Travel is a luxury and a privilege. People often take it for granted; they don’t give it a second thought while pottering around the globe, eyeing up the must-see icons, eating traditional food and partaking in typical tourist activities. But how many stop to think what impact they are having, not only on the local community but this big wide world we live in? There are ways to enjoy a place while leaving a positive footprint, or at the very least, not leaving a negative one.
Travel isn’t just about seeing the best things and ticking off a bucket list. It’s about immersing in culture, seeing the reality and opening our eyes. If you’re lucky enough to travel then there’s a certain responsibility to be taken. Don’t get me wrong, over the years I have been guilty of a few things below without even realising it, I’m no saint. But the more I travel, the older and wiser I get, the more suffering and darker consequences I see on my travels, the more responsible I am becoming.
Research, research, research! We all have the responsibility to make the time and effort to research basic facts about our holiday and destination. Of course there is the excitement of planning what you’re going to do and see but why not still have that experience and make a more positive impact just by doing a bit of research? There is no excuse in this day and age to be naïve and ignorant of what your money and effort goes towards, the information is out there to access.
Here are a few of my thoughts and tips on how to travel responsibly:
Have respect for the locals and culture
- Dress appropriately. Would you wander around your home town in speedos or a bikini, or go into a place of worship with pieces of string covering your nether regions? NO? Then why do it on holiday?!
- If you want to take a photo, ask! I think it’s probably quite true all over the world that the most polite and moral thing to do is to get permission before snapping away. Most people will be happy for you to get some shots of their local delicacy or even of them but depending on the situation they may ask for money. If you’re not prepared to pay, then politely walk away.
- Learn some basic local lingo. Now, I am terrible at learning new languages. There is just something about my brain that won’t allow other languages to fully sink in, but I always make the effort to at least learn a handful of basic words to get by. The locals will appreciate the effort and will be happier to help you along your journey and frankly, it’s just plain polite!
- Eat and treat locally. Dine in independent eateries and buy local gifts. This will ensure your money goes in the right hands and your holiday money will make a difference to the local economy. Not only that, the food will probably be better value and much tastier. Win win!
- Learn the local customs and appropriate behaviour. Cultures all over the world are entirely different and what is frowned upon in one place maybe celebrated in another. For instance, Europe is generally relaxed about topless sunbathing – now, try doing that in the Far East. Or not 😉 On a deeper level, some things you think normal could be illegal in your destination, know the laws and abide by them.
Be careful what you spend your money on. Money talks.
- Don’t buy into detrimental animal tourism. Please. Always wanted to ride an elephant? Want that selfie with a tiger? Want a day out to SeaWorld and similar? Please don’t. Really. You may assume these animals are well looked after and provided for as best they can out of the wild. They may even try to cleverly pass themselves off as ‘sanctuaries’ and the like, but trust me, these things need to stop. Elephant riding for example is a big no no. ‘’The baby elephants are then beaten into submission with clubs, pierced with sharp bull-hooks, and simultaneously starved and deprived of sleep for many days’’ a snippet of how these elephants are trained, taken from a great article from Expert Vagabond ‘Why You Shouldn’t Ride Elephants in Thailand’ . The only reason these activities continue to thrive is because naïve tourists who don’t know any better buy into them. Regretfully, I was once ignorant enough to ride an elephant many years ago in Thailand. In my teeny weeny defence, I genuinely had no idea what went on behind the scenes; it was a time when the internet wasn’t what it is today and the information available was minimal. They marketed themselves as a rescue centre and I thought I was helping these poor animals. If I’d have known what I know now, I would never have done it. Do your research, they may be few and far between but there are good and productive rescue centres around the world where you can help animals. Make sure you check numerous reviews and different sources to ensure you make the right decision. Many rave about Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai – Thailand. Although I can’t vouch personally, I did have a booking to visit a couple of months ago after reading numerous blog posts and never read a bad word about the place but unfortunately we never made it there. I also recently wrote a post about my time at Lanta Animal Welfare. Now these are the sort of things you should be spending your time and money on.
- When buying gifts and local delicacies, make sure they’re ethically sourced. By this I mean not buying goods made of fur, bones, feathers, rare woods etc. You’re only contributing to illegal and dark trades. When trying local delicacies, be mindful of what you’re eating. You may have a ‘When in Rome’ attitude but trying something ‘traditional’ or whacky just for the sake of it could lead to more devastating consequences. Without your money, the demand just wouldn’t be there. Now, I’m not saying not to try new things and local food – of course that’s a big part of travel, but just be aware of the impact you could be making.
- Want to go on a tour? Do your research and choose one that has minimal negative effect on the environment. Look out for small group sizes and read as many reviews from real people as possible. If this also means you can go with a local company rather than a huge operator, that’s a huge bonus. If you ever go to Ko Rok in Thailand, read my post here for a good, ethical and local tour company.
Remember, tourists speak with their money. If enough people pay for it then it will be available. All over the world people and animals are heavily exploited for people to make a living, if the demand was shifted into something more positive and people spent their money more responsibly, then strategies would change and they’d offer less detrimental activities.
Nature: enjoy not destroy
- Leave it as you found it. Clean up after yourself, pick up any litter including cigarette butts and leave it like you were never there in the first place. Even better, if you see litter – pick it up. I’m not suggesting taking refuse bags and a litter picker on holiday, but if you go for a sunset walk and see litter washed up on the beach, why ignore it? Pick it up and dispose of it; you may just save an animal or child from an injury among other reasons.
- Leave wild animals to just be. You are in their territory. Try not to startle, approach, feed and definitely don’t harm wild animals. If you’re with a tour guide who encourages this, you made a big mistake, don’t participate in this. I witnessed this with a puffer fish on a diving trip in Egypt, it made me sick to my stomach and really kicked myself for not doing more research and choosing a better tour.
- Don’t touch plants and coral. It’s as simple as that, it can lead to extinction.
- Toilet habits. Okay, okay. NOT necessarily the conversation we want to have but it’s quite important. I am aware here in the UK we are extremely lucky to have the drainage and sewage systems we have but not everywhere in the world is quite as lucky. If you are asked not to throw paper etc down the toilet – don’t do it. You could be adding to a damaging and expensive problem further down the line. I know things are done automatically with habit, but please be mindful, make the effort and follow their rules.
The main point here is do your research, listen to other travellers and be aware of the footprint you leave around the world. None of this costs you a penny, in fact if you try it you’ll probably have a richer and more authentic experience. We’re all responsible for the world we live in.
Thank you for reading, I hope these tips have been helpful! What other tips can you share to travel responsibly? Comment below, I’d love to hear from you!