Sustainable Tourism – How To Be Responsible When Traveling
Traveling is one of the greatest things a person can do. It gives you experiences outside your everyday, can help build deeper connections with others and yourself, and is simply a whole lot of fun. However, done poorly, travel can negatively impact the world you set out to enjoy in the first place. For this reason, sustainable tourism is a key concern for many. The idea is to figure out how to be responsible when traveling, yet still have an amazing time.
Here are a few simple tips to get you started along the path of responsible travel. The first tip offers a great way to set your frame of mind when stepping outside your comfort zone, into the wider world…
Treat your destination like you’re a guest at a new friend’s house
When you’re at a new friend’s house, you’re on your best behavior. You’re not getting drunk and busting up the place, nor are you seeing things on the shelves and thinking ‘hmmm, that looks like a nice souvenir, I might take it.’ If people take their shoes off before going inside, you respect that custom and do the same. There’s no way you’re dropping rubbish on the floor.
Same goes for traveling. You are in someone’s own home. So, respect the way they do things there, put your waste in any bins (or take it home with you if there aren’t any), and take care to preserve the environment around you. Avoid taking things like shells, or plants that belong in their natural place too. You can still have a great time, talk to locals, learn new things, soak up new experiences. Just do it with a little care in mind.
Support local businesses
Buying local when you’re away means that money goes to local families who live in the area. These are the people who have made the place what it is. They care about their home and create the culture there. They are the custodians of the environment a lot of the time. It means they can sustain a living into the future and put back into their community as well. The alternative is buying from chain stores that not only siphon most of the profits back overseas, but potentially pay minimal tax to support the country’s economy. Of course, not all local providers are good citizens and not all corporate business are evil. However, this rule of thumb is an easy way to know you’re normally giving back to the place (and people) you came to enjoy.
Stay in sustainably-minded accommodation
Again, going with a local homestay or locally-owned hotel is a general way to know that they’re looking after both the community and environment in the area. Obviously, this isn’t always the case, so it’s a great idea to do your research first as well. Check out any reviews on the accommodation for a mention of sustainable practices, or simply ask them outright when booking. There are also good websites and tour operators that specialize in sustainable accommodation. Ecobnb is one, but there are a bunch of other great options to choose from.
Do your research on any wildlife park and tour operators
Just as a little research on your accommodation is a must, checking out any wildlife parks you’re going to visit is key. While most people these days know that riding elephants, or swimming with dolphins, does more harm than good, there’s less concern about zoo style parks. However, there are horror stories about animals being drugged, or chained up, when you can’t actually see them.
If you want to check out wildlife, that’s fine, it can be done ethically. Opt for free-range places where you can and look into the practices of any park you’re wanting to go to. A few minutes of reading will mean you’ll go to the best parks and avoid any suspect operators.
Avoid Geotagging Pristine Places
There’s quite a bit of research out there that shows how overtourism is an issue for the environment. This basically means too many people are heading to an area that doesn’t have the infrastructure to support mass visitors. Aside from the obvious drawback of having to wait in lines and jostle around with other travelers, there can be further strain on local water sources, waste disposal and more.
One way to avoid this is to choose a destination off the beaten track (which for us gives greater adventure anyway). However, when there, make sure you’re careful not to contribute to the overtourism of that place in the future. Geotagging photos of your destination is a growing issue. That glorious shot on Instagram, showing exactly how to get there means others see it too and want to visit. There’s then a social media flow on effect that can totally blow places out in a very short space of time. Here’s an article with some further tips on how to think about geotagging.
Consider Your Carbon Footprint (airline offsets)
One of the biggest contributors to climate change is carbon emissions. Air travel is a huge percentage of that. Many airlines now offer a carbon offset when flying yet only 1 in 100 people actually take it up. Help buck that statistic and tick the box to do the right thing. The vast majority of these programs are great and are government verified. If you’d prefer to offset on your own end, here’s a list of some of the top carbon offset providers out there right now.
Take A Reusable Water Bottle
We all drink water. Every day. If you’re away traveling, a lot of that can be from plastic bottles instead of from a glass. In case you’re not familiar with the statistics, 8 million tonnes of plastic is dumped into the oceans every year with much more going into landfill. Having a reusable water bottle on hand when traveling is a really simple way to avoid any unnecessary plastic waste and keep the world pristine.
Use Sustainable Travel Goods
In addition to your own reusable water bottle, it’s always worth thinking about other things you can take that are a little better for the environment. Reef friendly sunscreen is just one you might not be aware of. Bags that are going to last a long time and be used over and over is another. If you can find ones made from sustainable materials, that’s a further bonus. One example is Pacsafe’s Econyl anti-theft backpacks, but there are plenty more out there you can choose from if you look.
Of course, there are plenty of other things you can do to be responsible when traveling, but these are a great start. Remember, treat your destination like you would a new friend’s home and you’re on the right foot already. Being able to head out and have a great time, knowing you’re doing the right thing is a wonderful feeling. Share that feeling (and your mindset) with others and the world you travel should stay pristine for a long, long time.