Travel is an exciting journey for me, whether long haul or just exploring my own region’s backyard. It’s all about experiencing the destination – her people, culture, food and natural landscapes. However in that experiential journey I leave behind more than footprints (and so do you). Our presence as travelers has a direct impact on the local community, culture and environment – positive and negative. Responsible Travel (RT) is all about owning up and taking the responsibility to be mindful of the impacts we leave behind.
It’s an attitude rather than a bunch of checklist to follow. It’s all about being CONSCIOUS about the decisions you make while traveling and not compromising on the thrill of travel! So I try to be as down-to-earth as possible and suggest ways you (and I) can make a difference. Remember it’s not a list to tick off, but more of a way-of-travel. Overtime, you will find easier to identify the negative impacts and even come up with solutions to travel more responsibly. The reward? Your travel experience would have been more enriching because you are consciously connecting with the local folk, experiencing the destination beyond the touristy fluff and keeping your eye out on less ordinary. So here are a bunch of stuff that I usually think about and act on before and during my travel:
Before your Holiday
- Read up! Discover the destination; her people, culture, customs, and food. Don’t just go blindly. Arm yourself with knowledge.
- Learn a few common words in their language. There’s magic when we connect verbally with a language that is mutually understood.
- Plan your itinerary – take fewer and longer holidays or stay in one location for a longer time to truly immerse yourself and understand the destination better. Remember not all holidays are out of the country – take time to explore sites and places closer to home.
- Find out where to stay – patronize locally own accommodation providers and check out community based initiatives in the destination.
- Plan your transportation – is there an alternative for flying? Check out the possibility of traveling within the destination via public transport (trains, buses, tuk tuks, local boats, etc). Why? Because patronizing these local services will directly help build local economies.
- Spare a day or two in your itinerary to do something good. Search for voluntourism initiatives that allow you to make a difference via various community or conservation projects.
- Bring along a gift or two for your hosts, local people or friends you meet during your holiday. Preferably something from your home country. A good gift would be some postcards or fridge magnets. Or bring along a polaroid camera to snap a photo and sign off as souvenir for your new found friend.
During your Holiday
- Eat, drink and shop at local restaurants and markets so that local communities benefit directly. It may often time mean trying street food or shopping at smaller stalls.
- Travel by foot where possible as it allows you to thoroughly explore the destination.
- Respect local cultures, traditions and places of worship. Stop, watch and listen before acting.
- Keep rubbish at bay – be mindful of where your waste goes. Reduce, reuse and recycle where possible.
- Challenge yourself to make a new local friend or two. Leave with them a taste of your home country and infect them with the love to explore.
- Take the road less traveled – away from the mass tourists. You will be surprised at the experiences you get and the people you meet when you meander away from the crowds.
- Try to patronize businesses that are not engaged in illegal trade and exploitation, the exploitation of humans, especially children.
- Lookout for social enterprises that are mushrooming everywhere – they usually have positive social mission behind what they do or sell. Patronize them instead.
- Be respectful when taking photos – especially of local communities. Ask for permission before pointing the camera in their face and if they’re reaction is doubtful – say thank you, smile and move on. You don’t absolutely need a photo if it invades another person’s space – do you?
- Refrain from disturbing the wildlife in natural environments (eg. using cameras with flash, making annoying sounds or throwing objects to attract wildlife, talking loudly and unnecessarily).
- I have a hard time with this, but think twice before giving money to beggars. Perhaps if you really want to give – give in kind or make a donation to a local charity.
After your Holiday
- Talk about it. Write about it. Share your experiences and lessons learnt with your friends because the best recommendation and advice is by word of mouth. Your attitude as a responsible traveler can help make a difference.