Recently I have been thinking a lot about the social and environmental impact that we as travellers have. Tourism is one of the world’s largest industries. Global international visitor arrivals exceeded 940 million in 2010. The World Tourism Organization estimates that this number could reach 1.6 billion by 2020. Clearly then, deciding not to travel does not seem to be on many people’s agenda.
The fact is that mass tourism is hardly sustainable, so nature-based or ecotourism is often promoted as a cleaner alternative. But as eco-tourists, do our annual getaways end up harming the natural environment we set out to enjoy, or can our next adventure actually provide some sustainable benefit for conservation and local communities?
All tourism activities will have both positive and negative impacts on the natural, cultural and socio-economic environment.
I believe the key is to take a responsible attitude with you, wherever you go. People call it ‘ responsible tourism’ – travelling in a way that both respects and benefits local people, their culture, their economy, and their environment.
On this matter, I have put together 7 tips to help you out to be a more responsible traveller on your next adventure.
1| Learn before you leave
Before leaving for your trip, learn as much as possible about the countries you are visiting. The culture, religion, rules and values. You don’t need to know everything, but the basics such as how to dress, how to greet locals, and how to act respectfully will not only make your experience more responsible but also far less stressful for you as a stranger in a new land.
2| Know the customs
Research the appropriate behaviour and body language in the country you’re visiting. One example is that for most of us If we shake our head to indicate a negative response, in Dehli you will be totally confused as this means yes. There are many of these types of examples another one is the two-fingered peace or V sign means something very different if you aim it the wrong way in Tokyo. Research what gestures are ok and which ones aren’ t.
Dress modestly at religious sites and check what swimwear is suitable for pools and the beach. When in doubt, cover-up. For women, it’s a good idea to always travel with a scarf or shawl. Throw it in your bag and you’ll have it handy for any time you need to cover your shoulders or head.
Always ask before taking a photo. Remember that in some cultures, taking a person photograph it’s also a violation of their spiritual and cultural beliefs.
If you ask before you take, this will also help you to start a conversation and connect to the person, let them know about your travels and in most cases, people are happy to share moments with you.
3| Ask whether there are local conservation or social projects
that you could visit or take part in your trip. When returning home, be creative and think about different ways in which you can support programs and organisations that are working to protect the welfare, culture, and environment of the places you’ve visited. Tourism can be hugely beneficial to the local economy, but only when it’s provided in a sustainable way. Supporting the community through a local school, clinic, or development project may be more constructive than just handing out donations to people you pass.
Help and support don’t need to be merely financial, you can help raise awareness and spread the word through your social media, for example.
4| Be aware of any excursions on your trips that involve wild or captive animals
Think critically when it comes to deciding what activities and experiences to include on your itinerary. Avoid local shows, markets, or zoos that exploit animals, such as riding elephants in Thailand or lion walking in South Africa.
In short, riding elephants is generally a no-no, captive orcas are a definite ethical minefield, and petting tiger cubs or any wild animal is just wrong. And don’t even get me started on canned hunting.
Some can even be presented as conservation efforts or animal-friendly fun, but the reality some have animals being bred in captivity, mistreated, and neglected.
If you want to take a tour that’s guaranteed not to exploit while also giving back to the community, check out some travel companies like The Wanderlust, which guarantees a sustainable and responsible experience while you travel.
5| Shop smarter
Read labels, and check where things come from. Choose shops of traditional artisans for locally made products. All over the planet people sell items made from non-sustainable hardwoods, endangered species, and ancient artifacts. Bargain if that is a local practice, but bear in mind that a small amount to you could be extremely important to the seller.
6| Go local
Try not to stay at the big-name chains that you can find back home, instead go local – support locally owned hotels, restaurants, and transport whenever you can. Eat local food and drink local brands and brews. Use public transport, hire a bike, or walk when it’s convenient — you’ll meet local people and get to know the place much better than behind the window of a private car or taxi
7| Leave no mark
Use alternatives to plastic and say no to plastic bags, recycle wherever possible, and try to keep your waste as low as possible and also don’t contribute to unnecessary food waste.
Bring your own bottle and put a reusable bag in your pocket or day bag. You’ll stay hydrated, and the bag will be there if you need it. Easy.
Make your toiletries, rather than buy travel-sized versions. It saves you money, and I also like the fact that I have a better idea what’s in them too.