Happy Earth Day! To celebrate this important date, we’d love to share with you some tips on how to travel responsibly in 2018. Why in 2018? Keep reading and you’ll see why!
When we started travelling over 15 years ago, we didn’t even know what responsible travel was. Sometimes we would hear about ‘eco places’, which were usually shacks in the middle of nowhere with unreliable electricity and water supply – ‘eco’ seemed to be more of a buzzword to make up for the lack of essentials, than a sign of genuine commitment to the environment.
We had no idea on how to travel responsibly – and over time, we ended up doing many things we’re not proud of. I haggled furiously with a Thai market seller over just a few baht, to the point that he refused to sell me anything.
We used way too much plastic, and even went close to riding an elephant during our trip to India – at the end, it was our rock-bottom budget that prevented us to do that, not the desire of not harming these animals, since we didn’t know the practice was harmful. How wrong were we!
How Responsible Travel Changed Over Time
Over the years, responsible travel and ecotourism started to be discussed more and more, both in the blogosphere and in the travel world in general. One of the first definitions of ecotourism dates back to 1990, and reads as follows – “Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.”
2017 was declared by the UNWTO to be the year of sustainable tourism development, to be implemented in five key areas that included promoting mutual understanding, preserving cultural diversity, conserving resources and reducing poverty through tourism.
Slowly, we came to the realisation that this is the only way we want to travel – our love of long-distance hiking stems from our love for ecotourism, since we believe walking is the most eco-friendly way to travel our planet.
More and more issues related to travel and the environment come to light every year. Bloggers and media have done a great job of raising awareness about elephant riding, dolphinariums and the use of wild animals for tourism purposes – something that we saw a lot in South Africa and around. The negative implications of voluntourism were also covered widely.
On top of that, every summer, we read stories about overtourism and the growing strife between locals and travellers. More recently, I’m also seeing more and more news outlets talking about the growing problem of plastic in the ocean, urging travellers to ditch plastic straws and travel plastic-free.
What Else can we do to Ensure we Travel Responsibly?
This Earth Day, we would love to urge you all to embrace responsible travel this coming year.
We’ve teamed up with responsible UK travel operator Explore who have pulled together a responsible travel pledge which helps travellers ensure they are being as responsible as they can whilst enjoy the world– even if you already consider yourself a responsible traveller, please have a look through, as there may be something you overlooked so far.
I PLEDGE TO…
-Stay local. Where possible, I’ll avoid international chain hotels and stay in locally-owned and run accommodation.
If you use Airbnb or other apartment rental services, please be aware of how it’s perceived by locals, as the rise of apartment rental services in several cities has caused homes to become unaffordable to locals. Consider renting a room in a local home, rather than renting the whole apartment – in this way, you’ll also get access to invaluable insider knowledge!
-Get clued up on local customs. I will pack appropriate clothing, and read up on local behaviours and traditions so as to behave respectfully and get the most out of my visit.
Please don’t put your needs before the needs of locals. I was in Israel just last week and kept hearing people complaining about buses not running and restaurants being closed on Shabbat, with some travellers even going as far as saying ‘this shouldn’t be allowed to happen’. PLEASE.
-Learn the language. I pledge to learn a few words in the local language, including ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’, and use them on my trip.
-Be respectful of the wildlife, and not disturb its natural habitat.
Please don’t forget that ‘hiking’ doesn’t automatically make you a responsible traveller – check out our responsible hiking tips to know more!
-Buy local souvenirs that support local crafts and skills.
-Travel with local leaders, guides and drivers where possible.
We can’t recommend this highly enough!
-Offset my carbon emissions or work with a Tour Operator to mitigate the impact of flying.
And also, may I add, check out whether you company you decide to offset your carbon emissions with is a reputable one.
-Reduce, reuse, recycle. I will take a recyclable water bottle on my trip.
And also a metal straw.
-Watch my water. I pledge to turn off taps when washing teeth, keep showers short and reuse towels.
-Pack right. I’ll pack suitable clothes and avoid disposable goods that may not be recycled
-Watch my haggling. I will stop when I reach a reasonable price (remembering that the €1 saved might be at the expense of the seller).
I have been guilty of this so many times. This doesn’t mean you need to feel compelled to always overpay and buy something from all street sellers approaching you – just be aware that the euro you save might make a difference in someone else’s life.
-Think before I click. I will ask for permission before taking photographs of local people.
We’d love to add a few points here. Please keep reading!
Responsible Travel in 2018 – What Else do we Need to add?
Please don’t forget to be responsible in the way you narrate your travels on social media. Remember, nowadays everyone has the power to influence people, since almost everyone has a social media presence, as well as friends and family looking forward to our travel tales.
Instagram is certainly an invaluable tool to inspire people to travel, but its image-first nature sometimes comes at the expense of storytelling. True, a picture may be worth a thousand words, but a picture can also be misunderstood, and even if your intentions are noble, the image you portray may be offensive.
Not to mention that the whole #doingitforthegram story is really getting quite old. The pursuit of getting ‘that perfect image’ has caused quite a few problems worldwide – once upon a time, travel writing and photography were about places, not just about getting pretty pictures of ourselves in places.
-Don’t use locals as props. Locals in traditional clothing do indeed make wonderful photo subjects, but they should never become props for YOUR photo. This is demeaning and even bordering on dehumanising. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take pictures of locals – but if you do so, the focus should be on them, on their stories, not on you.
And please, don’t make up stories if you don’t know them. You don’t want to do what this idiot did.
-Appreciate, don’t appropriate. There have been lots of talks about this recently. Cultural appropriation means taking pieces of a culture that doesn’t belong to you, and using them out of context, in a way that may be perceived offensive. On the other hand, cultural appreciation means honouring a culture that isn’t ours, transforming the cultural exchange in a learning opportunity.
The line between appreciation and appropriation is quite subtle, and even blurred sometimes. Personally, when I’m thinking of buying a culturally-specific souvenir, or taking part in a cultural experience, I try to answer two questions. Am I taking the time to learn about what I am doing, and what this means to local people? Or am I just doing it because I think it’s cool? This excellent article delves deeper on the cultural appropriation vs appreciation issue if you want to know more.
-Challenge stereotypes. I won’t lie – we are all complicit when it comes to stereotypes. Stereotypes are mental shortcuts, deriving from the way we’ve been brought up, and what we’ve learned up until that point. Travel is rife with stereotypes – how many of us want to go to Italy to see ‘narrow cobbled backstreets’ and ‘nonnas making pasta’? I nearly vomited when I see travel bloggers and Instagrammers travel to Italy and share nothing but pictures of Ape cars, Vespas, pasta and crumbling houses. You get what I mean.
Chasing stereotypes (and *cough* that Insta-perfect image) does nothing to promote the complexity and nuanced reality of local places and local people. Why don’t we focus on going beyond these ‘quintessential’ images, even if this means we’ll get less likes?
-Promote local empowerment. One stereotype that has dominated the worldview for CENTURIES now is that locals from non-Western places are helpless, and basically need white people to do anything.
Sharing pictures of yourself boasting about your voluntourism experience surrounded by lots of cute local kids, subtly (actually, not so subtly) perpetuates this stereotype. Why not tell stories about local community leaders or local entrepreneurs instead, and share THEIR achievements?
Ah yes, because that wouldn’t be about YOU. So here is my ultimate piece of advice to travel responsibly in 2018. Forget about YOU for a minute – let’s focus on places, people, nature, culture, wildlife. And what you can learn your travel experience.
This post is written in partnership with Explore.
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