Responsible travel is called sustainable, ethical, mindful, or eco-travel, all of which can be broken down into three main parts. Responsible travel is being aware and respectful in how we treat animals, the planet, and people when we are traveling. Let me explain what exactly responsible travel is through what I’ve learned through my voyage into becoming a more ethical traveler.
HOW WE TREAT ANIMALS ABROAD
By now, you’ve probably heard that riding elephants is harmful. They’re mistreated, beaten, and just generally exploited by the tourism industry in countries where they once lived in nature. Yet, treating animals well is so much more than just not riding that elephant. It means not petting that tiger, not swimming with domesticated dolphins, and even skipping out on the zoo.
That might all sound odd since humans have long been fascinated by animals. However, this is not to say that you cannot enjoy an animal encounter ever again in your life. It just means you should choose to see animals in the wild rather than in crowded or cruel attractions. This simply means choosing an ethical animal encounter, like visiting an elephant conservation or whale watching from a small boat in the ocean, instead of typical animal tourism traps.
Personally, I’ve also adopted a vegetarian lifestyle and eat vegan often as well. If we’re going to start caring more about elephants and whales and animals typically caged in zoos, we better start caring just as much for the animals our cultures have taught us to eat. There is some overlap with eating a vegetarian diet to helping not just animals, but the planet as well. For example, the meat industry is the leading cause of deforestation and ocean dead zones around the world. Even if cutting out meat sounds impossible to you, maybe consider a Meatless Monday mentality at first to get started.
If you think eating a vegan diet abroad is hard, it’s really not as hard as you think. So many people around the world are switching to this kind of diet due to health and environmental benefits. If you’re ever traveling and having trouble finding veggie options, use Happy Cow to see where there are some good vegetarian and vegan options near you.
HOW WE TREAT THE EARTH
Travel is hard on the planet simply for the fact that transportation creates so many greenhouse gas emissions. For this reason, travelers have a higher level of responsibility when it comes to how they travel. I try to choose land travel whenever possible, and if I can’t choose travel by land I try to cut down on my environmental footprint in many other ways.
One way of caring for the Earth that I have become very passionate about is cutting single-use plastics out of my life. I haven’t quite cut them all out completely but I’m close to living plastic-free. I’m doing this because I know that even when I recycle here in Canada, my recycling often gets sent to countries like China that can no longer manage the vast amounts of plastic waste we are dumping on them.
When I travel I definitely don’t want to dump even more of my trash on communities that I’m a guest in. Some people may think going plastic-free sounds impossible but the zero waste movement is gaining so much momentum. Now that individuals are making these changes, so are cities and countries around the world. Just look at all the plastic bag and straw bans happening around the globe!
Traveling while using as little plastic as possible means you need to be a bit prepared. Before your next trip, grab a reusable grocery bag and fill it with other zero waste items. You can throw in some reusable cotton produce bags, a mason jar for drinks, a stainless steel water bottle, bamboo cutlery, and a reusable straw.
Fill your toiletry bag with natural toothpaste packed in a little glass jar or a metal tube like Nelson’s Naturals, a bamboo toothbrush, a safety razor, and a menstrual cup for the ladies. It might sound like I just gave you a huge and expensive shopping list but you could DIY your own reusable products such as grocery and produce bags quite easily. There are tons of tutorials for these online. You can even DIY your own toothpaste, deodorant, skin care, shampoo, and more! A lot of these things will save you a lot of money over time. For example, a menstrual cup lasts up to ten years which means no monthly purchases of wasteful tampons or even pads. If you need a liner in addition to the menstrual cup you can also wear period panties or a reusable pad. Buying a stainless steel safety razor will be the last razor you ever buy. All you have to change are the blades and they’re much cheaper than traditional plastic blade packs.
One thing that can be hard about using less plastic abroad is that you may end up in a country that doesn’t have easy access to clean drinking water. There are still options to try in order to avoid buying countless plastic water bottles. Check with your accommodation to see if they have a water filter and fill up your reusable bottle there. Bring multiple bottles with you for longer day trips away from your accommodation. If they don’t have a filter, you can bring a portable one with you like LifeStraw. If that isn’t feasible or you don’t trust portable water filters, then the first day you arrive in your destination go to a convenience store and buy a gallon of water and use it to fill your water bottle each day.
HOW WE TREAT PEOPLE
I want to have a positive impact on the people I meet throughout the world. In fact, I think most people want to treat other people well. There are so many ways you can put this into practice abroad and at home.
One way to treat people responsibly while traveling is by choosing to shop locally. Get your food at local restaurants and markets. Buy handmade souvenirs from local artisans. Above all else, remember not to haggle unfairly over the cost of these goods because everyone you are purchasing from deserves a fair wage.
Speaking of fair wages, whether you are at home or abroad, buy fair trade, sustainable clothing or buy clothing second hand. Watch The True Cost documentary so that you can understand the importance of treating people well even when you’re shopping. The fast fashion industry is one of the worst things happening to people in developing countries and you have the power, as a consumer, to refuse to support it.
Another way you can treat people well abroad is by being very careful in what organizations you may choose to volunteer with abroad. Many orphanages actually try and keep the conditions of their facilities dirty and unsafe so ignorant travelers will be compelled to donate more money to them. Plus places where you can go and ´help kids´ in developing countries often get so flooded with travelers arriving and abruptly leaving so ultimately people continually abandoning the children. The kids they’re claiming to help develop attachment disorders. If you want to volunteer abroad make sure you do it with organizations run by locals and do tons of research on the organization before committing.
If you want to help out or give back in some way while you’re on a trip, ask your local tour guide or hotel staff what the community they live in really needs. Don’t just waltz in assuming you know what would benefit them the most. Ask as many questions as possible and then give back appropriately. Treat people with respect wherever you go, and try and learn the local language. Don’t just expect everyone to be able to communicate with you if you are making no effort to communicate coherently back.
Responsible travel is a neverending topic that needs to be continually discussed. This post has just scratched the surface in everything responsible travel encompasses but it’s meant to be a launching point with feasible ways that you can become a more ethical traveler. If you have any other responsible travel tips please leave them in the comments. Happy travels, and remember, just leave footprints!
April is a travel writer at Just Leaving Footprints with a passion for sustainable tourism. She loves finding tasty, local, vegetarian cuisine, cleaning beaches, and promoting a plastic-free living wherever she goes. She has also created a Facebook community for women passionate about sustainable tourism called Ladies Leaving Footprints. On Instagram follow her personal account, @LadiesLeavingFootprints, and use the hashtag #LadiesLeavingFootprints on your responsible travel grams for a chance to be featured!
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