Responsible Travel – An Open Letter On Sustainable Tourism

Last updated on: 21 Comments

Responsible Travel and Sustainable Tourism

Responsible Travel – You Have The Choice

To Our Friends,

Alesha and I created NOMADasaurus a little less than a year ago with the vision of promoting sustainable tourism and long-term travel. The ‘sustainable tourism’ part of our mission is based on our belief that through the ways we travel, the regions we 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 can be 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 TV or not, there are tragic circumstances occurring every day that we are trained to ignore.

According to UN Water, 783 million people do not have access to clean water and almost 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation. 6 to 8 million people die annually from the consequences of disasters and water-related diseases.

805 million people do not have enough food to lead a healthy and active life. 21’000 people die every day from hunger related causes.

Please take a moment to think about how substantial those numbers are.

It is easy to ignore these stats and figures and instead focus on our own lives and the issues we have going on between ourselves, friends and family. It is the normal thing to do.

We are not here to say that the problems we face back in the ‘first world’ are not important. Of course, you must help yourself before you help others. But Alesha and I are travellers in a unique position to witness some of these ‘foreign problems’ first hand and we feel obligated to help out when and where we can. When it comes to responsible travel, we are huge advocators. Sustainable tourism is at the forefront of our thoughts and continues to fuel the fire inside us.

It is hard to say which charities need more assistance over others and who is more deserving of our help. Recently the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge went viral and raised many funds for a great cause, despite the questionable values of the company that received the donations. Everyone has their own idea of where they would like to see their money spent and everyone deserves that choice. In this one particular situation, 5’600 people are diagnosed with ALS every year. This is quite upsetting, I agree, and it is incredible that so much help has been given to those who are affected by this debilitating disease. Over $100 million and counting so far! But who suffers more?

The cause that Alesha and I feel the most passionate about is access to clean drinking water. The numbers mentioned above scare the shit out of us. I come from a place where I can bathe myself for hours in clean water, and now I am backpacking in a country where nearly half of the population does not have access to the same luxury just to survive. It is something we take for granted and is easy to ignore when we cannot see it with our own two eyes.

This is not a problem that is impossible to rectify.

Compared with the billions (and trillions) of dollars governments around the world are spending on war, imprisonment, immigration and unfortunately greedily pocketing themselves, not much is really needed to make a huge difference. It is estimated that as little as $10 billion would be required to provide clean drinking water to the entire population. Or just 1.2% of the world’s military expenditure. Or just 15% of what the citizens of US spends on alcohol and tobacco every year. Or less than what the Australian government has committed to spend on some shiny new fighter jets.

Are our priorities really in the right place?

In Cambodia, where we are travelling right now, 20% of deaths of children under the age of 5 are caused by drinking dirty water. To us, this is unacceptable.

In a small effort to help combat this terrible situation, we have donated the funds required to build a water well in a rural village here in Cambodia. This post is not about big noting our pittance of a donation. It is not a means to justify our ideas of responsible travel and sustainable tourism. We do not consider ourselves heroes, or kings and queens of charity, pretending to save the world while I sit here writing on my Apple laptop. We do not have all the answers and indeed we are far from perfect ourselves. Simply put this is something we felt obligated to do. The more we travel, the more we learn. This post is about promoting awareness.

If you are in a position to travel please be thing about how and where you spend your money. Choose responsible travel. Eating at corporate fast food chains and only staying in international hotels does little to see your hard earned money make a positive impact on local communities. Avoiding developing or poor countries because of fear and being uninformed affects many people, yourself included.

How can you help? By buying food from the street vendors. Staying in locally-run guesthouses. Purchasing your supplies from small convenience stores in your destination instead of the market chains at home. Don’t give money to children who ask but instead support an enterprise that works personally with these underprivileged kids.

Some restaurants, cafes, tour companies and other businesses work closely with communities and charities. Sometimes the prices they have for services and products are a little higher than you can get elsewhere. Step back and think about how that extra few dollars out of your own pocket can potentially help a worthwhile cause. These types of expenditures are worth paying more for.

If you have the time to volunteer with an organisation, be very careful about which one you choose. Do your research and ensure the skills you provide and the money you spend will be utilised properly. Don’t do it for yourself, for a Facebook picture, to tell your friends back home how you ‘saved the planet’. Do it for the planet and for its people. Responsible travel is the key.

Realise that donating a lump sum of money is not the only way to make a difference, although this is indeed worthwhile. All you need to do is make conscious decisions. If you are already travelling, or are planning on travelling, you can make a positive difference if you choose sustainable tourism. Even if just once on your journey you sacrifice a little bit of luxury to provide business or assistance to someone who needs it, you are helping the cause. If would like some more advice on the best ways to do this, please contact us.

Life is about choices, but this only applies to those privileged enough to be born with these choices available to them. Not everyone has the luxury to be reading a travel blog on the internet. To be dreaming about seeing the world. To be considering spending money on a holiday instead of scratching to see where the next meal is coming from. We are extremely lucky. Don’t forget it, or take it for granted.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you very much for reading. If you agree, please share this around. If you have suggestions, comments or criticism please let us know. Open the discussion for better ideas on responsible travel. Promote awareness. Promote sustainable tourism.

If you are able to travel, travel responsibly. Make that choice and stick by it. Your actions can have a big impact.

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Ghandi

Much love,

Lesh and Jazza
NOMADasaurus

Responsible Travel And Sustainable Tourism Kids

About the author

Jarryd Salem

Jarryd 'Jazza' Salem is a freelance travel writer and chief author of the stories and articles found on NOMADasaurus. Having left his home of Sydney in 2007 to pursue a life on the road, he aims to promote sustainable, community-based travel through his experiences backpacking the world. You can find him in some random country trying hard to quench his thirst for adventure. Follow his journey on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Instagram

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21 COMMENTS

  1. Fantastic blog guys! And I think you are amazing ! This was my first adventure of a lifetime ….and although our means of travel sometimes had to be by plane, so not too ‘Green’ we did travel by bus or train and used e,centric scooters , plus trekked so pure natural energy .,…
    We always use local shops , street sellers and small guest houses when we can … we take local guides , local rickshaws and taxis .
    The children and people in general were so lovely in Cambodia and Myanmar and India too ! You are right it is not acceptable that in 2016 there are people without clean water ! my soul hurts when I saw so many kids in India on the streets without access to running water and toilets ….. Travelers can make a difference I believe … Tourism adds to the economy , we just have to make sure whatever local services we use when there are shared around as much as possible too….. Not using same sellers, or rickshaws … You can learn a lot from talking to the local people …… Local charities now do promote don’t buy from the kids or give money …..I have had to become hardened to this ……as I know it’s wrong …..I’m getting there!

    Great article guys and I couldn’t agree more. I share youe passion and try to promote responsible, community based travel and volunteering to my readers. Hopefully we can meet up one day on the road!

    Great post, there’s so many travelers who are not responsible travelers. It drives me nuts. We see it more with the travelers who are short term travelers. Is this what you see?

    Thank you for writing this – it is so important and too many of the travellers I meet haven’t thought about it, often not through willful ignorance but simply because they haven’t been raised to consider these issues. For me the point of travelling is to understand this world better which means looking square on at the hard as well as the beautiful, and then doing what I can to make it better. Which as you say, on some days or some trips might just be about shopping local and making sure your money stays in the community.

    Great post!

      Glad to hear you can resonate with these issues. It is something we strongly believe in, and hopefully this mindset grows across travellers around the world. I think it is, especially with people such as yourself getting behind it. Thanks for reading, Audrey.

    Great post. I think that just like language, we do of course need labels for types of travel – whether it is responsible travel, or adventure travel and so on. I wonder if we were just to reflect for a moment, and hold the thought, of – what can I bring to this travel experience or destination – instead of what can I get from it? Imagine if each traveller approached his or her journey in this way – imagine how we could help children and grown ups in other places – and of course help ourselves, purely be helping others. 🙂

      That’s a brilliant way to approach travels, Jackie. Having that mindset would surely encourage people to move about this planet in a more mindful way. I love that way of thinking! Thanks for sharing 😀

    I interacted with Cambodian kids when I lived in Siem Reap. They are all so adorable and cute. Always waved to us and smiled back!

    Kudos for sharing those important statistics. After four years of travel we have come to realize that we as Americans are more blessed than we realize. Visiting other parts of the world is the best way to bring it home and you provide a valuable insight for those who can’t,

      Hey Linda, thanks for reading our post. Yes we’re very blessed in Australia as well. It is only when we travel that we realise how the majority of the world lives and it can be a real shock for the first time traveller. An important and valuable eye-opener in our opinion, and it seems in yours too. Cheers =)

    I’m proud to have met and travelled with both of you this year, and this excellent, well researched and well written, thought-provoking post confirms that as we obviously share the same beliefs. As you know I am a lifetime nomad who has always tried to get off the beaten path to seek maximum cultural and environmental immersion. That desire has always been driven by the need to escape the stultifying constraints of our over-indulgent, over-consumptive lifestyles that are increasingly de rigueur in the name of “convenience”. “Convenience” is a word that is alien to the vast majority of people on this planet who are confronted daily with the most basic survival needs, such as the most essential one that you have rightly highlighted – clean drinking water. We live in a culture where everything is literally on tap, where the supply is always taken for granted but the source is of no relevance in our metronomic lives. We are light years away from a woman who has to walk 20 miles a day to collect all the water that she can carry on her head to keep her family alive just for that one day. Our disconnected consciousness through “convenience” is literally why the planet is going down the plughole, and our greed is denying the needs of others less fortunate than us. Whenever I return to the UK from my travels or living in the Philippines as I have been for the last few years, I’m so aware of how detached our society is from the harsh realities of survival on the other side of the fence. As travellers it is our duty to both educate the people in our social ranks, and show compassion and understanding to the people we encounter in our travels; to let them know that we are prepared to share their hardships in the name of social and cultural equality, and to provide hope for sustainability for our beautiful planet that is so overburdened by our destructive footsteps.

      Duncan, you always have such an accurate and thought-provoking outlook on life. What this planet needs is more people who operate with the same mindset as you. Not only do you write and think about responsible travel, you act on it. From observing something as little as you filtering your own water in Myanmar it was clear that you have developed an incredible desire to benefit this world through your actions, words and photography. It was a pleasure to have met you and life changing as well. Thanks for reading and for the comment!

    Great stuff. I too have raised money and continue to donate to WaterAid, a British NGO, for the same reasons you highlight.
    Pro poor travel would be a better description of the angle you are coming from in this post. Sustainable travel is almost impossible to find as the definition means it is travel that does not generate greenhouse gases and would not deplete fossil fuel reserves. Responsible travel would mean that you would consider the impacts of your travel on people, places and the planet.

      Hey John. We’ve heard about WaterAid as well. Good on you for giving what you can do a charity you feel passionate about. It’s people like you that will help make a difference in this world.

      I agree that the idea of ‘sustainable travel’ is almost impossible to achieve. While sustainable tourism has been defined as “the concept of visiting a place as a tourist and trying to make only a positive impact on the environment, society and economy.”, I believe that the environmental part of this is just as important as every other aspect. Hopefully one day we can reach a level where this kind of zero-footprint global exploration is achievable. Thanks for reading buddy!

    This really touched me. We try to travel responsibly, but I would like to volunteer at one point in my life. Water is really important.

    Thanks guys for sharing this post and for making the choice of supporting sustainable tourism, it’s the best way to travel in my view and the more people realize that the better it is. 🙂

      Absolutely Franca! I feel with enough like-minded travellers out there the overall concepts of travel will start to change for the better. Thanks for reading.

    This is a wonderful post guys! Very well written and one I’ll be sure to share with my readers.
    I agree 100% with everything you talk about. Travel is an excellent chance to have a reality check. In the bigger scheme of things, we must learn to focus on the issues that are really important and make conscious decisions that help to solve problems. The smallest of gestures collectively have the potential to make a significant difference.
    It’s incredibly unfortunate that there are children dying of lack of access to clean drinking water in a world where others have enough water to take hour long showers. These realities move me every time and I greatly appreciate how you’re creating awareness through your blog.

      Thanks so much for reading, Natasha. All of us travellers have the choice to make a difference if we want, and I believe most people are starting to become aware of this. Sustainable travel is something we have always been passionate about but is something we have only recently started pushing further with our readers. Hopefully the mindset starts to shift – I already think it is happening.

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