can be tempting to seek out the comfort foods of home, but you will almost always be disappointed. Eating locally will open your eyes to all different kinds of flavours and of course it means money in the pockets of the people growing, making and serving the food to you.
Don’t engage in animal tourism
Sadly animal tourism is still prevalent in many popular travel destinations. Avoid organisations that promote opportunities to touch, ride or have a selfie with an animal. The animal is most likely being mistreated. Keep it natural; treks where you might spot wildlife are normally fine but ensure the guide doesn’t bait or interact with the animal. You can report any inappropriate to the local wildlife authority.
Sounds obvious but so many tourists don’t. Be a friendly and be sensitive, a smile and basic manners are hugely appreciated. Respect the locals. Learn a bit of the language, understand local customs and demonstrate proper etiquette. You will get a better insight into the culture of where you are, and have a much richer experience.
Familiarise yourself with local issues and problems before you arrive. These could be political, environmental or societal. Search online, and read any up to date guide books that might highlight problems to be aware of. Be especially wary of child and animal exploitation, both in and out of the tourist industry.
Play fair, pay fair
We all love a bargain – but remember where you are. Paying a dollar more for something at a market is often very little to you but can make a huge difference to independent traders and artisans in developing countries. Don’t bargain at someone else’s expense just because they might seem desperate to make ends meet. Read How To Bargain Ethically For Arts & Crafts.
You will find all kinds of volunteering opportunities along the road. If you can, take the time to slow down the pace and support local communities. It’s easy to find work at small NGOs and there are English teaching drop-in centers where you can stay and work for even short stints. It’s hugely rewarding and you’ll enjoy really getting to know a place.
How do you travel more responsibly? Can you recommend some more tips for our readers? Please share your experiences, ideas and suggestions in the comments box below.
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