Being a responsible traveller is a decision one makes about the kind of impact they want to leave when adventuring around the world. Whether it’s a road trip in your home country, or a voyage to another continent, every small decision you make can contribute to the kind of impact you have.
Recently there has been a shift in our awareness about this kind of impact. As the world looks for greener, more ethical alternatives, so do travellers. We are opening up to options that positively affect the places we visit. Things like community-based tourism, home stays, visiting conservation centres instead of zoos – it all adds up.
If you’re reading this because you want to know more about being a responsible traveller, or if you already are one, here are 8 conversation starters that will get you on your way.
- What makes this ‘eco’ tour ‘eco’ friendly?
There are hundreds of companies that brand themselves as being eco friendly but how do we know for sure? They may advertise sustainable practices but then offer you 5 plastic water bottles and a Styrofoam container for your lunch. Ask the tour company how their tour positively impacts the environment. If they have a sustainability policy then great, if they are lost for words then they may be guilty of green-washing.
- What portion of my money is going back into the local community? How are the local community benefiting from this activity?
Tour companies are businesses. They need to make money. The important thing though, is how much money they are actually making and whether or not they are taking more profit than they should. Are the locals and workers getting their fair share? Or is all your money going into the hands of a big company? If a tour company cannot answer these questions then try to look for community-based tourism where you know your money is going to the right place. Choose home stays over hotels, choose local trekking guides, and choose to eat at locally run restaurants. These decisions will help to make sure your money goes to the right place.
- Does this attraction exploit animals?
We’ve recently seen how animals are exploited for tourism. With the closure of the Tiger Temple in Thailand and the uproar about Orca’s in captivity at Sea World, it shows that we know this kind of treatment is wrong. As a responsible traveller we should choose attractions that protect species such as sanctuaries, conservation parks or areas where you can see wildlife in their natural habitat.
- What kind of sustainable practices is your hotel using?
Many of us have got used to the 5 star treatment of having the bed made and towels changed every day in a hotel, but is this really necessary? Hotels waste a lot of water and use a lot of electricity so perhaps we are in need of a more sustainable method. A sustainable hotel should be cleaning the room every 3 days, managing food waste, and, at the very least, providing you with the option to refill your water.
- Do you really need to use all this plastic?
What is it with travel and plastic bottles? On a bus, on a plane, in a hotel, on a tour – everywhere you go someone throws a plastic water bottle your way. It’s a habit that can only be erased if we speak up about it. Every time I visit a place that uses too many plastic water bottles I kindly suggest a water refill station instead. Plant the seed and things might change.
- Are the people making these products paid a fair price?
Souvenir shopping can be fun but the question should be considered – who made these? If your T-shirt in Thailand cost $3 how much did the person making it get paid? There are many fair trade shops where you can purchase goods knowing that the makers have been given a fair price so choose them for your shopping needs.
- How does your activity contribute to the conservation of animals and their environment?
There are many animal sanctuaries and conservation parks that claim to support animals and their environment but it is important to ask the question about how they do this? In Chiang Mai, Thailand many elephant parks changed their names to elephant conservation areas after concerns against elephant riding, however many of these parks do not practice conservation. The goal of wildlife conservation is to ensure that nature will be around for future generations, meaning re-release into the wild where possible.
- Is this volunteer organisation considering the long-term benefits its people?
Volunteering has been known as a great way to give back to the community but in some circumstances travellers don’t know that it is causing more harm than good. It is important to look at the long-term sustainability of an organisation before you volunteer. The GivingWay team has put together 10 volunteering tips for those looking to volunteer in local communities. Asking these questions will help you make a more informed choice.
Bianca is a freelance writer from Sydney, Australia with a strong passion for responsible tourism, fair trade and community development. She has travelled to many parts of the world and is currently spending the year travelling through south east and southern Asia sharing stories of good will and finding ways that we can travel ethically and responsibly around the globe. You can read more of her stories here.