Travelling is one of the most liberating activities in our lives, and it’s a gift that keeps on giving. For those of us who love to explore the unknown and learn more about what the world has to offer, it is important to differentiate between a traveller and a responsible traveller. Responsible tourism, sometimes referred to as sustainable tourism involves respecting and contributing to the people, culture, economy, and environment of a local community.
It is important to realise that the way we behave and spend in a new territory can have a positive impact on the families that we interact with, the remarkably unspoilt regions that we come across, and the far-flung cultures that we explore.
Here are some of the ways that best describe a responsible traveller. Read this piece, soak it in, travel with these tips in mind, and spread the word.
1. Respect the local culture
One of the biggest joys of travelling is meeting and interacting with the local people. Be it a little chat over evening tea or a lengthy discussion over dinner, sharing a conversation with the local community trumps any and every experience one has while travelling. But as visitors, we must be aware of the local norms, customs, and traditions. In order to have a mutually enjoyable experience, it is important to have an open mind. Additionally, don’t build stereotypes on a single experience and try to be as polite as possible. No amount of respect is ever enough!
2. Shop Local
By spending your precious money on local shops and restaurants, not only are you getting a real sense of how the community lives on a daily basis, but you’re also directly contributing to the local economy. By eating at a local restaurant and traveling by public transport, you’re directly putting money in wallets of people who aren’t as well off as you.
Learn about the language as much as you can. Even a ‘hello’ and a ‘thank you’ will go a long way. Some countries have a conservative dress sense, so always be aware of what you’re putting on. In an unknown land, you definitely don’t want to put yourself under the scanner.
3. Keep a track of your waste
While travelling, being cautious of your waste is one of the most important traits of being a responsible traveller. By disposing our waste in bins and recycling the things we purchase, we’re actively contributing to the waste management system of the country. Say no to plastic and resist ordering in. In some countries, public waste systems aren’t as functional as they should be, so educating the locals about eco-friendly waste management would be the perfect way of giving back to the community!
4. Try not to strike a bargain each time you spend
Saving money is crucial while travelling but it’s not very advantageous to the local community when you try to strike a deal on every purchase you make. The value of a few bucks would mean much more to the locals than it would to you. Find low-priced crash pads and spend less on authentic food and drinks if you’re trying to keep a cap on your expenditure.
5. Respect the wildlife
When planning out our holiday, we all make plans to ride on elephants, swim with dolphins, and get a picture with lions. These activities make some very vivid travel experiences but are detrimental to the local fauna. Double-humped camels and monkey tricks all seem very exotic, but we forget that these activities go against the natural instinct of the concerned animal. No elephant, monkey, or lion would like to be tied and made to be part of some act. Wildlife tourism is a big business in most parts of the world, but what is one hour of entertainment and a few photos for social media means a lifetime of distress for the animal.
6. Ask before you capture
Everybody loves to capture their experiences while travelling, but in almost all parts of the globe it is considered rude and impolite to take pictures of people without seeking prior permission. Imagine someone coming right up to you and shoving their lens into your face. Not a very pretty picture is it? Likewise, always be aware of what you’re capturing. Religious places, museums, and heritage sites tend to have restrictions on camera usage, so it’s always good to respect the rules and adhere to them. Don’t try to sneak in a picture when nobody’s looking. Additionally, if you ask before you click, it gives you an opening to start a conversation with the person. Isn’t that what travelling is about?
7. Only leave footprints
Carbon footprints are not very popular when back home, but a responsible traveller is always careful about it when on the move. Caring for the environment is crucial no matter where you are, so it’s your duty to contribute to the cause, especially when in foreign land.
Avoid taking private taxis and three-wheelers and opt for a local bus or train when commuting. If the distance is relatively short, walk it down. No harm in burning some calories after pilling up on local delicacies! More importantly, DON’T LITTER! Littering comes off as careless behaviour and you don’t want to put yourself in a spot where people form a negative opinion about you and the country you hail from. Find the nearest bin and dispose your waste responsibly.
When on a trek in the mountains or a hike along the countryside, tread carefully and try not to step on the flowers and greens under your feet. Some flora takes years to blossom, so be cognizant of your surroundings and watch your step.
8. Opt for sustainable tour operators and accommodation
More often than not, some of us seek complete luxury when we travel, but there are alternatives that are beneficial to both the environment and the local community. There are a plethora of options to choose from when we’re looking for tour operators, and we’re all in search of an unforgettable holiday experience.
There are a few options out there which actively try to conserve the environment through eco-friendly practices and involving the local community in their business. Some companies only hire local guides and have ties with local food joints so as to provide them a substantial source of earning. Sustainable options will be few and far between, but there’s no shying away from the required homework if you’re looking to become a more responsible traveller!
9. Resist the beggars
It’s hard not to cave in and empathise for beggars on the road, but it’s crucial that you don’t hand out cash to mendicants. Not only does it encourage the local community to give up jobs and take up begging, it also increases the number of people asking tourists for money which shows the local community in poor light.
Children that knock on your car window or tug at your trousers are usually pretending to be street urchins who’ve no choice but to beg. More often than not, parents pull their young ones out of school and force them to act as if they have been reduced to the streets. In some cases, this is a part of a larger network run by fraudulent characters trying to mint money from this business.
10. Spread the word about responsible travel
We all love to travel and head out and being a responsible traveller comes naturally to some of us. A majority of travellers are unaware of this term, so it’s crucial that we educate friends, family, and all the people that we meet along the way when exploring the unknown. A polite discussion about some of the points mentioned above will considerably benefit local communities. Start a conversation at hostels or buses. Have a little chat with your mates before they embark on an adventure. Spread the word and be the vouch for the cause of sustainable tourism.
While travelling, we are making choices every second of the journey, some of which we are averse to back at home. Keep in mind that we always have a choice. We as travellers have a substantial impact on the community that we are exploring, so make sure it’s a positive one!
Manish is a travel enthusiast who believes that traveling is the best form of meditation in the world. Outside of travel, he heads the content and marketing at Untravel.com.