This week on Twitter, Travel Massive and Intrepid Travel are kicking off a conversation on Responsible Tourism. It got me thinking and sparked an idea for this post. What does responsible tourism mean to me? Does that line up with what other people think? How can we, as nomads and avid travellers, make sure we’re contributing to this in an effective and meaningful way?
These days, this great big world of ours really is getting smaller and smaller. With advancements made in both technology and travel, even the furthest corners of the globe are within reach and more and more people are exploring them! With such ease of access, it can be easy to get caught up in the moment and forget that a lot of the time travel means venturing into cultures very different from our own in places where people have a very different way of life. It’s therefore important to remember to be responsible travellers so that our impact is meaningful and of good intention.
But how can I travel responsibly, you might ask? Well, a lot of that depends on what ‘responsible travel’ means to you, but in a nutshell, it’s putting the community you’re visiting before your own plans and taking them into thoughtful consideration. For me personally, this ranges from things such as refusing to ride elephants, avoiding certain activities that can inflict serious eco damage and supporting small local businesses (through tours, classes or food).
A lot of this responsibility relies on the research you do ahead of your trip. Leaving this kind of thing until last minute can be disappointing, frustrating and even a little embarrassing. First and foremost, a responsible traveller is a smart traveller! So to help you prepare, here are some of my tips for traveling responsibly:
Do’s and Don’ts
Research the do’s and don’ts before you get there. Some cultures have dress codes, behaviours, gestures or rituals that are culturally and/or religiously sensitive. As a visitor in such communities, it’s super important that you are respectful of these practices and do your bit to follow their guidelines – for when we give respect, we also gain it. Entering another country is like entering somebodies home. Each one will have their own accepted practices, just as you would in your own abode, so follow suit and try to be a good guest! You’ll be welcomed back with open arms.
Before you even leave home, if you’re looking to join up with a tour, look for ones that promote sustainable tourism, employ locally or contribute towards charities that benefit the communities employment, education or nature. Intrepid Travel are fantastic at doing their bit, in collaboration with other people and organisations, and you can read more about how they do this here;
Learn the Language
Even if it’s only a few key phrases – this will not only earn you some friendly smiles but also respect and greater assistance from the locals (they might even do you a solid and help you improve where you need to so you’re all set and confident for your next attempt!). Any minor stings of embarrassment will quickly pass when you notice how much they appreciate your effort – it can lead to some pretty interesting conversations, hot tips directly from locals in-the-know and can be a bit of fun!
Know How to Dress
Whether you need to maintain a respectful amount of coverage in town or just at particular sites, be sure to know what you need to take with you before you pack. This will save the headache of finding something once you get there, or the embarrassment of being refused entry and offending the locals there. Although they would never expect visitors to dress just as they do, seeing that their views on dress are respected is usually enough.
Take part in local events
Once you’ve booked your trip, take a peak at the local events calendar for the area and see if there’s anything on during your visit. Supporting the community through purchases, food or even just showing a keen interest is invaluable and is a sure way of creating some pretty unique memories from your time there.
Do Your Bit
Whether it’s a few supplies for the local school, supporting local artists, donating to a local charity or simply making a meaningful connection with the people there, even the smallest gesture is not only rewarding for the people and places you visit but also for yourself! Their smiles and thanks really are the best souvenirs you can take home with you.
Waste Not Want Not
Try to minimise the waste you create as you go. Avoid packing too many disposable containers or bags, opting instead for reusable ones that you can take home with you and use again on your next trip. Be sure to keep this in mind as you explore your destination, whether it’s the pristine city streets of Tokyo or litter ridden road sides in India, do your bit for the local environment and take your rubbish with you!
Responsibility for your own safety while abroad really is in your own hands, but there are some steps you can take that can help! Ahead of your trip, keep updated on notices and warnings that might relate to your destination in case you need to change plans (websites like Smart Traveller are great for this). Provide a copy of your itinerary and contact details of where you’re staying with loved ones at home, so if they need to get in touch or know where you’ll be they have easy access to the information. And last but not least, take out a travel insurance policy! If not only for peace of mind, trust me when I say the extra money spent on this is an investment and can save you when you need it most.
Have any tips of your own? Share them in the comments below or join the chat on Twitter at the hashtag #TMResponsibleTourism (the conversation kicks off in a few days on 26th November).