Have you ever heard the phrase “responsible tourism”? What about “sustainable travel”? These buzz words are flying around the travel industry at the moment. Combined with “Corporate Social Responsibility”, or CSR, they are shaping the way in which people are exploring our world. But what do they mean?
Responsible or sustainable tourism refers to the impact we have and the choices we make when planning and experiencing our next adventure. Are we reckless with our waste, are we disrespectful to the local cultures, are we financing cruelty to animals? If you can safely say ‘no’ to these questions, then chances are you are a responsible traveller. Corporate social responsibility is effectively the same idea but on a bigger scale. Companies nowadays are recognising that they have a responsibility to ensure they are assisting communities and not leaving behind negative impacts.
One of my favourite definitions of responsible tourism is from Dragoman, an overland travel company. On their corporate responsibility page they state “Put simply, to us Responsible Tourism is all about trying to travel in a way that benefits the people who live in the places we visit, while making sure we try to minimise any negative impact we potentially have (on the environment, landscape, culture, the eco-system and the people).” This is what I believe in and surprisingly it is not hard to ensure that your next adventure fits within these goals.
Here are a few simple tips to help you become a responsible traveller:
Prior to booking flights or tours I like to do my homework on the companies I might use. Most airline companies allow the option of carbon offsetting your flight. However, flying is one of the fastest growing sources of CO2 and offsetting does not undo what has been done. I always recommend overland travel, or travelling like a local, to carbon reduce rather than offset. For overland trips, there are companies like Intrepid Travel. These guys are completely carbon neutral, plus have the added bonus of actively ensuring they are socially, environmentally and financially responsible, so it pays to do your research before deciding who to travel with.
I try to include clothing that will be appropriate for the region I’m travelling to. Is it a conservative country? Do women need to cover their hair, legs, shoulders? These are the sorts of questions I ask myself to ensure I am prepared and avoid any embarrassing or offensive faux pas’. I also like to throw in a phrase book or download an app – nothing bridges cultural gaps more than trying to greet someone in their own tongue. I find it opens many doors, and you are more likely to get a ‘yes’ when you ask to take a photo in the local language.
I like to shop at markets when travelling. Not only does this support the local economy and help out the farmers but also means that produce is fresh. Local food also means that transport is reduced and therefore less of those pesky carbon emissions. Shopping in markets is also a great way to practice those foreign phrases and maybe try new and exciting foods.
4. ON THE ROAD
When on the move simple choices like carrying a re-usable water bottle or a shopping bag can cut down on all that plastic. Have you ever been to a beautiful national park and seen plastic bags and discarded drinking containers on the ground? I saw this recently on a trip to the Maasai Mara Nature Reserve and it was heartbreaking. Another tip is to collect any toilet tissue from those necessary bush toilet stops. There is nothing worse than stepping behind a tree and finding a hundred other ladies have been before you. Bury your paper or place it into a bag and dispose of it at the next waste bin.
Often the hardest part of responsible travel is deciding on suitable activities to partake in. Elephant riding in Thailand – I would suggest no. Taking a coach through a slum with your camera out the window and the lens pointed into people’s lives – again maybe not. A walking tour – yes! A locally owned and operated shop selling traditionally made handicrafts – why not?!
For more information please read Why You Should Never Ride An Elephant and Volunteering At The Elephant Nature Park, Chang Mai.
Sometimes we can’t always be perfect, but making an effort to do some research and ask the questions before handing over our money can help us on the way. Remember, if we make the choice to be responsible tourists, to take only photos and leave only footprints, we can be rewarded with a never-ending bucket list of surprises.
What are your thoughts and tips to travel more responsibly? Please share these with our readers in the comments below. Read Next > Ladies We Love: Kate Webb of The Responsible Safari