To help you become a more responsible traveler in 2018 I’ve launched a monthly series of Responsible Travel Challenges. Each month will focus on an ethical change you can make to your travel style that will benefit the communities you visit and ultimately our precious planet. Each detailed guide will contain specific tips on how to be a more responsible traveler. Adhere to these suggestions to make an impact as you travel.


JUNE RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL CHALLENGE: TRAVELING WITH RESPONSIBLE TOUR OPERATORS 

If you seek travel experiences that support local communities through meaningful tours then consider traveling with responsible travel operators. There are conscious tour organizers for all types of travelers and budgets that make it possible to pay it forward while you travel. From fully customizable vacations that are curated to your taste or day trips all of the brands mentioned here are dedicated traveling with a purpose by either practicing environmentally friendly or socially sustainable operations–or both! The June Responsible Travel Challenge is to travel with responsible tour operators.


Tourism is the world’s largest employer–10% of jobs in the worldwide economy are within the travel industry that earns $7.2T annually. The majority of these funds leave local communities and instead go back into the hands of the foreign entities that outsource tourism expenditures. W.T.O reported in 2013 that a mere $5 of every $100 spent in developing countries actually stayed local. The tourism industry has become a major source of income in nearly half of the least developed countries in the world. 
The ultimate goal of responsible tour operators should be the sustainable economic growth of the local community that thrives off of tourism through inclusive travel entities. Sustainable tourism ventures are transforming the travel industry for the better by putting people first and providing travelers the ability to put their money directly into the local community to ensure that funds spent while traveling stay in the communities we visit.
Responsible tour operators are ideally locally owned but must be operated by local community members and employ locals and pay fair wages with a safe working environment. By developing and improving a destination and employing locals social impact travel can encourage cultural pride among locals and get them involved so they can benefit from the 7T tourism industry which in turn will inspire them to protect their natural and cultural heritage. Local guides provide travelers with the most detailed inside scoop on famous sites, cultural traditions, history of the area, and traditional foods, medicine, music, religion, and more.
It’s important that responsible tour operators should never exploit people, animals, or nature. Instead, they should be working to preserve their unique natural environment. Responsible tour operators should be committed to preserving and promoting the socio-cultural heritage of host communities through an authentic inter-cultural exchange. These meaningful travel experiences should be reasonably priced, it doesn’t have to be a luxury to make an impact through your travel budget. Look for transparent pricing that breaks down the costs of experience and details the amount of profits that are funneled directly back into the community. 
Companies that are offering responsible travel experiences should be mindful of their impact on the environment. Even small changes can add up to make a big difference. If they’re truly eco-conscious they should go paperless for itineraries and pamphlets by sending everything digitally. Although it can be impossible to find potable water refill stations during remote tours they can reduce single-use plastic waste by keeping large jugs of water available for guests to refill their reusable water bottles in the vehicles, or at the local restaurants and homestays they collaborate with.
It is crucial for responsible tour operators to conserve resources which includes being mindful of water usage, pollution, and waste, managing and repurposing solid waste, being thoughtful about energy consumption (over usage of lights, offsetting emissions from transportation, etc). Responsible tour operators must adhere to the World Tourism Organization’s Global Code of Ethics for Tourism and align their tours with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. These efforts should be evaluated often to see how they measure long-term in making positive change and preserving the areas they serve. 
Another way to source travel entities that support local communities is by sourcing tours from the free Fair Trip app. Fair Trip is available on iTunes and Google Play and also features accommodations, eateries, and stores that promote sustainable tourism. As an added bonus the map can be used offline as we all know some of the most remote corners of the world don’t have the best WiFi signal!
Unfortunately, due to the current trend of sustainable travel experiences, many operators are buying into the moment by offering do-good tours that don’t really make a positive impact on the environment or local people. It’s important to assess the above criteria when deciding which responsible tour operator you want to travel with to identify which experiences are genuinely sustainable, ethical, mindful, and responsible. 
If you’re hesitant about whether or not an eco-tour company you’ve found is greenwashing search the One Planet Rating database to see if other travelers have had a positive experience with the travel company, or have noticed unethical practices. The review platform is strictly for sustainable travel entities and publishes user feedback about the environmental, social, and cultural standing of various experiences based on their individual experience on tours, at hotels, restaurants, and more. 
The best way to connect with a local community while you travel is through shared passions. If you enjoy hiking at home go for a trek with locals. Do you love to cook? Learn about local cooking customs directly from the people who’ve been passed down the recipes generation to generation. I love textiles so I’m always seeking out opportunities to learn about local weaving methods and costume history. No matter where you go you’re sure to be able to find a local-led workshop and learn a new skill. Dig a little deeper and you’re sure to find more obscure excursions that are unique to the area that you’re visiting. These are the responsible tour operators that I’ve personally vetted. Most are in Asia as that’s where I’ve spent the last year and a half.

BETTER PLACES TRAVEL

Locations: Bhutan, Indonesia, Colombia, Cuba, Chile, Costa Rica, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Argentina, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Peru, Suriname, Jordan, Madagascar, Namibia, South Africa, and Tanzania. 
Mainstream all-inclusive travel packages are some of the worst offenders of unethical travel experiences but thankful Better Places Travel is here to change that. The international responsible tourism operator creates tailor-made itineraries for destinations around the globe that empower guests to travel with a purpose. The social enterprise has mobilized local team members to become changemakers in their communities by creating customizable memorable and ethical travel experiences for foreign guests. They operate with an extensive code of conduct to ensure that all trips are entirely ethical. Based on your budget and travel style BPT will create a responsible travel plan for you to discover your dream destination. They cater to all sorts of travelers and can create short or long term travel plans that move as quickly or slowly as your time allows. They specialize in family travel but can adapt to all sorts of preferences as you work one on one with their travel experts to craft your sustainable travel adventure. Travelers can expect to experience local culture, get off-the-beaten-path, and create travel memories that they’ll cherish for a lifetime. 
BPT is committed to preserving the world’s environment and is constantly striving to become a zero waste travel company. They’ve already reduced their single-waste plastic waste by eliminating straws, plastic bags, and bottles from all of their tours. Each BPT guests is given a customized Dopper BPA-free water bottles as well as a detailed explanation about where they’ll be able to refill with safe drinking water along the route of their travel itinerary. A portion of BPT proceeds benefits the Simavi Foundation which works towards improving access to drinkable water in impoverished areas around the globe.
On my bucket list: Bhutan and Cuba responsible travel trips.

BACKSTREET ACADEMY

Locations: Nepal, India, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Philippines, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand.

Backstreet Academy is a social enterprise that offers day trips that take place in communities and give back to locals by supporting local tour guides, vendors, and food stalls. The peer-to-peer travel booking platform is dedicated to impact travel experiences and poverty alleviation. Locals in over 40 cities across 8 countries in Asia lead travelers on 1,300+ immersive and authentic tours. Backstreet Academy makes it accessible and affordable to be a responsible traveler, most trips range between USD $20 – USD $100. I’ll be giving away a $25 gift card soon to Backstreet Academy so keep an eye out on Facebook.com/MissFilatelista!

LOKAL TRAVEL

Locations: Morocco, Rwanda, Asia, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Jordan, Laos, Maldives, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Jamaica, Nicaragua, México, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, France, Greenland, Iceland, and Norway.

Lokal Travel offers travelers unique excursions operated by locally owned businesses that are committed to preserving culture, impacting the environment, and supporting locals. They truly live up to the motto of traveling further with sustainable adventures that you won’t find anywhere else in Asia, Latin America, Europe, and Africa.

TAKE ME TOURS

Locations: Thailand, Cambodia, and Japan.
Take Me Tours is a marketplace of authentic tours hosted by locals. I had the pleasure of learning about Lanna Cooking while I was in Chiang Mai–stay tuned for more on my experience soon! You can get 200 THB (around US$6.00) off of your first experience by using the exclusive discount code MFLTLTPROMO when booking on TakeMeTour.com.

I LIKE LOCAL

Locations: Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Malaysia, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, Gambia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda.
I Like Local boasts that they give travelers the chance to see the real world through their immersive and impactful travel booking platform. Hundreds of off-the-beaten-path experiences are available around the globe from tours, homestays, farmstays, food experience, and more all offered by locals.
Booking trips and travel experiences with responsible tour operators is how you can make a difference in the world while traveling. Wisely managed tourism will help protect the world places and people. My life as a traveler has transformed greatly since I became dedicated to responsible travel–these community-based experiences are always transformative experiences.
Before heading off on an epic sustainable adventure purchase a travel insurance plan from World Nomads to protect yourself as you explore–it’s the responsible thing to do! Several World Nomads packages cover adventure activities so chose a plan that offers overage for the experiences you’ll have throughout the duration of your trip.
If you liked this article you may enjoy these stories about responsible travel experiences that I’ve had with responsible tour operators.
Have you traveled with a responsible travel company? Tell me about it in the comments as I’m always looking for more sustainable tourism operators to work and travel with. 
This article was made possible due to a collaboration with Better Places Travel. However, all opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. Please read the Miss Filatelista disclosure policy for more information.

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