The media is now more efficient than it has ever been. The technology revolution of the 20th century now means that it takes mere minutes for us to learn what is going on thousands of miles away. As a result of this, travel is now easier than ever before. We have the power to research a destination and book a flight within minutes. This accessibility of knowledge has undoubtedly contributed to the travel boom but with so much information out there, how is it that so many of us have never considered the impact of our global footprint? With more of us choosing to wander rather than settle, the time has come to ask whether we are all doing enough to travel responsibly.
What is responsible travel and why should I care?
Put simply, responsible travel is all about being socially and culturally aware when it comes to travel. It is understanding that your actions have consequences and trying to make these as positive as they can be. If you are able to travel, then you are undeniably lucky. It is important to remember that not everyone in the world has this privilege and you should use it wisely. Strive to improve other people’s quality of life by giving back when you can and always aim to leave somewhere better than you found it. Ultimately, regardless of our nationalities or the borders that separate us, we are all citizens of the earth and we all have a responsibility to care for the world around us. (It sounds cheesy but it’s true.)
How far have we come with responsible travel?
On the surface, it looks like everyone is jumping on the responsible travel bus. This is definitely true to some degree as there has been a massive push towards this type of community-focused travel in recent years. However, it can be difficult to weed out the attractions that hide behind the banner of responsible travel. One example of this is so-called ‘orphanage tourism’ which has hit the mainstream. Increasing numbers of people have decided they want to do something positive with their travel experiences by volunteering at orphanages abroad. Whilst this seems great on the surface, both The Huffington Post and The Guardian say it is actually fuelling an increase in the number of children being separated from their parents. This type of ‘volunteerism’ is a great money spinner which sadly flourishes because of well intentioned travellers With the growth of responsible travel parading under a whole manner of identities, it has become even more important that we are all informed about what exploitation looks like and how to avoid it.
How Can I Travel Responsibly?
Personally, I am someone who prefers to travel under my own steam. I enjoy this type of travel because it affords me the opportunity to invest in attractions and businesses that I believe in. However, if you are somebody who prefers to get an agent to plan everything up front, responsible travel may seem like a much harder goal to achieve. It doesn’t have to be. There are numerous tourism agencies popping up with a focus on responsible travel, so that no matter what your travel style, there is no excuse to be socially and culturally blind when it comes to your holidays. If you prefer your itinerary to be laid out prior to your visit, check out Responsible Travel who offer some great trips with fab ethics at the core.
Regardless of your travel style, travelling responsibly doesn’t have to be hard. Mostly, it comes down to a few small changes which have a big impact.
1. Be realistic
One of the most important things about responsible travel is being realistic about what you can achieve. For example, it is no secret that air travel releases CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. So should you boycott flying? Consider what the travel industry does for local communities and the huge revenue that it brings to poor countries. It is all about weighing up the situation and putting things into context.
2. Do your research
I feel like I find myself saying this a lot but it is the most useful tip when it comes to travel. Always make sure that you understand exactly where is it that you are visiting. Knowledge is power and will help you when it comes to making decisions about which attractions are worthy of your time. Animal tourism is a particularly sticky subject so always make sure to research exactly what is going on behind the scenes. Check out traveller reviews and research the company online. This way you avoid any nasty surprises and can breathe easy knowing that you are entrusting your money to a good cause.
3. Learn some of the language
By making an effort to master the basics of the language you comes across as someone is willing to learn. It follows logically that local people will be more inclined to help you as there is a mutual respect there. You never know when you could need a friend! For help mastering the basics in your chosen language, sign up to Duolingo and get practising!
4. Respect other cultures
It’s obvious but it is surprising how many people don’t do it. Always approach travel with an open mind and be curious but not judgemental. Never forget that you can learn something from everyone and be willing to see things from a new perspective. Not only does this type of tolerance and acceptance make you a more rounded person but if the boot was on the other foot, this is probably the attitude you would want others to take towards you.
5. Go Local
This is one of the core values at the heart of responsible travel. Whenever you can, put back into the community. Make an effort to support family businesses and engage with the local residents. With their destination knowledge, they can teach you far more about the area than any guidebook ever could.
It may be small things like taking a bag full of litter home from the beach or eating in the local noodle shop but we can all make small changes to travel more responsibly. Admittedly, there is a long way to go before the responsible travel revolution hits the masses but progress is happening and together we all can all make a difference. Let’s bring the change that we all want to see.
What are your top tips for responsible travel?