Here at GVI, we talk a lot about responsible travel. It is a core theme that runs through our projects, our organisation’s culture and how a lot of us travel in our free time. We strongly believe in leaving behind an eco-friendly footprint both environmentally, culturally and economically.
So What is Responsible Travel?
Responsible travel is travelling in a sustainable way that benefits the country you are visiting as well as the environment. The UN defines sustainable tourism as:
“The need to support sustainable tourism activities and relevant capacity building that promote environmental awareness, conserve and protect the environment, respect wildlife, flora, biodiversity, ecosystems and cultural diversity, and improve the welfare and livelihoods of local communities.”
With sustainable tourism being one of the key elements of Sustainable Development Goal #8, it’s more important than ever before to band together and achieve this goal by 2020. Let’s look at all the ways we can do this:
1. Start At Home
Your responsible travel adventure starts before you even leave the house. Before leaving for your next adventure, make sure you have done the following:
• Unplug any appliances to avoid “vampiric power”
• Turn off the water main
• Suspend your newspaper delivery
• Empty your fridge
• Switch to online billing
2. Choose An Eco-Friendly Hotel
Choosing to stay in an eco-friendly hotel is the first step in your responsible travel journey. Before putting down your deposit, make sure you have researched the hotel to check they are eco-friendly and are not catfishing you. ResponsibleTravel.com have put to together 10 handy questions you can ask to see if they really are practicing what they preach.
3. Reduce Your In-Flight Carbon Emissions
In 2014, airplanes produced 705 million tons of CO2. This greenhouse gas is contributing to rising global temperatures and it’s up to you and me to change our habits for the future of our planet. By booking direct flights and avoiding transfers, you can reduce your emissions. Yet, this is sometimes unavoidable. To counter this, you can donate to carbon mitigation projects which focus on reducing the impact of climate change and helping communities it affects the most.
4. Buy local
When travelling, it can be tempting to seek out shops or restaurants that remind us of home. While there is nothing wrong with this, I’m sure you didn’t travel half way across the world to eat and buy the exact same stuff you can get back home. Where is the adventure in that?
We travel to explore and discover exciting new things, so get out there and do just that. Support local souvenir shops, eat where the locals go and try a new dish. The best part is that by doing this, you are not only supporting sustainable travel but by avoiding tourist hotspots, your wallet will be a lot fuller, helping you to stretch your dollar even further.
5. Think Before You Haggle
In regions where the dollar, euro or pound is strong, it can be tempting to haggle at the local markets. Although it is the culture in places like South East Asia, it’s important to keep the bigger picture in mind and ask yourself if saving that extra bit of cash is worth it. That $1 might not be a lot for you, but it could mean a meal for that person’s family. You already had enough to hop on a plane, book a hotel and come over with spending money to their country, who really needs that little bit money more?
6. Read Up On The Local Culture and Laws
Don’t be that guy. The one that ignores local customs, disrespects the culture and chooses to be ignorant about the country he is visiting.
Before you get on that plane, hit up Google and learn as much as you can about local customs, traditions and health and safety risks. Do your research and find out what hand gestures are considered rude; if there are any unusual laws and yes, even how you should dress. By learning and following these customs when you travel you will have a more authentic experience and possibly even keep yourself out of jail.
7. Minimise your footprint
Think twice about accepting that plastic bag while overseas. Why? In developing countries, waste management is a major problem and we can unwittingly contribute towards it. The locals may not understand the impact that waste has on their environment or have effective waste removal set up in their communities. This is where you and I need to step in and make sure we are helping by treading lightly. Make sure you do the following:
• Say no to plastic bags, use your own bag.
• Avoid takeaway containers where you can.
• Reuse your plastic water bottle.
Looking to make a difference through your travels?
Volunteering is a great option to experience a country in a responsible and ethical way. Whether you only have two weeks, months or years of time to give, it will reward you with a rich cultural experience and help you contribute to key social-economic problems. Your travel experiences will be moulded by things you would have never seen if you were just a tourist and by the end, you will be able to leave knowing you made a genuine impact.
9. Research Any Animal Activities
Is riding an elephant still on your bucket list for Thailand? Well, it’s time to take it off.
Part of travelling responsibly is being aware of the distress that these animals go through for our entertainment. If you are going to take part in any wildlife activities while abroad, you owe it to yourself and the animals to do your research. There are a number of operators out there that are more concerned about their bottom line than the welfare of these animals.
What to look out for in an operator:
• Their aim is to protect the animals.
• Are registered as an NGO.
• They are transparent about their business operations.
10. Don’t Give To Beggars
This is a tough one because seeing a child or even an adult beg on the streets pulls on any decent person’s heart strings. However, part of travelling responsibly is keeping in mind that some are doing it because it is easy money and that there are children being taken out of school and forced to beg on the streets (remember Slum Dog Millionaire?). Obviously, this is not the case for everyone, but if you want to help out, buy the person food or something to drink instead.
11. Use Public Transport
Making use of public transport is another way you can reduce your carbon emissions footprint. Instead of a taking a taxi, grab a bus ticket and travel with the locals. It’s a great way to see the place you are staying in and keep your budget healthy.
Want to see the country at your own pace? Rent a bicycle and start exploring!
12. Educate Your Friends and Family
Now that you have all the knowledge on how to travel responsibly, the next thing to do is SHARE it. Empower your friends and family to become more responsible and choose sustainable options when travelling. It is only by creating conversation around this topic can we start to change people’s behaviours and help ethical travel become the norm.
What tips do you have for travelling more responsibly? Let us know in the comments!
Find out more about GVI’s international, award-winning volunteering programs and internships! Choose from over 150 community development, animal care, teaching, women’s empowerment and conservation projects worldwide!