The ultimate guide on how to be a responsible traveller.
As people who live on the road 365 days of the year, we are lucky enough to encounter all kinds of different cultures and environments on a daily basis. Through our personal experiences, we have become big advocates for sustainable tourism.
We believe that through the ways we travel, the regions we decide to visit, and the choices we make on how we spend our money and where can have a positive impact on communities and families that are not as fortunate as ourselves.
Another name for it is ‘responsible travel’.
Travelling opens up the doors to a world that is both incredibly rewarding and desperately unfortunate. While many of us back in the ‘real world’ are more concerned about which new shoes we are going to buy and whether it is time to upgrade our smart phone or not, there are tragic circumstances occurring every day that we are trained to ignore.
But fear not, because there are plenty of ways that travellers can help make a big difference to the people of the world by simply being more mindful and educated about the decisions we make when overseas.
Here are 10 ways to help you become a responsible traveller.
1) Volunteer Some Of Your Time
Whether you are travelling for two weeks or two years, volunteering a portion of your time to worthwhile causes and with reputable organisations can make a world of difference.
If you have a skill that may be useful in a developing nation, such as medical care experience, an engineering background or have worked in social care, there are a whole multitude of avenues you can pursue to help put your expertise to good use.
But even if you are not highly qualified, you can still find beneficial ways to volunteer. It may be possible to spend a few days teaching English in rural schools, or you can check out different animal conservation projects that are active in the places you are visiting.
Another great idea is to contact a local NGO and ask if they need any supplies brought over.
A word of warning though – Don’t get caught up with the idea of ‘Voluntourism’ for the wrong reasons. Please do your research before committing to volunteering with an organisation, and think logically – Is spending a day at an orphanage really beneficial to those children? If you have no construction experience, are you suitably qualified to build a hospital in Tanzania?
And by you volunteering, are you actually taking a job away from a local who could perform the same task? Instead of paying a high cost to ‘volunteer’ with a NGO, don’t be afraid to admit that perhaps it is better to just donate that money and let the experts handle the task.
2) Shop Locally
When it comes to eating, sleeping and buying souvenirs, choosing where you spend your money can have a massive impact on the community. By having dinner at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, staying in a family-run guest house or purchasing a trinket from a street vendor, you are helping to inject money directly into the local economy.
Besides creating a more authentic travel experience for yourself, you are also helping someone create a better life for themselves. Buying from a multinational corporation will only see most of your tourist dollars go straight into the pockets of shareholders and business directors.
3) Think Before You Act With Wildlife Activities
When making plans for an overseas vacation, a lot of people have exotic dreams of riding elephants, swimming with dolphins or having their photos taken with tigers, but these irresponsible activities often do more harm than good.
Wildlife tourism is a big business, and most of these operators think about the profits before the well-being of the animals. Remember that for one hour of entertainment for yourself, you could be contributing to a lifetime of distress for the animal.
If you are really interested in visiting a place that houses and protects animals, make sure you contact one that is a registered NGO, and is transparent about their business dealings. A reputable organisation will have no problems in sending you all the information you would like.
4) Respect The Local Culture
One of the greatest rewards we can have when we travel is learning about different cultures and religions. The world and its people are diverse and fascinating, and it is an astonishing feeling being privileged enough to experience it. We must keep in mind how important it is to show respect to those local customs and traditions when we travel.
Many countries are more conservative with their dress sense, and wearing short shorts or singlets may be considered to be inappropriate. Take the time to learn a little bit of the local language (even if it is just ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’), just like you would expect visitors to your home country to do.
Study what the customs are of where you are travelling to to ensure you don’t inadvertently offend anyone.
5) Minimise Your Waste
Waste management can be a major issue in most developing countries, and we as travellers often unknowingly contribute to this problem.
The education levels when it comes to recycling and minimising waste in other countries may not be the same as what we receive back home, so it is important to take your own steps to help out the environment.
Say no to plastic bags from shops and instead put your items in a backpack or a cloth bag. Eat and drink in the cafe rather than going for take away (or carry a KeepCup with you, which we always do).
Carry a reusable water bottle with you and fill up from large water jugs that can be found in most hotels and restaurants. Or do what we do, and carry a water sterilisation tool on your travels. We personally recommend a SteriPen.
6) Choose Sustainable Accommodation And Tour Operators
There are thousands of options available to you when it comes to finding a place to rest your head, or choosing an operator to take you out on that unforgettable holiday experience.
It is possible to find businesses that actively work with local communities or have practices that help protect the environment, and these kind of establishments should be rewarded for their efforts.
They may choose to only employ local guides or workers from nearby villages, or provide extra training to help their staff improve their skills.
Some places even donate part of their profits to charitable enterprises, or pay their local staff above-average wages, without you having to do any extra work!
It may take a little bit more research to find these sustainable companies, but the benefits are worth the effort. For a great example of this ideal business model, check out the Mad Monkey Hostels in Cambodia.
7) Lower Your Footprint
There are a lot of great ways to lower your environmental impact when you are travelling. Instead of always taking taxis to get you from A to B, see if a local bus can get you to where you need to go.
If the distance you need to go isn’t too far, walk instead of jumping on public transport for one or two stops.
If you really want a great way to explore an area, rent a bicycle! Not only is it good for the environment, but it is good for your travelling budget and your health too!
8) Look At The Bigger Picture When Bargaining
In regions like Latin America and South East Asia, bargaining for products is a part of the culture. It can almost be like a game! But please think about the bigger picture when bartering for that souvenir.
Before you start haggling over $1, think about how far that extra bit of cash could go for the person you are dealing with.
Look at the bigger picture! If you don’t think twice about staying in an expensive hotel and drinking overpriced cocktails by the pool, don’t then try and bully a local out of a couple of bucks.
9) Don’t Give To Beggars
Now this one really is a hard one, as most of us feel completely heart broken when we see people (especially children) begging in the streets. But it is important to remember that begging only encourages local people to continue asking tourists for money.
As a result, there are many destinations that end up with people begging who are pretending to be worse off than they are in order to extort money off of foreigners.
When it comes to children who ask for money, in places like Cambodia parents often take them out of school to beg on streets, and in the worst cases they may be part of a larger network run by unscrupulous characters who keep the money for themselves.
Obviously use your discretion with this one, but if you really want to help out, perhaps buy the person some food or water instead. Also try and seek out local organisations who work with under privileged people in the area and ask if they require any assistance.
10) Educate Others To Be Responsible Travellers
Being a responsible traveller might come naturally to some, but others may just not be aware about the implications their actions can have when they are abroad.
If you see someone unintentionally doing something that is detrimental to the environment or to the local people and culture, perhaps mention something in a friendly way.
Start discussions about responsible travel with people in your hostel, hotel or who you are on tour with. It is only through education that we can help spread the word about sustainable tourism.
Before you head out on your gap year learn how to be an ethical and sustainable traveller.
If you have any other questions, thoughts or ideas, or are a business looking to implement sustainable practices, please feel free to get in contact with us.
Remember, our actions can have a big impact on the world while we travel. Make sure it is a positive one.