Footprints and memories - that's all you need!
We hear about responsible travel more and more, but what exactly does it mean? I’m convinced that no one sets out to do harm or hurt anyone or anything, but could it be that we are doing something that we don’t realise is harmful? Or we just didn’t think about the implications?
Here are my top recommendations on how you can be a responsible traveller
Responsible travel covers a lot of things. It could be not supporting practices that are cruel to animals, intentionally supporting small businesses, collectives and social enterprises, or not being wasteful or creating rubbish that ends up being dumped somewhere instead of being properly managed. The more I see about how others live and what we do to our surroundings the more I want to do whatever I can to protect our planet for others to experience long after me.
We all love to see animals, especially those that we have never seen before or that we wouldn’t normally come across. Seeing animals in the wild is an exhilarating experience – it’s no wonder safaris are as popular as ever. Animal rescue centres can be wonderful experiences too, so long as the animals are cared for and not used simply to attract tourists at whatever cost to the animal’s welfare. As I travel more, I learn about how other people perceive animals and how they treat them.
Here are 5 things to keep in mind when it comes to animals on your travels:
1. Ask lots of questions
Where have the animals in the sanctuary come from? Are they likely to be released into the wild again? How are they cared for? If you are allowed to interact with them, how is that made possible? Are the animals drugged or have they had their claws or fangs removed to protect tourists? If they are orphans, what happened to the parents?
2. Keep your distance, especially when animals can still roam free
You don’t want to encroach on their space and frighten them. This could spook them, and they may attack resulting in your guide shooting to kill them. If a guide tries to take you too close, refuse and report them.
3. Avoid buying ‘live’ animal souvenirs
Obvious things such as ocean corals and ivory are illegal anyway, but others that seem innocuous such as snake or scorpion wine may not be. Often the animal is still alive when put into the bottle and drowns a slow death before it goes on the stall shelf.
4. Avoid direct interaction with an animal unless you feel certain it has not been mistreated for your benefit
Many animals have been harmed, drugged, lured with bait, or snatched from parents to make money off tourists. This includes having a photo taken, riding, or going on water safaris that feed wild animals to make sure tourists get a glimpse of them.
5. Speak out if you see animals being mistreated
Things will only change when enough people speak out and it becomes less lucrative for those profiting from the misery of animals. I’m speaking out here – find out about my experience with elephants in Asia.
Supporting local communities
In developing and industrialising countries, tourist dollars often go a very long way to keeping families fed and kids in school. A dollar or a pound may not buy you a cup of coffee back home, but it can mean the difference between putting a roof over someone’s head in a rural community in another part of the world.
By doing these 4 simple things you could be making a big difference:
1. Support small businesses where you can
Eating in local restaurants or street stalls, buying locally produced souvenirs and art, using local guides from the area are staples for me when I go somewhere new. Look for homestays or family-run guest houses. I love staying in hostels when I travel, and I look for ones that are owned and run by locals wherever possible.
2. Support social enterprises
Organisations that help teach people skills or rehabilitate them into their community – such as women and children who have been rescued from sex tourism – are growing in number, particularly in Asia. Choose cafes, restaurants, and massage or beauty salons that train staff and teach them new skills or look for souvenirs made by women or collectives that support a new lease on life for people.
3. Don’t support begging
It perpetuates the misery of poverty and crime. Instead, give money to a local charity which can help get people off the streets and learning skills that will better support them in the future.
4. Support local schools and kids’ education
It is often more lucrative for parents to send their kids to beg or sell things to tourists than to pay for schooling. They often can’t pay for notebooks, school books and pens, so buying a few to take with you when visiting rural villages can go a long way towards keeping kids in school and offering them a brighter future.
Waste and pollution
At home most of us take for granted that we can reuse things or recycle our waste. We have the option of buying ‘sustainably sourced’ or ‘eco-friendly’. We have a system of getting rid our rubbish or sewage in a safe way.
Not everyone is that lucky. In places that have no such infrastructure or awareness of the harm to people, animals and the environment, rubbish is often dumped anywhere, oil and chemicals poured into streets and rivers, and raw sewage dumped anywhere.
These are my 3 small changes to help reduce your environmental footprint when travelling:
1. Avoid single-use plastic
Have a reusable bag with you for shopping and groceries and turn down the offer of plastic bags. Avoid plastic straws by taking your own bamboo or steel one with you. Take it one step further and take a bamboo cutlery set with you! Plastics are literally choking our planet and wildlife, so every small gesture helps.
2. Avoid buying small bottles of water
It’s not always possible to avoid buying water in places where sanitation is poor. But you can cut back by buying larger bottles to refill your day-to-day one or finding local businesses that will refill it for you for a small fee. If you are staying in a place for a long period of time find out how the locals access clean water, you may be able to do the same. For example, I would refill my 6L water bottle at the local village tap - which provided filtered water for all - where available at a fraction of the cost of buying more bottles.
3. Dispose of rubbish responsibly
If there are no bins near you on your daily adventures, take it back to your hotel or hostel. While recycling facilities may not be what we are used to, locals often collect plastic bottles or other items to sell – so reuse, don’t dump, and support locals in one easy step.
By being more socially and environmentally responsible on your travels you’ll get more out of your journey, give something back to the communities you visit, and leave a place as good as or better than you found it for the next traveller.
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