You might have come across terms such as sustainable travelling, ecotourism and ethical travelling. All of these terms are inter-related to one another. The benefits of responsible tourism are much deeper than what we think they are. A very common myth among travellers is that responsible tourism means making your trip less enjoyable and more focused on the environment. However, the truth of the matter is that responsible tourism is as much fun as a regular trip and is far more personally fulfilling. Wouldn’t you want to help those who are already doing so much to protect and preserve the environment as well as the Flora/fauna?
At first, you might find it a little difficult if you’ve already set in your ways of travelling and accustomed to a certain travelling style but the change is so worth it! Responsible tourism is about making simple travel choices that curb the negative impact that you would have on your travel destination while you’re holidaying. Here are 10 tips to help you travel more responsibly and sustainably:
1) Treating others as equals
When travelling to different countries or regions, you might meet different people from different socio-economic backgrounds. Even though you feel like they are different from you in many aspects, try not to behave differently with them. Being a visitor, it is your responsibility to make sure that you do not make them feel lowly or make them uncomfortable.
2) Cultural understanding and respect
Before you leave for your holiday, make sure you read up about the cultural beliefs and traditions that the locals follow. Researching about these facts not only makes you aware of the cultural aspects of the place that you’re visiting but also gives you an idea of what to expect once you reach the destination. It is very important to understand and respect the cultural beliefs of the place that you are visiting. For example, a lot of regions in India expect visitors to cover up till below their knees and have their shoulders covered when they visit temples. The last thing you want on a trip is to invite scornful stares from the locals and disrespect their feelings.
3) Shopping from local vendors and artisans
Local vendors and small artisans run their houses based on what they earn from their hard work and skills. Try and shop from local vendors and artisans as opposed to shopping from larger brands/ stores as you would indirectly be contributing to their economic well-being while also helping them in retaining the region’s cultural art.
4) Be considerate of animals
Stay away from tours and travels agents who plan out animal back-rides or too much intrusion into the animal habitat. Tour operators often plan out activities such as walking with lions, riding on camel backs, horse-riding and other such intrusive activities. Make sure you don’t participate in these activities as you would only be promoting animal cruelty and ill-treatment to animals.
5) Feeding wild animals
As much fun as feeding wild animals sounds, feeding of wild animals by humans make them more dependent on humans and degrades their ability to find their own food. A lot of tours take you through wildlife spots where you can feed the elephants, penguins, pandas or even birds. This creates over-dependence on humans and reduces the animals’ capacity to fend for themselves. A case where little eaglets were born too weak to prey on their food because of parent eagles being fed pieces of meat every day by humans, is the best example of how human interference creates problems for animals.
6) Choosing transportation wisely
Before you book a sedan to take you from your hotel to the park, evaluate whether you’ll be able to cycle to the location. Cycling not only saves you money but is a good way to keep fit while you’re on a trip (keeps the holiday weight away!). You could also check for other modes of local transport such as trains, buses and car-pools.
7) Reduce waste produced by you
This one is pretty obvious but do not litter around the place and try to reduce the amount of waste you’re throwing out. Try to recycle and reuse materials as much as possible. Give the city maps back once you’re done using them so that other travellers can use them, you’ll help save up on a lot of paper in this way. Every time you eat something from a wrapper, make sure you put the wrapper back in your bag and throw it out only when you see a dustbin. Another very important tip is to segregate your waste into wet/dry waste and throw it in their respective bins.
8) Care for natural resources
How would you like it if someone walked into your home and pulled out the clothing from your sofa? You’d probably throw them out, won’t you? Treat the environment like your home and the natural resources like they are your own responsibility. Think before you pluck a flower from a tree or cage a unique looking insect in a jar just for the sake of your fantasy.
9) Be mindful of the products you use
Often times, we mindlessly pick up branded/ unbranded products without checking their contents or the ingredients that go in. This is not only bad for you but also for the environment. According to research studies, sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate are very dangerous to marine animals. When you slather on some (toxic) sunscreen and jump in the sea, you’re putting the lives of marine animals and the corals at risk. Swap your regular sunscreen with a non-toxic sunscreen. It is important to understand the composition of the products we use and the impacts that they have on the environment.
10) Be more considerate while dining out
It is very important for all of us to realize that as exciting as exploring new cuisines and restaurants is, over-ordering food at restaurants is a practice that needs to be looked into. While dining out, make sure you don’t use plastic straws and ask for bamboo/wooden straws instead. Better so, give the straw a miss, if possible. Try and carry a refillable water bottle with you when you’re heading out for a meal so you don’t end up using the restaurant’s glasses. This might sound too micro-managed but the amount of water that can be saved by eliminating the need to wash restaurant glasses is much more in quantity than you can even think of. Whenever you have leftover food, try and get a pack up. You can keep it for yourself to eat later or you can give it to somebody in need. Some places also have community refrigerators that let you keep leftover food for those who are in need, find out about these community refrigerators when you visit a new place.
It is important to identify and differentiate companies or tour organizers who ‘greenwash’ their itineraries just to make the travellers feel like their methods and planning are eco-friendly. ‘Greenwashing’ is a very common practice among tour operators or agencies wherein they add words such ‘sustainable’, ‘organic’, ‘environment-friendly’ to their brochures and travel itineraries just to make their company be perceived as more environmentally friendly. However, the problem lies in the fact that all these are just fancy words that are left without any meaning as these money mongers strive to make more business out of consumers who believe the greenwashed lies that they tell. Make sure your travel agency or operators are not greenwashing you into an ‘eco-friendly’ trip when in reality, they’ve planned lion tours and camelback rides for you.
Tell me how you make sure that you’re travelling responsibly, in the comments below!