How to travel more responsibly
It’s estimated that nearly 1.5 billion people travel internationally each year, and while we may have seen this number decline the last few years, we are likely to see considerable tourism growth in the future.
Never has there been a more important time to start travelling responsibly. There’s no doubt that sustainable tourism is a necessity if we wish to preserve environments, societies, and cultures worldwide.
Tourism can have many positive impacts on the destinations we visit if done correctly. However, if done irresponsibly, tourism and especially overtourism can have a negative impact on local communities such as causing housing shortages, threaten local wildlife and ecosystems, and contribute to rising fossil fuel emissions that is precipitating climate change.
It’s important to encourage awareness of these negative effects in order to educate ourselves on how we can make better decisions regarding the way we travel so we can ensure the places we visit remain vibrant and inspiring. Here are just some of the ways you can become a more responsible traveller.
It’s hard not to be enticed to travel to popular destinations, especially when they continually pop up in your social media feeds. This has unfortunately led to many places becoming overwhelmed with overtourism such as Venice, Machu Picchu, and Dubrovnik thanks to Game of Thrones.
We need to start exploring lesser known destinations in order to not only relieve the pressure of too many tourists in travel hotspots, but also to spread the wealth and support communities that could really use our tourism dollars.
We have already seen many destinations forced to take the drastic action of restricting tourist numbers or all out prohibiting international travellers from certain sites in order to allow those sites to recover or be preserved.
Let’s face it, we Australians have to rely on flights to travel internationally which makes it difficult to reduce our carbon footprint in terms of transport. However, there are still ways you can help reduce emissions caused by your travel.
Planes are most fuel-efficient when they are in the air at cruising speed. The real energy consumption comes upon takeoff which means if you can opt for direct or non-stop flights you will aid in cutting emissions.
You can also learn tips on how to pack lighter, as increased weight on a plane leads to more fuel being required. If you can stick to just carry-on luggage, you will reduce your carbon footprint even further as it takes machines and energy to get checked bags where they need to be both when boarding and disembarking.
Once you do arrive in your chosen destination, you can always opt for walking or renting a bike instead of always relying on taxis or rideshare companies. That being said, there are many countries which are now adopting electric taxis and you can always look to see if renting an electric vehicle yourself is an option.
When moving between countries in places like Europe, you can also opt for trains and buses instead of flights which can both be more eco-friendly options.
When it comes to choosing responsible accommodation, there are a few things to consider. One is whether you can give back to the local economy by staying in either locally run hotels instead of big name brands or booking home stays with local families which can additionally really allow you to immerse yourself in the local culture.
Another thing to consider is whether your accommodation is eco-friendly. You can now readily seek out whether a hotel or other accommodation has some sort of certification of sustainability practices in place.
You can look for accommodation that uses renewable energy, water-efficient amenities, recycles, and used renewable materials in their construction. Responsible accommodation choices may also enhance cultural heritage and provide social and economic benefits to the community, while also making sure they do not impact the local environment.
Equally as important as choosing eco-friendly and responsible accommodation is booking with sustainable tour operators. You want to seek out tour companies that look to protect local communities and the environment. They should have some type of certification or environmental policy that proves how they are staying committed to being responsible or sustainable.
Responsible tour companies do things like use local guides, donate a portion of profits to local charities, and often filter money back into things like environmental conservation or preservation of important sites or monuments.
It does often take a bit of research to find truly sustainable tour operators, but you can often search reviews from others travellers to see how their personal experiences were and whether the companies really did live up to the sustainability they claimed on their website.
You need to take special care when it comes to animal and wildlife attractions, as many animals are sadly often exploited for tourism purposes. While it may seem exciting to ride an elephant in Thailand, ride a donkey in Santorini, or swim with dolphins, activities such as these can cause a lot of stress for the animals.
Not all zoos and wildlife centres put the welfare of their animals above profits either, and visiting such places only promotes the continuation of often inhumane practices. Animal encounters, feedings, and performances can all be done in ethical ways that don’t cause stress to an animal, but you need to make sure the tours or businesses you support have the best interests of the animal in mind.
Make sure companies are registered and check for any certification that demonstrates their commitment to positive animal welfare. Be wary of cheap tours that may not be as concerned about offering ethical animal interactions or ones that use harmful baiting techniques that may put an animal’s safety at risk.
Our holiday time can be precious and it can often be difficult enough to try and pack everything we want to see and do into an itinerary, but consider volunteering some of your time if possible as it can really be both rewarding and responsible.
Volunteering can come in the form of helping to build a school, teaching English, working in animal conservation, or simply helping to clean up a local beach. There are countless worthwhile causes you can volunteer your time towards, just be sure to seek out reputable organisations that have been shown to make a difference.
It’s also important to note that you should volunteer for something where you can genuinely be of assistance. Consider your personal skills, fitness level, and the amount of time you are able to give before committing to a project.
Alternatively, if you aren’t in a position to offer your time, you may be able to pack and donate essential supplies to local organisations or seek out organisations to donate money to while travelling.
Another aspect of volunteering that often goes overlooked is to question whether you volunteering could be potentially stealing a paid job away from a local who could really use it.
Shopping responsibly while travelling means shopping with local vendors where your money goes directly into the local economy. Shopping with international brands and corporations means local businesses lose out.
Try to stick to shopping with small businesses such as family-owned restaurants. The pandemic has been especially difficult for small businesses and they need your support now more than ever.
Shopping locally will also allow you to enjoy more authentic experiences and encourages you to interact with locals where you may then be able to receive local secret knowledge and gain a better understanding of the local culture.
Additionally, local small businesses often source local products and overall are often much more sustainable. Supporting local small businesses and purchasing handicrafts directly from their makers also helps preserve uniqueness in the places we visit, not to mention the customer service is often much greater.
It’s important to remember that you as an international traveller are a guest when visiting a country. While you may not agree with various aspects of a culture, you should at the very least respect the cultures you visit and try your best to gain a better understanding of them.
Take some time before your holiday to research the local customs so you do not inadvertently offend locals and can better ensure you know how to act in a manner that is consider appropriate. This may mean dressing more conservatively than you are used to back home or adhering to laws that may be very much different than you are used to.
It never hurts to learn a bit of the local language so you can both interact with locals and show that you are there to really learn about and respect foreign cultures and customs. When it comes to photographing people or sensitive subjects while travelling, always ask before you shoot so as to not offend or cause conflict.
International tourists no doubt contribute to waste when travelling, and this can often be a big issue for nations that do not have adequate waste management systems in place. Not all countries adhere to strict recycling programs either. For this reason, it’s important to really be conscious of how much waste you are contributing and doing your best to limit wherever possible.
Avoiding the use of single-use plastics like straws, cups, and bags is one way you can help while travelling. Pack a reusable bag you can use for shopping whether it’s for souvenirs or at local markets.
Travel with a reusable water bottle and fill up with the local tap if the local water is deemed safe to drink. Travel with a reusable coffee cup for those daily caffeine runs and maybe even carry a set of reusable cutlery to avoid using disposables from certain vendors.
The success of sustainable tourism starts with all of us. Never be afraid to start conversations with fellow travellers or family to encourage them to travel more sustainably and reduce their carbon footprint wherever possible.
Consider sharing your thoughts and ideas on how the various businesses you used while travelling can become more responsible or eco-friendly. This can be done by writing to owners or managers of businesses or simply by leaving online reviews.
For more serious violations of either human or animal rights you encounter, you may want to get in touch with the appropriate government organisations to share your experience so that change can happen. Every little bit helps and collectively we as international travellers can all ensure the preservation of the incredible places we visit.