As travellers, we want the Earth to stay beautiful, pristine and clean. How to make sure we take part in responsible tourism and practice eco-travel? Below you will find a few simple tips, that will help to become a more responsible traveller.
Travel is amazing. It broadens your mind, opens you to the new horizons, allows you to witness the astonishing beauty of the world.
In my 29 years old life, I’ve visited some breathtaking destinations. I have hiked in the Himalayas, seen some of the seven world wonders, solo travelled in several places around the world, backpacked in Central Asia, looked for polar bears in Svalbard and much more. Travelling has taught me a lot. I still think that it’s one of the best things I was able to do.
But sometimes it might turn into the worst.
Places struggling with over-tourism, extensive CO2 production making the Earth warm up 20 times faster and affecting the wildlife, exploited animals and destruction of the natural environment are only some of the bad effects of tourism in the world. Add to it the enormous amount of plastic produced every year (381 million tons of plastic produced in 2017 with only 9% recycled), the chemicals from sunscreen killing the coral reefs, and all the other changes happening to the environment, and you will get a scary mix.
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Is the accessibility of travel ruining it?
Nowadays, travel is more accessible. With cheap flights and affordable hotels, travel is not a luxury anymore, but something that “everyone does”. It is estimated that by 2036 the number of air passengers will nearly double to 7.8 Billion.
Tourism is one of the worlds largest industries and it keeps growing. The economic boost is good, but there are bad effects on the inhabitants of the places popular with tourists, and the environment.
Travel takes a huge part in destroying places that we love to visit.
While we travel, is it extremely important, especially now, to take a moment and reflect on the way you travel. Think of how you can become a more responsible traveller, so we can all enjoy the beauty of this planet for longer.
It is not always easy. You don’t have to spend every second of your days trying to make sure you do everything right. I often fail. We are all just humans.
However, every little helps. The mean of transport you choose, where you decide to stay, where you eat, what you buy and even the time of the year when you visit a place all can have an impact on the local population, businesses and the environment.
I urge you to take a step towards sustainable travel and try to implement those tips in your travels and everyday life.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL, ECO TRAVEL, SUSTAINABLE TRAVEL?
You hear those names all-around – responsible travel, sustainable travel, ethical travel, ecotourist. But what does it all mean?
What is responsible tourism
Responsible travel means to be socially, culturally and environmentally aware when you travel. This also includes understanding the impact you, as a traveller, have on the places you visit and to try to make it a positive one. This involves ways of being more eco-friendly and working towards zero-waste travel, as well as supporting sustainability in the local communities and respecting places and people.
What can we do
Does it mean we need to stop travelling altogether? Not necessarily. There are still things you can do to help minimize the negative effects of travelling and ways how you can travel in the more mindful and responsible way.
I’ve been trying to incorporate the below practices in my life and travel for a long time. To be honest with you, it’s not always possible to do it all. And that’s fine, too. I truly believe that if we all care enough, even one step at the time can make a difference.
So what can you do to minimize the negative effects of travelling?
STEPS TO BECOME MORE RESPONSIBLE TRAVELLER
Here are some basic steps that you can take today to become a more responsible traveller.
RESPECT LOCAL COMMUNITY
#1 Learn and respect
Learn about the country before you get there. Know what the local customs, beliefs, history, and culture are. As a responsible traveller keep an open head, be tolerant and respect diversity. Remember, that you are a guest in someone’s else home. Sometimes it’s easy for us, visitors, to think that we know better. If there is one thing that travelling has taught me – is tolerance. Even if I don’t agree with something, I try to remind myself, that I am in no position to throw my point of view onto another person. There are other, better ways to help – through education and projects run by local organizations that know the reality.
#2 Connect with locals
As travellers, we visit stunning places. Hot springs in Iceland, beaches in Bali, beautiful landscapes of Jordan. In every place we go to, people live. Take some time to get to know them. The mutual connection can benefit both of you. And you might learn things that you would not expect to.
#3 Be nice – not everyone is trying to rip you off
Some destinations have a label of places where for sure everyone tries to scam you and steal from you. Especially, when you experience that once or a couple of times, it’s hard to not to feel offended or hurt. In reality, people are nice. Not everyone tries to take advantage. So put a smile on your face and be nice – people will be nice to you too. (This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be careful or cautious when travelling- follow your gut and use common sense!).
#4 Stay, eat and buy locally
Support local businesses and stay with local people, buy locally produced food and local souvenirs.
#5 Choose organized tours well
If you decide to take an organized tour, try to take a local one. Support local businesses and local guides – they need your money more than huge multinational organizations. Do the check – how are employees treated, if they care about the environment, if they do not include any tours exploiting animals, where do the profits go. For example, before doing dog sledding tour in Norway, I thoroughly checked what I was dealing with.
#6 Give back
If you can – give back. Support local non-profits, volunteer. Remember to do it in a responsible and sustainable way. Usually, local organizations have a better understanding of what the community needs, so you can contact them for the guidance rather than trying to do something yourself. Go for places that focus on sustainable support. Instead of just giving money, they invest in education, giving the tools for development. As an example, here you can see how you can support the educations of kids in Africa.
#7 Ethical photography
Everyone wants to have pretty photos from the holidays. Images of local people make the pictures more interesting. But is it fine to just snap a quick photo of someone and walk away? Not really. When it comes to ethical photography think about how you would feel. Put yourself in another’s person shoes. Good idea is to engage with a person before taking a photo. Talk to them, smile, buy something from a stall or just nicely ask if it’s fine to take a photo.
#8 Become an explorer
Instead of travelling to places struggling with over-tourism try to go to lesser-known areas instead. You will be surprised by how many wonderful places you can discover! For some suggestions have a look at this list of non-touristy holiday destinations you can visit instead. Also, Central Asia is still an off the beaten path destination, full of wonderful experiences!
#9 Travel offseason
If you really cannot live without seeing those famous tourist locations, try to go there offseason. You will avoid the crowds, prices would normally be lower and it will be easier for the local environment to deal with the amount of tourists at once.
#10 Practise slow travel
It’s not easy, especially when you have limited time in the place, short holidays with your 9-5 and you want to see a lot. But sometimes it’s worth to slow down, appreciate the place, connect with locals and do not change hotels every night.
#11 Combine the trips
If your work sends you abroad for business trips – combine business with pleasure. I often travel more because I extend my work trips and travel around the area where I already am. This also saves me taking additional longs flights on my own, which is better for the environment and… my pocket.
If we do not take care of the environment when we travel (and when we don’t), soon there won’t be much left. The world is changing and to stop the negative effects we all need to take part. Here are some of the things you can do while travelling to help the environment.
#1 Use public transport
Instead of taking the trains or driving with your own car, try to use public transport. It might be slower, but in many cases, it brings you closer to people and can make for great memories. I will never forget the long trip through the Himalayas in the public bus in India, taking taxi Busse (small minibusses) everywhere in Madagascar, Philippines or Indonesia, hitchhiking across Europe or solo travelling with public transport in Central Asia.
#2 Walk or cycle
Going somewhere in a short distance? Walk! You will be surprised how much you can see just walking to places. Especially when you pass through the parts of the town where just locals live. It gives you an opportunity to really see another face of the country or a city. Using bikes is also a great idea.
#3 Offset your carbon emissions
If you take a plane, and in many cases it’s inevitable, you can still try to offset some of the produced carbon emissions. Many airlines, like for example Air France, offer to offset some of the emissions for a small fee. They invest in environmental projects, planting trees or helping in another way. I like the organization Trees for the Future. They are not only planting trees but also changing the lives of local people. On their website, you will find a calculator for the emissions and you can donate to their projects.
#4 Reduce meat intake
For those of you who’ve seen the movie Cowspiracy, you know that animal farming is responsible for a big part of the gas emissions. Reducing the amount of meat you eat, can make a difference. I decided to entirely eliminate beef from my menu for environmental reasons.
#5 Save water – especially in countries where they struggle with it
When you come from Europe or a place that has an abundance of water (like Norway) and you never struggled with water to drink, to wash or to bathe in, it might be hard to remember that water can be scarce. Do not keep the tap open when you brush your teeth, take shorter showers, use less water for washing.
#6 Use sustainable accommodation
In some places, you have a chance to use sustainable accommodation or get closer to nature by camping. I highly recommend wild camping – it’s free and provides amazing views. Just make sure you do it in the places where it is allowed, follow all the rules and do not leave anything behind.
#7 Leave no trace
Whether it’s camping or not, if you like outdoor adventures, make sure you leave no trace. Take your rubbish with you, do not walk off the trail, make sure you do not disturb the wildlife or destroy plants.
#8 Respect wildlife
Don’t support animal tourism – this also goes with taking any tours involving wild animals. The suffering of animals due to animal tourism is horrendous, do not contribute to that. If you want to see wildlife – do it in the wild! It is truly a magical feeling to be close to the wild animals. I could see it for myself in the Masai Mara reserve in Kenya. Even on the sustainable wildlife tours, you need to make sure to follow the rules and keep the distance. Some animals are vulnerable to human born diseases.
#9 Reduce waste
Stop using disposable items, be conscious of what you buy. Do you really need that next key chain that you will never use? Do you need to buy items wrapped in several sheets of plastic? Will your drink taste so much worse without a plastic straw? Try to look around you and reduce the amount of trash you create, as well as the amount of plastic you use. Going entirely waste-free is not possible and it’s also not easy, but one step at the time, you can make a change.
#10 Say no to plastic – use eco-friendly travel products instead
Do you love your take-away coffee? Take a reusable cup with you! There are tons of eco-friendly, reusable products, that you can use instead of creating more waste with disposable ones. Simple steps include swapping the plastic bottles for the reusable ones, using the reusable bags for shopping instead of the plastic ones, choosing products not wrapped in plastic.
Some of my favorite eco-friendly travel products include:
– Reusable straws – they are bamboo, paper or metal, I love the bamboo ones
– Reusable cutlery – I am a fan of metal sporks
– Shampoo bar and a bar of soap instead of shower gels and shampoos in plastic containers
#11 Do not litter
This should be an obvious thing but unfortunately, it is not. In developing countries, there might be a smaller number of bins on the streets. It doesn’t mean that you can just leave your rubbish and go. Take it with you and bin in the next possible place. Preferably where you can recycle it, too!
#12 Take only memories
Have you collected any shells from the seashore? One small shell taken from the beach might not seem like it has a massive impact, however, in popular places, where many tourists do the same thing – it can even ruin the local ecosystem. Sardinia introduced fines up to €3000 for anyone taking sand, pebbles or shells from the beaches. The famous Maya Bay beach in Thailand got closed after the rise in visitors has severely damaged the environment. Many countries now put fine on tourists who try to take shells or other natural products across the borders. There are, of course, cases when this doesn’t apply to, but if you don’t have enough knowledge about the ecosystem and the area, take a picture and leave the rest behind.
Is responsible tourism easy?
Before the whole world changes its practises and we, consumers, will have easier access to environmental-friendly products and services, practicing responsible tourism would require some effort. In some situations it simply won’t be possible. But being conscious about your choices and remembering that they have an impact on our planet and all those beautiful places we visit, is a good start. After all, we all love to travel. Let’s make the travel possible by being more responsible while doing it.
Do you have any other responsible travel tips? Are you trying to be a more responsible traveller? Let me know in the comments!
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