I believe travellers can have a wonderfully positive impact on the world! We actively expose ourselves to new ideas and ways of living; inject money into struggling economies; and promote cross-cultural awareness and understanding. The education we receive as travellers is invaluable on both a personal level and on a broader scale.
Though much like anything, tourism has a dark side and can be harmful if we don’t go about it thoughtfully. Here are five simple steps you can take towards sustainable travel and treading more gently on people, the planet and your back pocket.
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1. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
This can be more difficult when you’re away from home, but with some thoughtful packing and a few clever products, you can greatly reduce your rubbish on the road. Here are examples of some of my favourites, you can see more eco-friendly travel products in this post.
- Refillable toiletries – buy your favourite toiletries in bulk and fill reusable travel-sized containers to take with you.
- Reusable water bottle – there are so many places that the water is unfit to drink. Take a reusable water bottle to refill at your accommodation, and reduce plastic refuse along the way.
- Reusable coffee mug – if you can’t live without your morning latte or cup of tea, use a reusable mug or mini thermos to limit the number of disposable cups you churn through over the course of your journey.
Reconsider your mode of transportation, accommodation, activities and restaurant choices– is there another option? You might also be surprised to find that the more sustainable option is also the more affordable one.
A local business over a multinational chain?
An eco-hotel over an OTT resort?
A bicycle over a taxi? A train over a plane?
A nature preserve or wildlife rescue centre instead of riding elephants or other unethical animal tourism?
Locally produced, artisan-made mementos over imported souvenirs?
Every choice is an opportunity to make a difference!
Do your pre-departure reading and find out about local customs and etiquette so you can show due respect. It’s much easier to plan appropriate clothing before you start packing rather than scrambling to find the right attire when you get to your destination. Also, some prior knowledge can take the edge of culture shock and help you communicate non-verbally in places you don’t speak the language, without offending anyone. Here are more tips on avoiding culture shock.
When visiting memorials and other places of great tragedy or loss of life, act accordingly. Whether it’s the Pearl Harbor in Hawai`i, Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland, the Killing Fields in Cambodia or other comparable locations – refrain from clowning around or taking smiling selfies like this is just another check off your bucket list.
This can be hard for kids and young people who don’t understand the full historical context, so take a cue from the behaviour of other people attending the sight. We took our young nieces sightseeing in NYC including the 9/11 Memorial and they had no idea what they were looking at or what had happened there (they weren’t born until years after the 2001 terrorist attacks), so we had to explain to them the history and demonstrate appropriate behaviour.
The next step towards more sustainable travel is to refuse begging children–I know it’s hard turning down those cute, pleading faces. While these kids may be an important income source for their family, the cycle of poverty can never be broken if they don’t get an education. If they aren’t earning money, their parents are more likely to send them to school and the education they receive is vital in busting the poverty cycle. Buy from adults instead and help send the right message to parents and community members that children are not free labour or cash cows.
Always politely request to take someone’s photo. A simple smile, as you hold up your camera will usually get a nod. In some places now heavily frequented by tourists, don’t be surprised if a tip is expected in return. If signs indicate there is no photography allowed, heed them. Basically, treat other people the way you would expect to be treated. They aren’t props or actors on a movie set – they are real people going about their every day, however exotic it may seem to you.
What steps can you add to becoming a more sustainable traveller? I’d love to read them in the comments below.
Peace, love & inspiring travel,