“Sustainable” and “responsible” have become buzzwords in the travel industry in recent years, but when it comes down to it, they really mean the same thing. Sustainable, responsible, travel simply means focusing on not leaving a negative impact on the places you’re visiting.
Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, here are some things you can do to travel more responsibly:
Support responsible companies/brands
A pledge to sustainability is not new in the travel industry. Plenty of tour companies and travel brands have been eco-friendly and impact-conscious for years; some even base their whole company philosophy around responsible travel.
One easy way to practice more responsible travel in the new year is to pay attention to the companies and brands you’re spending money with while traveling. When considering a tour company, consider the ones that describe sustainable/responsible tourism on their websites, hire local guides, and have you using public transport when possible. All of these things make for a more responsible travel experience.
Booking your own travel instead? Focus on hotels that have a more positive impact on the environment. This can include little things like offering the option to reuse your towels to save water, or providing eco-friendly bath products. It can also include bigger things like in-house restaurants that source food solely from local farms, or electricity partially powered by solar panels. Most hotels these days want to be “green,” so it’s usually not difficult to pinpoint these eco-friendly touches.
If you’re traveling somewhere exotic, it might be tempting to book an elephant ride, or a session of dolphin swimming, or a visit to a local orphanage. But you should be cautious when it comes to any activity where humans or animals are put on display or performing purely for tourists.
Exploitation of both animals and people happens all over the world, and it often doesn’t seem like exploitation at first. For example, most people don’t know that elephants are beaten and starved in order to “train” them to carry humans on their backs, or that many orphanages in developing countries sometimes encourage poor parents to sell their children to the homes. Visit an elephant sanctuary instead of going on a ride; go on a dolphin-watching tour instead of swimming with them in captivity; and instead of going to that orphanage, interact with the local people you see on the street instead.
Reduce your carbon footprint
Unlike a regular footprint, a carbon footprint is essentially the amount of carbon emissions released in the atmosphere during an activity – and every time you take a flight or drive a car, you’re contributing to a carbon footprint.
Easy ways to reduce your carbon footprint include traveling overland instead of flying, and using public transport, bikes, and your feet to get around instead of driving a car. If you want to take it to the next level, some group-tour companies give you the option to pay a little extra in order to offset the carbon footprint of any tour you book. Or you can check out sites like TerraPass, which help calculate your carbon footprint and offer you options to make carbon offset donations.
Lastly, many people choose to add volunteering to their travel itineraries in order to give back to the places they’re visiting. “Voluntourism,” as it’s been dubbed, has seen an increase in popularity in recent years. But, just as you need to be careful about exploitative tourist activities, you also need to be careful about where and how you choose to volunteer. Do your homework about any organization you are considering volunteering with to ensure that you won’t be doing more harm than good (like taking a job away from a local person).
Similarly, be conscious of how you’re donating your money. While it’s difficult to ignore beggars (and especially child beggars) in developing areas, it’s much more useful to give your money to organizations that will try to help get them off the street.