Find out how you can skyrocket your travel experience with these sustainable travel tips. Sustainable travel will offer you unique experiences making your trip the most memorable ever. Getting into the culture and being ‘one with the locals’ is easier than you think.
We all know how money can drive behavior. Some good and some bad. Robbing a jewelry store, for example, is driven by money. The animal abuse associated with riding an elephant, is driven by money. At what point are we culpable as tourists? How can we be better stewards of tourism?
Responsible tourism doesn’t have to be about skimping on experiences. In fact, responsible tourism can drive you to more meaningful and memorable experiences.
THE IMPACT OF TOURISM
You can’t help but marvel over people riding elephants. Sitting atop this massive animal and proudly posing for that Instagram or Facebook shot. The view, after all, must be splendid that high up. Well, let me tell you, it is.
You see I’ve ridden an elephant. In my own defense, we did go out of our way to find the “animal rescue” version of elephant riding. Despite picking the best possible outfitter I still felt wrong about my choice. I couldn’t help but think that in some way I just contributed to the abuse of elephants.
As travelers, we must be aware of how our actions impact and shape the future of the places we visit. If we knowingly buy that stolen jewelry are we really that much better than the thieves themselves. While I didn’t directly mistreat that elephant, I did support the cause by riding it.
As tourists, we have an obligation, one of responsibility. We role into these countries with pockets full of cash. In many countries our exchange rate is so good we’re essentially rich! A $3 meal and a room for only $20 is the norm for US travelers in many countries. One of the reasons we travel to these places is the fact that our money goes a long way.
It’s easy to have the mindset of get in and get out. It’s a selfish mindset, one of getting in there, seeing what I want to see, doing what I want to do, and then getting out. The repercussions and long-term affect of what we do are seldom considered. Afterall we just get to head back home and reminisce over our pictures.
There are a lot of reasons people love to travel. The experience of travel has many layers, from simple bus tours to volunteering and homestays. The experience between a bus tour in Vietnam versus a homestay is immensely different and will suit different people.
What experiences one seeks in their travel is a personal choice. I always encourage people to get out of their comfort zone but I realize not everyone is going to be willing to sleep on the dirt floor of a homestay.
Regardless of what “level” of tourist you are we can drive tourism and social change in a positive direction.
Tourism drives change. Tourism is BIG money and has a far greater impact than most people realize. If you’ve ever been on a cruise ship you can see this when you pull up to port. A once quiet port has now been turned into blocks if not miles of tourist trinket booths and shops. Restaurants like Senor Frogs and Hard Rock Cafe dominate the coastline.
The once local industry of fishing has been reduced to feeding the monster of consumerism. Sell, sell, sell. In a matter of hours the tourists “get out.” Hopping back on that ship separating themselves from the impact they have created.
Now I’m not trying to paint a negative picture, rather just pushing for a greater awareness. And I’m not saying cruise ships and elephant rides are evil either. Heck I’ve recently done both.
YOU HAVE THE POWER
The bright side of being a tourist is that we hold a great deal of power. When used responsibly we can drive change in a good direction. And it really doesn’t have to be all that grandiose, the little things count too. Something as simple as a reusable water bottle can make a difference.
But I want to talk about driving change through our interpersonal interactions with the people we meet traveling. I want to challenge you to step outside your comfort zone and seek out experiences that will not only benefit you but those people you interact with.
But first, here’s a list of things we can all work on to be better stewards of sustainable travel.
SUSTAINABLE TRAVEL TIPS
- Litter is a big problem in many countries as they don’t have disposal programs in place. Try to carry your own shopping bag to avoid contributing to the plastic problem our planet is facing. If you need more inspiration read Stop Using Plastic.
- Plastic water bottles are the worst and as I mentioned above they have no way to dispose of them – bring your own and consider purifying your own water with a Steripen. I never travel without mine. The piles of plastic water bottles on treks through Nepal was a devastating site.
- Always ask before taking photographs. If someone says no, respect their wishes.
- Educate yourself about the place you are visiting and the people. Research the particular problems an area might have and adjust your behavior accordingly.
- Respect cultural differences – and learn from it! People in different places do things differently – don’t try to change them – enjoy them. This is the single most important component and one that drives how I choose to interact with people.
- Support the local economy. Buy locally made souvenirs, eat at local restaurants – enjoy the local culture!
Check out our comprehensive Travel Planning Guide for your next international trip.
OUR APPROACH TO SUSTAINABLE TRAVEL
Becoming more aware of how we interact with the people and our surroundings as we travel opens us to a tremendous opportunity in what experiences we take home.
When we cruise down the street of a busy tourist area it’s easy to lose sight of what sits behind the numerous shops. Behind these shops are people, a family, and a wealth of culture. It can be difficult to see this because the tourism industry funnels us into these areas that effectively put up walls between us and the real culture of the area.
Sustainable tourism starts by breaking down these barriers and taking a fresh look at what it means to be a tourist. For me, sustainable tourism starts when you get behind the wall of trinkets and the person sitting guard. Only then are you interacting on a person to person level, two people on one planet genuinely interested in each other’s story.
You see, tourism doesn’t have to be a one-way street. I believe there is value in taking a genuine interest in a person’s life, culture, and beliefs. More value in fact than that refrigerator magnet you were about to buy.
DRIVING SUSTAINABLE TOURISM WITH YOUR ACTIONS
So how does one break through the wall of tourism? My favorite way is seeking out sustainable homestays. I can’t think of a better way to appreciate, interact, and give back to the community. I try my hardest to stay busy helping. From simple chores like washing dishes to hauling firewood, there is no better way to get to know the people.
My wife really enjoys the “unofficial” cooking lesson. We find that authentic hole in the wall restaurant and we’ll spend a day or two enjoying the food. If the vibe feels right Jill pitches the idea with the owners about a cooking lesson. This usually involves a trip to the market to gather ingredients which in itself is a great experience. And finally, an evening full of laughing, language barrier hand gestures, and amazing company.
It goes back to that two-way street. People crave interactions with other interesting people like yourself. Their life will be enriched by your company, your story, and your interest in their culture they are so proud of. These interactions are what break down prejudice, stereotypes, and make us all a stronger people.
I prefer the above methods of putting money in people’s pockets as opposed to buying that refrigerator magnet at a tourist shop. Far greater benefit to both parties in my opinion.
For those interested in travel and volunteering I would encourage you to follow Anthony at Volunteering The World. He’s just getting started on his journey to volunteer in every country of the world. That’s a lofty goal and should be an interesting watch for sure.
For even more great ideas on sustainable travel and volunteer opportunities check out, Sustainable Travel International.