Regardless of where we’re from or where we live, when we make the decision to travel to exotic places, we also make decisions that impact local communities. Decisions that seem insignificant to us can, unfortunately, leave a long-lasting negative impact not only on the environment but on the livelihood of local people.
The tour providers we pick, the establishments we frequent on our trips and the conversations we engage in while abroad all have the potential to affect the communities we visit, and it’s up to us, as conscious travellers, to ensure that these effects are positive.
As every change has to begin somewhere, here are some ideas to get you started!
Before you go away
- Bring your own fabric shopping bag to use when you visit a local market, to cut down on plastic bags.
- Bring a reusable bottle to fill up with water or juice instead of planning to use the plastic cups provided at markets, resorts or bars.
- Invest in sunscreens or lotions that are environmentally safe.
- Consider bringing your own homemade personal hygiene items in reusable containers. This isn’t the simplest option, but if you have the time, research ways to make your own products or find stores that sell safe and biodegradable items.
- For female travellers, there are a number of options for sanitary items that are better for the environment than the commonly used products.
- Research your intended vacation spot—see what your options are before you go and read reviews. This is always a good idea, especially if you intend on doing a tour, so you don’t end up going with the first operator that approaches you, who most likely won’t be offering the best deal … or the whole truth.
While on your trip
- Even though it’s tempting—and the desire to touch a wild animal can be very powerful—feeding, handling or embracing a wild animal (think tiger, dolphin or shark) isn’t really a healthy or sustainable way to interact with these types of animals.
- Many tour providers now mention that they’re “eco-friendly” or that they partake in conservation efforts in the area. If they advertise themselves this way, ask questions to see whether this is actually the case or simply a marketing ploy aimed at well-meaning tourists. A conscious traveller will want to know how their “eco-tour” ensures the safety of surrounding areas, or what kind of products their “eco-lodge” uses, along with how they dispose of waste.
- Lastly, if you appreciate local conservation efforts, let the locals know! Local people, regardless of geographical location, like to hear that their hard work is acknowledged. Small communities are often proud of their conservation and cleanup achievements and want to share information and ideas with people passing through.
After returning home
- Map the area you visited. Put restaurants, hotels and interesting sites on Web platforms like Google Maps and/or apps like Maps.Me so that others can benefit from your experience. By doing so, you may bring people through an area they might’ve initially overlooked.
- If you experienced something truly great, write and talk about it! Recommend the attraction’s operator or location, write reviews and leave comments to let people know about your visit.
- If your tour operators or the owners of businesses you visited have email, send them a quick note of thanks if you appreciated their recycling, cleaner living or conservation efforts. Respectfully share ideas or links with them if they don’t yet make these efforts or if you have an idea that might make their work easier for them.
Important questions to ask yourself
As you can see, there are many ways to ensure that you make a positive impact while travelling. Presumably, the ways you’ll choose will be dependent on quite a few factors, including the type of trip you’re embarking on.
Before you decide on your specific approach to sustainable travel, it’s best to determine the answers to the following questions.
- Will you stay at resorts, hotels or hostels?
- Will you take a tour with a popular tour company or are you willing to pay for a local guide?
- Will you be going off the beaten path to visit nearby towns, jungles or markets?
- Will the place you travel through be overrun by tourists?
While vacationing at eco-lodges or in treehouses and taking eco-tours seem like obvious choices, they don’t always guarantee local sustainability.
Often overpriced, these options are also often operated by foreigners who rely on foreign volunteers for labour rather than focusing on employing local people. This is why proper research into your destination is critical.
Change can happen anywhere
Let’s not fear asking questions at home or abroad, but especially as we venture farther from our homes. Now, more than ever, we have a responsibility to make sure that everything we do and say results in a meaningful and rewarding exchange for everyone involved.
Not travelling outside the country anytime soon? No problem! You can still make a difference. Don’t forget—as with all habits—change begins at home.