According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, the travel and tourism sector accounted for 10.4% of global GDP and 9.9% of total employment in 2017. There’s no doubt that it’s a huge industry. But with overtourism resulting in environmental degradation, water quality issues, and higher rents that are driving locals out, there’s a big question at play here: how can we travel without causing harm?
Responsible travel is a good start, so we’ve compiled seven great ways to be a more responsible traveler.
Respect the Local Culture
When you’re visiting a new country, take some time to learn about their culture and customs. Dressing appropriately will help ensure you don’t incidentally offend anyone or attract unwanted attention, while learning how to say a few words (think ‘hello,’ ‘goodbye,’ and ‘thank you’) in the local language will go a long way to showing respect for your host country and making your stay more enjoyable. Keep gestures in mind, too, since they tend to differ between countries. In China, for example, blowing your nose in public is considered extremely rude. In Thailand, the head is sacred, and you should never even pat a child’s head.
Choose Sustainable Accommodations and Tour Operators
Greenwashing is big right now, but there are plenty of companies who really are committed to sustainability and eco-friendly operations. Look for operators that focus on lowering their carbon footprint, minimizing waste, recycling, and supporting local businesses. While there aren’t yet many certifications for sustainable tour operators, Rainforest Alliance runs a global platform called TOPS – or Tour Operators Promoting Sustainability. It includes tour operators that are committed to responsible practices, as well as improving their own standards and the standards of the people they work with.
Eat Local, Stay Local, Play Local
Tourism can give a great boost to local economies – but it requires travelers to actually invest their money locally. Instead of staying at a chain hotel, opt for a locally owned cabin or a homestay. Ask locals to recommend their favorite restaurants, choose activities run by local people (they know their towns best, anyway!), and consider joining a cooking class or volunteering at a community school.
Respect the Wildlife
Think twice before participating in activities that exploit animals in any way. This includes, but isn’t limited to, elephant rides, dolphin and whale swims, circuses, and any attraction that allows you to get ‘up close and personal’ with a wild animal – even if they say it’s been rescued.
Trekking is a great option to see animals in their natural habitats. Be mindful to respect their space and never feed or try to take selfies with wild animals. If your guide says it’s okay, use it as an opportunity to educate them. Feeding animals can be detrimental and create hostile behavior.
Carry a Reusable Water Bottle and Filter
Reduce your footprint and use of plastics by always having a reusable water bottle and water filter on hand. Many hotels and guest houses have filtered water on hand that you can use to fill up your bottle. And if they don’t, you’ll be able to filter the tap water so it’s safe to drink.
If you purchase drinks when you’re out, ask if they’ll fill your reusable cup instead of using a disposable one. And be sure to say ‘no’ to straws, which tend to end up in the ocean and can be particularly harmful to sea life, like turtles.
Leave No Trace
While ‘leave no trace’ certainly means that you shouldn’t be leaving behind garbage, it goes beyond that. The idea is that there should be no trace of you once you leave somewhere, except, perhaps, for footprints. Stay on designated trails, leave rocks and plants where you found them, and resist any urge to scratch your initials in anything.
Bring Environmentally Friendly Products With You
Like it or not, the reality is that most of the beauty and hygiene products in use today are harmful to the environment. When you travel, particularly in sensitive ecosystems, be sure to pack biodegradable shampoo, conditioner, and body wash. If you’re heading to a sunny destination, biodegradable sunscreen is a must – the oxybenzone found in most brands of sunscreen is extremely harmful to coral reefs and marine life.