We live in a time where more people are travelling abroad than ever before in history. In 2014, over 1.1 billion tourists travelled internationally and, according to the World Tourism Organization, this number is expected to surpass 1.8 billion by 2030. Yes, really. There’s no question that we live in a time of great privilege and accessibility, with the world feeling smaller to us than ever before.
With the rapid growth in tourism, there’s increasing recognition between both travel industry professionals and travellers themselves of the importance of responsible travel — travel that minimises negative impacts, brings economic benefits to tourism destinations and preserves natural and cultural resources. Whenever I travel, these things are always at the forefront of my mind and I try my best to travel as responsibly as I can (although there’s always room for improvement!) Here are 10 ways you can travel more responsibly this year:
1. Support the local economy
Choosing where and what you spend your money on has a huge impact on the local community. Why not stay at a local family-run guesthouse instead of at a big hotel chain? Wouldn’t you rather purchase trinkets handmade by local craftsmen instead of mass-produced souvenirs? Supporting local businesses means that your tourist dollars are much more likely to stay within the local community rather than line the pockets of wealthy international corporations. Plus, you will have a much more authentic travel experience yourself! Read about how you can support local economies even after you’ve returned home with GlobeIn.
2. Respect local customs
We have a responsibility as privileged travellers to show respect towards the local people we are visiting and adhere to their customs and culture. Many countries around the world are a lot more conservative than our societies. Make sure you educate yourself prior to travelling about what customs are acceptable and which are offensive. In many places around the world, for example, wearing short skirts or singlets is considered inappropriate. Be informed about the culture you are visiting, not ignorant. Remember, you are a guest in the country.
3. Ensure wildlife activities are ethical
Many people have exotic plans for riding elephants in Asia or walking with lions in Africa, but these activities can be irresponsible and unethical. Wildlife tourism generates a big income and, unfortunately, a lot of operators that offer ‘wildlife experiences’ prioritise turning a profit over the welfare of the animals. Too often, tourists concern themselves primarily with their own entertainment and overlook the fact that the activity could be distressing for the animal. If you are interested in having a wildlife encounter on your travels, be sure to do your research and choose a responsible operator that is committed to wildlife conservation.
4. Be resource efficient
Just because you are on holiday doesn’t mean that your energy-saving principles should go out the window! Do you really need fresh towels every day? Do you need to leave the lights on when you leave your hotel? Try and behave as if you would in your own home and minimise unnecessary energy consumption.
5. Volunteer some of your time
Whether you’re travelling for only two weeks or as long as six months, volunteering a portion of your time can really make a positive difference to the local community. Take some time to research the kinds of volunteering opportunities available in the region you’re travelling to. Perhaps you could teach English for a few days in a rural school? Maybe you could help out at a homeless shelter one evening? Or perhaps an animal shelter needs some assistance? A good place to start is by contacting local NGOs to find out what the specific needs are in the particular country. Be sure to do your research, however, to ensure that by volunteering you don’t take away a job from a local person who could perform that role instead.
6. Use local transportation
Wherever possible, you should aim to take local transportation instead of private vehicles or taxis. Ask yourself whether it is possible (and safe) to take a local bus or train to get from point A to point B. Better yet, can you walk? Or ride a bike? This will reduce your environmental impact.
7. Give back
There’s no arguing that travel creates deep connections between ourselves and the places we visit. When we travel, we often develop relationships with the local people and, in turn, become aware of the hardships and challenges present in the region. One of the joys of travelling is making a positive difference to the communities we visit. Donating to charities is one way we can help the local people or assist in conservation efforts. For a comprehensive list of international charities, visit Charity Navigator. Did you also know that many charities accept your frequent flyer points as donations? Visit your airline’s frequent flyer program to learn about whether you can give your points as a donation.
8. Choose a responsible tour operator
If you’re going to book a group tour, make sure you choose one with a sustainable travel focus. Unfortunately, many tour companies pack as many camera-clicking tourists as possible into a big bus, racing from place to place, leaving an ugly environmental footprint. Compare operators closely and ensure that the one you go with has a commitment to responsible travel. Some of the best responsible tour operators out there include Intrepid Travel, G Adventures, World Expeditions and Explore.
9. Don’t give to beggars
This is a difficult one, as the sight of beggars, particularly children or the disabled, on the streets is heartbreaking. Even though giving money to beggars might seem to be the kind and generous thing to do, it can actually cause more problems than solutions. Unfortunately, the reality is that some beggars (particularly children) can be part of organised networks and are forced out of school and exploited by older people who keep the money for themselves. Others pretend to be more desperate than they are to play on the heartstrings of tourists. Use your judgement, but a better option is to perhaps donate some money to a charity dedicated to helping the homeless or disadvantaged in that country. You could also purchase some water or food instead of giving money.
10. Spread the word
Being a responsible traveller might come naturally to some of us, but others just aren’t aware of the negative impact that tourism can have. One of the best ways to encourage responsible travel is through discussion. If you see someone acting irresponsibly while travelling, perhaps mention it in a friendly way. If you’ve already returned home and you have friends planning a trip, reinforce how positive the responsible travel initiatives you took were and how much of a difference you feel it made to the local community and environment.
Over to you: how do you try to travel responsibly?