Hello Fellow Travelers!
Has the term ‘responsible travel’ landed on your radar lately? Also known as ‘sustainable’ or ‘ethical’ travel, it’s a concept that’s becoming an important consideration for many travelers when planning their adventures.
I travel for the same reasons most people do; an interest in other people and cultures, a love of nature and wilderness and a deep desire to experience far off places. Like most travelers, I don’t want to cause any harm to the communities or ecosystems I travel through.
That’s the simple idea behind the responsible travel movement. It’s about recognizing that our travels have an impact. It’s about striving to minimize that impact by being mindful of our choices while on the road.
When Tourism is Done Right
// Properly managed ecotourism activities can generate needed funds for the conservation of habitats and species.
// Tourism can generate jobs and income for the local economy.
// Infrastructure investments (such as improvement of roads) to facilitate tourism can benefit local communities.
How Tourism Can Cause Harm
// Destruction and degradation of natural habitats through overuse and over consumption of resources.
// Pollution. Whether it’s litter, traffic emissions, sewage, or even noise – where more people go, more pollution follows.
// Diversion of land use from local interests to support tourism.
// Increased flow of tourist dollars and demand for basic commodities in the area raises prices for locals who may not be able to afford it.
Top 8 Rules For Responsible Travel
How do we make sure we’re a part of the solution and not contributing to the problem?
There are lot’s of things we can do and most of them are simple, easy choices. Things like shopping at the locally owned corner store instead of the internationally owned one down the street. Some of them require a little more research like choosing a more eco-friendly hotel.
But with a little bit of time and attention we can make sure that our travels aren’t causing anyone or anything harm or damage – and that relatively small investment in time and energy when planning a trip is COMPLETELY worth it in my books.
So, in no particular order, here are 8 Ways to Be a More Responsible Traveler!
Stay Green on the Road
Obviously don’t litter, and try to keep your use of disposables to a minimum when on the road. Bring a reusable bag or two so you can skip the plastic when you shop. On the same note a refillable water bottle is a must have. Yes, there are areas where you’ll want to buy bottled water for safety, but whenever you have access to safe tap water ditch the plastic bottles and stick to your reusable one.
Always respect your destination as if it were your own back yard.
Eat and Shop Local
This is a really important element to responsible travel. You want your tourist dollars staying in the community you’re visiting as much as possible.
The world’s become a pretty commercialized place and some of the biggest companies can be found in almost every corner of the world. I don’t want my travel money going to a giant corporation back home that leaves a minimal amount of money in the community it’s operating in. I want to spend my money at the locally owned spots where my dollars stay local.
Take every possible opportunity to support the economy of your destination vs. international corporations that have settled in the area.
Choose Your Transportation Carefully
Your transportation is usually the element of your trip with the biggest environmental footprint. Whenever possible choose a greener mode of travel. If your trip involves a lot of moving from place to place considering taking a bus or train between destinations instead of flying.
You won’t get there as fast, but there’s beauty to be found in slow travel. Why not try making the act of moving from place to place an experience in itself? It’s an opportunity to really see , experience and appreciate the area you’re traveling through.
Take advantage of greener transportation once you’ve arrived at your destination too. See if shuttle services are available to local hot spots instead of a cab or Uber. Utilize a city’s public transportation system rather than renting a car. Think about what transportation will be available to you when you choose your accommodation. A more central location gives you more transit options than booking something further out of town.
It can take a little more planning and a little more time, but it’s possible to significantly reduce the eco-footprint of your transportation while traveling.
Be Careful With Voluntourism
Traveling with a noble cause of helping people or animals sounds pretty awesome right? Not necessarily. Voluntourism is one of those things that seems so positive on the surface, but dig a little deeper and you find huge ethical and social questions that can be difficult to answer.
This is a big topic that needs its own blog post but the bottom line is, if you’re considering doing a volunteer abroad type position PLEASE research it thoroughly. Ask yourself if you’re qualified to perform the type of volunteer work you’re considering. Do you have construction skills, medical training, animal handling experience or whatever other pertinent skill that’s involved in the placement? Question whether your presence is what a project truly needs.
If you’re considering a volunteer abroad placement I highly recommend you check out these posts as a starting point: The Problem With Little White Boys, Girls and Voluntourism, Before You Pay to Volunteer Abroad, Think of the Harm You May Do, as well as How to Find Responsible Volunteer Work.
There are many outstanding volunteer abroad placements doing good work. But there are also ones that are directly exploitative and harmful. It can be hard to tell the difference so it’s important to think deeply, ask questions and be skeptical.
Avoid Damaging Natural or Historical Attractions
Tourist faux pas’s, wear and tear from masses of people and even vandalism are major causes of damage to heritage sites, national parks, statues and monuments all over the world.
Whether it’s pure stupidity (like the guys who broke a priceless statue in Italy climbing on top for a selfie) or outright vandalism (like the guys who carved their initials into the Colosseum), tourists find all kinds of ways to make the rest of us travelers look bad.
The impact of droves of tourists (even well behaving ones) on natural or historical attractions causes significant damage over time. Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids and Sphinx are just a few examples of sites suffering ongoing damage, degradation and erosion. If we’re not careful, we’ll end up loving these special places to death.
When you visit natural or historical attractions make sure to…
// Keep your hands to yourself when it comes to statues, works of art, monuments, temples etc.
// If there are marked footpaths or barriers around a site or National Park features they’re there for a reason! Respect them – they’re either to protect you or protect the site from visitor damage.
Use common sense, follow any posted rules and show some respect. So pretty much behave like you should every other day – see, responsible travel isn’t so hard! 🙂
Choose Sustainable / Eco Friendly Accommodation
Here’s another big opportunity to reduce your impact on the road. There’s more choice than ever in eco-friendly accommodation as more and more companies jump on the sustainable bandwagon.
// Review the companies sustainability or environmental policy. Most companies heavily promote their efforts to be green and responsible so it shouldn’t be hard to find. If you can’t find a clear statement or policy about how they’re minimizing their impact it’s probably safe to say sustainability isn’t a priority.
// Watch out for greenwashing! Ecotourism is getting trendy and there are plenty of companies out there looking to cash in on the market by appearing green, without actually living up to the standards they claim to. Ask specific questions (here’s a list of 10 Ways to Tell if Your Ecolodge is Greenwashing) and be skeptical.
By doing a little research and choosing a “green minded” accommodation option you can make a big dent in the carbon footprint your trip leaves.
Choose Responsible Tour Companies and Excursion Operators
Tourism is big business and you have a staggering amount of choice when it comes to tour companies and excursion operators. Like anything else, some operate with high standards of environmental stewardship and integrity, others couldn’t care less.
Some of the basic things you should be looking for in a responsible tour company or excursion operator include…
// That they contribute to local prosperity by providing quality jobs, paying living wages and providing good working conditions.
// That they support conservation efforts, especially when the activity involves wildlife viewing. If the organization isn’t actively participating in or funding conservation efforts question whether they should be profiting off of tourist interest in dwindling wildlife species.
Again, it all boils down to doing some research instead of choosing the first tour company you stumble across. Dig a little deeper and be rewarded by knowing you’re taking positive action!
Avoid Wildlife Exploitation
Another big point that deserves its own post. There are so many ways the tourism industry contributes to wildlife exploitation. The most obvious form is in the trade of products like ivory, teeth, claws, horns etc. as souvenirs and trinkets.
That’s easy enough to avoid, but there are other ways that we can contribute to harming animals. Wildlife experiences are common tourist attractions, from photo op’s with performing street monkeys to swimming with captive dolphins. Most people who participate are motivated by a love of animals and a desire to get up close and personal with them.
But when it comes to wildlife a hands off, observational approach is usually best. See them in the wild, don’t fondle them in captivity.
Just a couple examples of wildlife experiences to say no to…
// Elephant rides – These poor guys are subjected to some pretty cruel and brutal training and management methods. I know it seems like it would be an amazing experience, but please, please don’t support this practice.
// Wild cat encounters – The places that offer one on one encounters with big cats often pass themselves off as sanctuaries or facilities dedicated to conservation. Legitimate sanctuaries and conservation efforts take a minimally hands on approach with the animals in their care. They don’t allow tourists to pet, cuddle, leash walk or take selfies with them.
There are a lot more practices I could have mentioned specifically (check out this post – Wildlife Tourism: The 10 Cruelest Animal Attractions) but let me offer you a general rule of thumb…
If you can take a photo beside, touch, handle or otherwise directly interact with any wild animal seriously question whether to participate. Most of the time it’s an exploitative situation.
I’ve made my share of responsible travel ‘mistakes’, we all have. This post isn’t about calling out those who eat McDonald’s in Africa, or have ridden an elephant in Thailand. It’s about encouraging my fellow travelers to be a little bit more conscious of some of these issues we encounter on the road.
In the end, responsible travel isn’t complicated, it’s just about taking a more mindful approach to how we travel and acknowledging the simple fact that wherever we go we make an impact. Whether the impact is positive or negative is up to us.
Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.
We love to hear what our readers have to say. What steps do you take to reduce your impact when traveling? Leave us a comment below!