Travel is one of the biggest industries in the world, and many countries rely on the money brought in from the droves of tourists each year. However, with the continuing growth in its popularity comes new issues, such as damage to the environment and to sacred land and architecture, or the impact of overcrowding on the daily lives of locals.
As avid travellers, we need to be aware of how to minimize our impact on the places we visit and try and live by the motto “take only memories, leave only footprints”. In this article, we look at some of the ways that you can become a more ethical and sustainable traveller.
Research the local culture before travelling
One of the best reasons to travel is to experience cultures different from your own country, but as a tourist, you can come across as insensitive if you aren’t aware of these customs. Whether it’s the tipping system, the rules on public decency, alcohol consumption or appropriate dress codes, you should read up on the country you are visiting ahead of time and be prepared for what behaviour is considered respectful.
It is also polite to learn a few key phrases, such as hello, thank you and how to ask for directions. Try also to interact with and support the locals as much as possible. By hiring local guides, shopping or dining independently rather than in chain stores and restaurants, or staying in local hostels or Airbnbs over corporate hotels, you will be showing your respect for the people who must live and work amongst the daily onslaught of tourists. You will make more genuine human connections this way too.
Don’t exploit wildlife
Whilst it can be tempting to go on vacation and book an animal encounter that you’d be unable to experience in your everyday life, you must be careful and avoid supporting any unethical businesses. If a company is offering unnatural interactions or keeping the animals in captivity for any reason other than rehabilitation for release back into the wild, they are usually unethical. Instead of paying money to harm the health and wellbeing of the wildlife in the tourist trade, why not offer your services as a volunteer.
Rather than a few damaging hours riding elephants or swimming with captive dolphins, you can become part of the wider conservation efforts, helping the survival of animals across the globe, from sloths to sea turtles and big cats to bears.
Avoid adding to the problem
Now that you are aware of some of the issues facing popular travel destinations, you can make sure you don’t become part of the problem. Follow the guidelines laid out by the country, and respect any decisions being made to shut down overcrowded areas.
Numerous tourist hotspots across the world are currently begging tourists to stop visiting in such high droves; the Cinque Terre in Italy, Mount Everest in Nepal and some of the Thai islands are all recent examples of attractions that can no longer cope with the demand.
It’s also important that you respect the environment, as another significant problem with the growing footfall is the irreversible damage being done to our planet. Try to cut back on your carbon footprint by only taking necessary flights and otherwise utilizing land transport.
Avoid using plastic by investing in a reusable water bottle with a filter, perfect for those countries where tap water is unsafe for drinking. Stop snorkelling and diving in dying reefs such as the Great Barrier or Hanauma Bay, especially if you don’t travel with reef-safe sunscreen. Being an ethical traveller means having an awareness of these issues and doing our best to change our travel habits, to avoid further adding to the demise of these popular destinations.