As the travelers of the world, we get a front row seat to life.
We receive the opportunity to bask in our planet’s natural beauty, snap photos of places we could have never imagined, taste food completely off of our radar, meet people from all different walks of life, and experience unique cultures.
The life of a traveler is amazing, but do you ever think about how you can repay the places you visit and do your part in contributing to responsible tourism?
As travelers, we demand and expect so much out of our chosen destinations. We expect housing, food, transportation and resources. We expect to live off the same infrastructure without paying into the local community or thinking twice about how over-tourism is impacting these beautiful locations. Some of us have such little respect that we don’t even take the time to learn a simple “hello” and “thank you” in the local language.
If you are fortunate to travel, then you are just that: fortunate. So many people in this world can’t hop on a flight at any time and visit the country of their liking. For one, a majority of people don’t have this kind of disposable income and, more importantly, some people are barred from free travel solely because of where they were born. Certain passports provide profound privilege and you did absolutely nothing to earn such a coveted spot on the travel hierarchy.
I’m not saying this to make you feel bad. On the contrary, I am reminding you how fortunate you are to see the world because some people will never have that opportunity.
You have the gift of travel, so how will you use it?
Responsible Tourism: Your responsibility as a traveler
We often overlook the privilege that is associated with our passports.
Just by owning a UK passport, you can visit 184 countries and territories without a visa, which is absolutely amazing. However, those with an Afghan passport can only visit 30 countries without a visa. That’s a huge difference solely based on the location of which you were born.
When we break this down, it becomes evident that there is an unfair advantage to those who belong to Western, rich and democratic countries. Just like recognizing privilege in any realm, you don’t need to feel bad for what you have been granted in life. But, you can do better and be more responsible by using your privilege to better the places you visit and people you interact with.
Our passports give us a unique opportunity to see the world. While we experience so much, rarely do we consider how we can make just as much of an impact on the places we visit. Often times, we just take and take and take, and snap about a thousand photos in the process
As frequent and full time travelers who take on so many places as “home,” we have a responsibility to better care for the places we visit. We ask so much of the world and of the communities we visit, but what exactly are we doing to return the favor?
Five easy ways you can adopt sustainable tourism practices:
Understanding your responsibility as a traveler can open your eyes to a much more meaningful travel experience. There are so many injustices in life and you can directly improve the lives of others whilst traveling just by adopting a few sustainable and conscious travel practices.
** Sustainable Tourism definition: Sustainable tourism is defined as an industry which seeks to make a low impact on the environment and community, whilst helping generate income, employment and the conservation of ecosystems.For a more detailed explanation of sustainability practices, please see our blog post on ‘Sustainable Tourism: How can you be a responsible traveller’.
Whether you’re on the road now or planning your next slow travel trip, here’s five ways you can leave the places you visit better than when you found them
1. Do your own beach or environmental clean up
With the plastic crisis at an all-time high, it’s critical that you do your environmental part while traveling. Conducting your own beach, park or nature clean up is a great way to directly help the communities you visit. Plus, this is an amazing karma yoga exercise and a selfless act that can provide a sense of purpose and accomplishment. To read more about the harmful effects of plastic waste and what you can do to help, click here.
2. Limit your waste and use reusables as much as possible
It’s just as important to create less waste as it is to pick up the rubbish that already exists! Some of the places you visit may not have a strong enough infrastructure to support thousands of tourists, so it’s important to put as little stress on these countries as possible. Bring a reusable water bottle, stash your reusable coffee cup, say no to plastic bags by bringing your own reusable shopper bag, and carry a tupperware container for street food. Yes, you’ll have to store all of these in your day pack, but it’s a small price to pay for the environment!
Sometimes using plastic is unavoidable, like when purchasing safe drinking water. Don’t beat yourself down in these situations, but be strategic. Often times, you can buy a large water jug that you can fill your reusable water from, which uses less plastic. Always be on the lookout for recycling options!
3. Shop local and from shops that are actually owned by the members of the community
This is a huge one. You will make a stronger impact on the places you visit by shopping locally and directly pouring your money into the local economy.
When you spend your money carelessly at shops that aren’t owned by members of the community, you are doing absolutely nothing to support the local economy. Traveling has countless positives, including providing opportunity for economic wealth to the local community; however, this opportunity is completely missed when you shop from big retailers or shops owned by Westerners.
Making this conscious decision has immense benefits for the community. If you’re not sure if where you are shopping is owned locally, then just ask!
4. Volunteer one of your travel days to help a local organization
If you are travelling for a long period of time, then volunteering is a great way to gain an authentic insight and learn more about the community you’re visiting. This is a critical part of responsible tourism; taking the time to understand the place and community you are visiting.
However, please ensure that you do your research when looking for and choosing volunteering opportunities abroad. Please look into their ethical principles and foundations by asking them questions about their mission and purpose - is it aligned with the community they are working with? If not, think again, because the voluntourism industry is incredibly harmful to local communities. Check out this post by GIVE volunteers for a more rounded understanding of volunteering abroad and this post for the different methods of Community Development
Getting involved with local communities and creating a positive impact in the places people visit is one of the key factors of the Go Travel and Talk platform, which is why most of their travel guides have a section on ‘Making a Positive Impact’. Most of the volunteering opportunities mentioned in the Go Travel and Talk travel guides do not cost, nor do they require a set amount of time that you need to commit and they have all been tried by the individual authors of the articles. Volunteering and getting involved in local projects helps you see and experience a place with a deeper understanding and knowledge that you can then share with others, which is critical when thinking about responsible and sustainable tourism principles.
5. Donate to a local organization so they can continue their community efforts far after you’ve moved on to your next destination
If you want your impact to continue far after you’ve left for your next destination, then donating to local organizations is a definite must. Even when you’ve moved onto the next city or country, your donation will help continue the work of those who are trying to better the last place you called “home.” It’s a small, yet extremely impactful gesture! Just be sure to do your research and donate to a local charity.
As travelers, the way we choose to live our lives is amazing, but it is definitely a life of privilege.
Be grateful everyday for the cards you’ve been dealt and play them consciously so you can leave the places you visit far better than when you found them.