Tread Lightly: How to Minimize Your Impact and Travel Responsibly
With the prices of airfare as cheap as ever, there’s never been a better time to escape the rushing monotony of ‘real life’ and jet off to a tropical island paradise, climb a mountain, go on safari or explore the ruins of an ancient civilization. Every corner of the globe is so accessible that we’re spoilt for choice on where to travel: and the question of how we should travel is often not addressed. Travelling and experiencing a different culture first hand is an important way to learn more about both ourselves and the world we inhabit, but a great number of tourists and travellers tend to disregard the impact that their travels have on local environments.
The ‘travel destinations’ that we head to on holidays or for extended trips are in fact, someone’s home. The impact of what you do and how you spend your time whilst travelling is felt long after you leave, so it is important that as responsible travellers, we respect the natural and often delicate balance of the places we visit and experience.
Tourism can have incredible benefits to local communities and indeed whole countries, but this economic gain should not be at the expense of culture or environment. By embracing a few simple principles, it’s easy to experience everything that a country has to offer without having a negative impact on the communities or environment of the areas you visit, maintaining the culture and natural beauty for generations to come.
Dress For The Occasion
Technology and aviation have brought us closer together than ever before, but whilst Western style dress may be more common in larger, metropolitan cities there are many cultures that have differing opinions on what is considered respectful attire.
It is wise to dress conservatively in any country that has strongly held religious beliefs, both for cultural sensitivity and to stay safe. As a general rule, it’s good policy to take note of how locals of similar age and sex are dresing to distinguish expected norms. Men should avoid wearing shorts and sleeveless tops whilst women should avoid tops with plunging necklines, miniskirts and other revealing attire when entering places of worship. Travelling with a lightweight shawl is an excellent idea for female travellers as it can be used as a head scarf, skirt or shoulder-covering shawl.
Consider Your Use Of Plastics
There are many places on Earth where drinking the local tap water is likely to have some pretty, ahem, explosive consequences. Bottled water has been the go-to solution for most travellers as it’s generally readily available wherever you go. Research has indicated though, that nine out of every 10 plastic water bottles end up in a landfill and each one of those can take up to 1,000 years to decompose. This means that there’s an estimated 30 million bottles per day going into landfills, or worse, the ocean. By using one of the following methods, you can dramatically decrease your environmental impact whilst travelling:
- Water purifier — There are a range of water filters available on the market that utilize UV light, a pump or other methods to extract the nasties from water sources
- Iodine or chlorine tablets — Chemical treatment can make non potable water drinkable but these tables do leave a distinctive chemical flavour that is not to everyone’s taste
- Refill — Refilling a bottle from a safe water source costs just cents and goes a long way to minimizing your environmental footprint. Carry a sturdy bottle with you and look out for water coolers at hotels, banks, travel agencies, car rental agencies and other shops. You’ll save a fortune whilst saving the planet
- Drink beer instead 🙂
Use Public Transport When Possible
It can be dusty, sweaty and sometimes downright uncomfortable, but by using public transport you are putting fewer private vehicles on the streets and freeways which means fewer carbon emissions. It’s also makes for a great opportunity to interact with locals and add to your travel experience.
Don’t Give To Children Begging On The Street
Children who work and live on the street are vulnerable to physical, emotional and sexual abuse and in many cases are exploited by adults who force them to beg on the streets. Whilst reaching into your pocket and offering some coins is a well intentioned act, it only serves to perpetuate the problem by keeping these kids on the streets. These children are unable to attend school as they are seen as being more profitable begging or working, so remain uneducated and with few prospects to rise above poverty.
Instead of supporting this system consider supporting communities through development projects or sponsorship of children that live in poverty — a far better way of providing assistance to local communities.
Watch What You Eat
One of the greatest parts of travel is exposure to unique flavours and culinary creations that you would never have the opportunity to try back home. But there are some basic principles that should be abided by. Refuse to eat any foods or to purchase any souvenirs made from endangered wildlife such as snake wine, bear, turtle or seahorse. Although in some cases these items are local delicacies, both bears and frogs for example are highly endangered and we should not, as responsible travellers, contribute to their demise.
Support Local Businesses
When travelling overseas try as much as possible to spend money at local businesses rather than hotel chains and large international businesses or restaurants. This can be as simple as using the local laundromat across the road rather than the hotel’s laundry. They’re generally cheaper and your money is injected directly into the local economy, helping the entire area share in the economic benefits of your visit.
Use Responsible Tourism Agencies
As a consumer of tourism services, your actions can directly influence the industry. By choosing to only support agencies and organizations that focus on the responsible provision of tourism services you’re making a statement that can affect positive change. Companies such as Intrepid and Responsible Travel are just two of hundreds of operators that can help you choose sustainable tour options.
Spread the Good Word
Once you have a greater sense of awareness of how to travel responsibly, it’s important to inform others who may not have considered the impacts of their actions on local culture and the environment. Whenever you see situations that result in wasted energy, water or simply waste and pollution that could be easily avoided, try to let others know of the consequences of their actions.