Learn how to travel the world with a better impact with these ethical travel tips.
Travelling is such a devastating force that I don’t understand why the subject is not on the main agenda of all elections and public discussions around the world.
When you look at the number of people crossing borders now compared to the previous century it is astounding. 1.6 billion people will be traveling in 2020, compared to 25 million in the 1950s and that number is rising quickly.
The sheer numbers that tourism is bringing to the most sought-after destinations is having a huge impact on local life, the environment, and infrastructures.
Impact of Overtourism
There are already destinations that literally closing down to tourism, like the famous Maya Beach in Thailand (from the movie: The Beach) and Boracay in the Philippines.
Other destinations like Venice are imposing fines for simple behaviors like sitting down in non designated areas and Komodo Island will be closed to tourists in 2020 for at least one year in effort to rejuvinate the island and improve the conservation of the Komodo Dragon.
But, travel is good for our society, if everyone in the world at some point in life had the chance to travel the world I have no doubt our society would be much better.
Even the famous travel guru Rick Steves wants all Americans to leave US.
Ethical Travel Tips – How to Reduce Your Travel Footprint
We need to “learn” how to travel and create a positive impact or otherwise the benefits of traveling will be overshadowed by the negative effects.
How travel can be socially good and not that bad to our planet
Hopefully in the future, integrated in our basic education we will see “a how-to travel” course for all students.
Until then, we can do our part and learn and share with others best practices for a healthy travelling society. And for that, one need to think on both sides: the environment (reduce impact) and on the society (be neutral or positive)
1. Choose the Right Destination
With today’s information age there is no excuse for heading to a location plagued by over-tourism consequences without knowing it. Many destinations are being battered by just too many people.
Our visit to Ha Long Bay through Cat Ba Island was depressing, to say the least. One could easily see the island infrastructures were not able to deal with so much waste created.
These are the reasons why Boracay closed down to tourism and recently reopened full of restrictions.
But there are many places in the world that barely anyone travels to. Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia are places we’ve travelled to with barely another tourist in sight.
You don’t have to travel to the popular destinations everyone else goes to. As a matter a fact, choosing more off the beaten path destinations can offer a far more fulfilling travel experience.
A great business idea would be to create an online website that could monitor these effects and direct people to less overwhelmed areas.
This kind of resource would anger most of capital driven governments, but it would help the planet and local populations that just want to continue with their lives in a sustainable way.
Research your potential destinations and see the red flags of excessive tourist activity. Locals complaining, waste management issues, skyrocketing prices, etc
If you want to really mitigate your footprint, then transportation is by far the most impactful decision you can make. The main reason for this is the carbon footprint of flights which we normally use for our travels.
If you have a week of two week holidays and you want to travel to another continent, there is not much you can do to avoid a flight.
But there are some considerations when deciding on your flight connections and airlines.
- If your trip is less than 1000 miles, consider train/bus instead
- Use direct flights as much as possible
- Look for airlines that have carbon offset add-ons
- In case 3 fails, buy carbon offset credits from providers
3. Choose Green Lodging
Another important decision you can make is where you are spending your nights. Eco-logding is now everywhere but we need to be careful with greenwashing.
Use Reputable Sites
- There are some lodging search engines specialized in carbon-conscious businesses like Book Different.
- Another option is to use AirBnb’s feature called Unique Houses and look for more friendly options.
Green Key certification is one of the most important certifications that provides some confidence you are making a better decision, look for their stamp.
Book eco-friendly lodging options, but check to make sure their claims are real.
4. Ethical Travel Activities
When choosing you activities in your destination there are some considerations you can have that could be less impactful:
- Choose natural outdoor activities to promote good care of natural reserves (good for health too)
- Look for eco-tour operators (double-check claims)
- Use non pollutant transportation (electric or just bikes)
Choose activities that don’t exploit the local wildlife or culture. Many people think that swimming with dolphins is fun, but they are captive aanimals. If you want to swim with dolphins, go out to the sea and swim with them in their natural habitat.
Make sure that the tour operators don’t chase wildlife or guarantee sightings. It is as important as you the tourist to speak up when they are doing something unethical on a tour.
5. Reduce Waste
Plastic is a huge contributor to ruining our planet. Travelers should be aware of the impact their plastic has on environments. Don’t buy bottled water, instead pack your own water bottle.
If you are worried about clean water, pack a Steripen. It purifies water in seconds.
Straws are one of the worst environmental hazzards so just say no to them and avoid plastic forks and spoons.
How to travel and have a positive impact
6. Travel Slow
Just like slow food movement, slow travel is to give yourself enough time to deeply enjoy your travel experience, allowing you that extra time to plan ahead and mitigate your impact.
If you are slow traveling you can go to a local market and explore the local food and people in their most pure environment.
Slow travel is a mindset, it changes the way you look at your trip, and it will allow you to better plan and actively do the next set of recommendations.
7. Eat Local
Eating local can be divided into two sections: cook your own food or in restaurants.
The more you eat the local dishes and shop at local markets, the more you learn about the local culture and the more you support the local economy. Heading to a local market helps the local people.
When you buy your own food to cook at home, eat street food, and stay for longer periods of time, you are really helping the local producers and business owners.
Plus, it is a lot of fun to go to local markets, get that special crazy looking fruit or dark looking vegetable and try it out.
A good resource for local food is the awesome Taste Atlas.
8. Buy Direct from Local Businesses
Middlemen are needed in our society, but there are middlemen that take advantage and use and abuse the local producers. That’s why we need entities like Fair Trade or BCorp that try to make sure this does not happen.
To us, as consumers, we have a powerful tool to help local businesses, and that is to access them directly.
Plus, if you travel slow and stay in one place for a longer time, it is easier to find local guides and operators. Going directly to the source is the single best action you can do to help the local economies to thrive and to meet at the same time the real local cultures.
9. RESPECT LOCAL CULTURE
One of the most difficult things about traveling is culture shock. Local cultures can be so different that we may be tempted not to follow or even disrespect them. But this is a big mistake.
We have to remember we are their guests, we are visiting their country and we should follow their local customs and dress.
When in doubt, just look at what the locals do and follow along. But do your research and check the etiquette and customs for each country your visit.
My Personal Example
An interesting but simple example I had while living in Thailand was while playing football with locals.
Besides always laughing with each other there are no faults or penalties. I mean faults exist, but instead of free kicks you just send the ball back and start the play again, same goes with penalties.
It made me insane for the first games, but I made the effort to understand their customs and now it’s natural.
Make Informed Decisions
We don’t live in a perfect world, and there are not perfect solutions, but we live in the sharing information age and hence the benefit of this article.
Maybe we touched some points here that you never considered and now you will always be aware before committing for something.
Traveling involves making many important decisions and other smaller ones while you are on the road.
Be conscious of what you decide and accept the situations where the perfect option is just not possible for you.
Enjoy traveling and doing good.
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Read more inspiring travel tips:
- Our Best Travel Tips – From 20 Years of Traveling the World
- How to Make Your Travel Meaningful
- World Oceans Day – 10 Ways to Save the Oceans
- The Importance of Responsible Tourism in Thailand
- A Visit to an Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai
- How to Travel the World – The Ultimate Travel Resource
Joao has been on the road for 8 years now, and a lot has changed in his life. What started with a simple round the world trip, with no special plans or purpose became now a lifestyle. He is committed to becoming a greenpreneur and has already co-founded a startup in Brazil to promote ethical products, just like a green Amazon, and is now creating his own online zero waste travel brand at www.nofootprintnomads.com.
Becoming a digital nomad and being able to travel the world with a no footprint approach became his new reality, and when he is not researching new ways to travel with less impact you can find him harvesting greens from his garden to do his beloved green juice just after morning yoga.