As we celebrated the World tourism Day globally last week, it compels me to think how much we have taken things for granted and despite having a good educational background, we are putting the world to shame and degrading the environment at an alarming rate! To add to the misery, the internet is flooded with the articles about traveling as one of the major reasons for the pollution and the questions have been raised about the responsible travel. Does this mean we shall stop traveling? Fear not, because there are plenty of ways that travellers can help make a big difference to the people of the world by simply being more mindful and educated about the decisions we make when travel. It’s becoming more and more important to think about the marks we leave on places when we travel. After all, we all want future generations to be able to enjoy the beautiful places we visit.

As travellers we have a responsibility to not make the places we visit worse because of our presence and behaviour. We also have the power and opportunity to make them better too With eco-tourism and other forms of “responsible” travel on the rise, consider some salient reasons why sustainable tourism may offer you a chance to make a difference by using your entrepreneurial and business savvy.

When I started travelling over some years ago, I didn’t even know what responsible travel was. Sometimes I would hear about ‘eco places’, which were usually shacks in the middle of nowhere with unreliable electricity and water supply – ‘eco’ seemed to be more of a buzzword to make up for the lack of essentials, than a sign of genuine commitment to the environment. I had no idea on how to travel responsibly – and over time, I ended up doing many things I am not proud of today. I haggled furiously with a Malaysian market seller over just a few Malyasian Ringgit, to the point that he refused to sell me anything. I used way too much plastic, and even went close to riding an elephant (i have never ridden an elephant till date)– at the end, it was my fear that prevented me to do that, not the desire of not harming these animals, since I didn’t know the practice was harmful. How wrong I was.

Done the right way, travel will make the world a better place.  Here are some tips to travellers about how to travel more responsibly, minimizing damage to a local economy and culture

1. Minimize your waste

Waste management can be a major issue in most developing countries, and we as travellers often unknowingly contribute to this problem. The education levels when it comes to recycling and minimising waste in other countries may not be the same as what we receive back home, so it is important to take your own steps to help out the environment.

Say no to plastic bags from shops and instead put your items in a backpack or a cloth bag. Eat and drink in the cafe rather than going for take away (or carry a KeepCup with you, which I always do). Carry a reusable water bottle with you and fill up from large water jugs that can be found in most hotels and restaurants.


2. Try to adapt to the culture

Even though it might feel strange for us to wear long clothes when it’s over 30 degrees, we should respect different cultures and adapt to them. May it be a way of dressing or some other cultural behaviors – the adaption to these cultural customs belongs to the excitement of traveling and the process of learning!

With Locals in Jaiselmer

3. Avoid flying if you can

Flying can be much more comfortable than using other transportation. However, we all know that it’s also the transportation method that uses the highest CO2 emissions. You can consider this as second best solution for traveling far if you can’t avoid flying. The advantage of choosing another transportation method is, however, that you not only help our environment, but also get the possibility to see even more wonderful places on your way!

  • Fly less often:
  • Fly less mileage: Consider shorter haul rather than long haul. There’s a greater impact of carbon at higher altitudes reached by long-haul flights. That said…
  • Fly direct, without stop-overs – aeroplanes use a lot of fuel taking off and landing, representing a higher proportion of fuel on a short-haul flight.
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    On my way from Denmark to Sweden on Inter-country Train

4. In destination, use local transportation

Walking and cycling are not only the most environmentally friendly A to B method of travel saving carbon emissions, but person-power is better for your health and budget too. There are a lot of great ways to lower your environmental impact when you are travelling. Instead of always taking taxis to get you from A to B, see if a local bus can get you to where you need to go. If the distance you need to go isn’t too far, walk instead of jumping on public transport for one or two stops.

Canoeing in Kerala to an Island that has no access through road

5. Look at the bigger picture when Bargaining

In regions like Latin America and South East Asia, (need I tell you about India?) bargaining for products is a part of the culture. It can almost be like a game! But please think about the bigger picture when bartering for that souvenir.

Before you start haggling over $1, think about how far that extra bit of cash could go for the person you are dealing with and for you if you save it.

Look at the bigger picture! If you don’t think twice about staying in an expensive hotel and drinking overpriced cocktails by the pool, don’t then try and bully a local out of a couple of bucks.

The Artisan selling products made by him and his son in a busy street in Rajasthan. This not only helps him showcase his ancestral skills to the visitors but the earning takes care of his large family of seven.

6. Involve the local people in the idea of sustainable tourism

In many popular travel countries, people aren’t well educated about protecting nature. However, there are some ways how you can involve local people directly into environmental projects and help them to develop a feeling for our environment.

I spent six months in Tanzania and took part in some environmental projects which helped locals to understand the importance of preserving our nature. Also spent a day at a local flooded village in Siem Reap with the villagers thanking them for preserving their tradition of local market even during difficult times. So what can you do to spread the idea of sustainable tourism as a traveler?

Flooded Village of Cambodia

7. Buy your food from local markets instead of International supermarkets

By visiting local markets you’ll find more fresh, organic, local foods and will get into direct contact with venders who are often also the same time local farmers. If you’re interested in what people traditionally eat or how the food is produced, a stop at the local market should be on your travel to-do-list!

Market Masai
Local Vegetable Market in Arusha – Tanzania

8. Unplug your electricity and turn the lights off

Most modern hotels use an energy saving scheme, turning off the electricity when guests remove their key from a docking station, reducing energy consumption by 30%.  If this energy-saving technology doesn’t exist in your hotel, always think about turning the lights off and unplugging your electricity when leaving the room. An uncomplicated way to reduce your energy usage!

9. Appreciate, don’t Appropriate. 

Traveling and experiencing different cultures are amazing opportunities to learn more about the world, and there are lots of ways to do that respectfully. It can be difficult to adjust to another culture’s standards of etiquette because it often requires owning your ignorance and asking for help. But by showing respect and courtesy to other people’s cultures, you open up countless fulfilling interactions with the people around you. There’s no better way to connect with folks. Cultural appropriation means taking pieces of a culture that doesn’t belong to you, and using them out of context, in a way that may be perceived offensive. On the other hand, cultural appreciation means honouring a culture that isn’t ours, transforming the cultural exchange in a learning opportunity.

The line between appreciation and appropriation is quite subtle, and even blurred sometimes. Personally, when I’m thinking of buying a culturally-specific souvenir, or taking part in a cultural experience, I try to answer two questions. Am I taking the time to learn about what I am doing, and what this means to local people? Or am I just doing it because I think it’s cool?

Food stall on a street festival in Bratislava where locals from all walks of life come together on one Saturday in a month to showcase their culture through food, art and music to the visitors and have some fun too

10. Buy local products instead of imported ones to support local businesses

If you buy handmade products instead of imported ones, you’re not only showing your appreciation for the individual artisan’s work, but also helping the local economy by supporting local business owners who produce quality products. There’s also sometimes interesting traditional history behind handmade products. It’s always interesting to find out how they’re produced and how they’re linked to the past. And isn’t it sweeter to buy something that has been made in a traditional way with love than a mass produced product that you can buy anywhere?  Imported products are often cheap labor products from low wage countries which have been transported from far away countries.  Go for the most authentic and enjoyable tour with a local guide who has a genuine passion for where they live, but you know you’re supporting a local. That’s how you’re going to find out the most interesting things about a place and, ultimately, have the best time

Local Spices and Incense shop in Mutrah Souk-Muscat

11. Volunteer some of your time

Whether you are travelling for two weeks or two years, volunteering a portion of your time to worthwhile causes and with reputable organisations can make a world of difference.

If you have a skill that may be useful in a developing nation, such as medical care experience, an engineering background, tourism or hospitality background or have worked in social care, there are a whole multitude of avenues you can pursue to help put your expertise to good use.

But even if you are not highly qualified, you can still find beneficial ways to volunteer. It may be possible to spend a few days teaching English in rural schools, or you can check out different animal conservation projects that are active in the places you are visiting

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The first Eco-tourist Village of Kerala where I could spend a day with villagers helping them with Coir Making, Fishing and Prawn farming

12. Get closer to nature

Appreciating the natural resources and landscapes of the places we visit is a big part of travel. It’s important to understand the effect that the environment has on the communities they foster.

Responsible Travel involves not only getting out into nature, but doing so in a way that leaves it untouched. Carrying all of our garbage out and sticking to trails when hiking are just two of the many ways we an show respect to nature when we travel.

It’s easy to become captured by the beauty of a foreign place, and to take special care of it when we visit. Then when we return home, that appreciation stays with us, and we can take better care of the natural resources in our own environments. We stay in places that are more in harmony with their surroundings, more in touch with the people we are interested in encountering – in essence more connected to the places we visit. By contrast, the more ‘touristy’ the experience – the cruise ships and all inclusive resorts and theme parks – the more detached and disconnected it is assumed that people become.

An eco-tent lodge in Ras-al-Jin Oman where I spent two nights watching turtle nesting and hiking on the hills

Participating in responsible travel allows us to be very conscious about the way in which we travel, which can lead to better planning, and less stress on the road. It also allows us to experience a place more thoroughly and have positive interactions with locals.  Returning home with the memories we made of the beautiful things we saw, the people we met, and the positive impact we had by traveling responsibly is a great way to spread that happiness to the people in our lives, and encourage them to travel responsibly, too.

So next time you open Instagram or Facebook, take those pictures, share those status updates, and spread the word about how to become a more responsible traveler. Every person we reach with our stories helps to make the world a better place to live.