There is an ever-growing focus on what it means to be a responsible traveler. Whether you are new to the world of responsible tourism, or you are a seasoned traveler looking to make a positive impact, we believe education is the first step. Informed by years of experience designing ethical travel experiences, we’ve put together 5 basic best practices to help you travel better:
Book eco-conscious accommodation
Choosing to stay at eco lodges is a simple and effective way to reduce any negative impacts related to the tourism industry. Not only do eco lodges work towards minimizing their environmental impact, but they also celebrate the regional culture and support the local community.
Since the rise of “sustainable development” and “ecotourism”, green branding has become fashionable. “Greenwashing” is a serious issue where brands do not live up to the environmental and social practices that they sell to potential customers.
There are a handful of agencies that certify eco-lodges, but there is no agreed-upon industry standard. Reliable certifications to look out for include Sustainable Travel International, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, The International Ecotourism Society, the Rainforest Alliance, and a number of others.
Travelers can avoid falling for greenwashing by asking the following questions about hotels and lodges they are considering visiting:
1. Do they obtain their power from renewable resources such as wind or solar?
2. Do they practice responsible water management? (Do they harvest rainwater or have greywater recycling systems in place? These are especially important factors in areas that may be prone to drought conditions)
3. Is energy efficient lighting and appliances used?
4. Do they have a waste management program in place?
5. Do they source their building materials locally?
6. Is their kitchen supplied by local farmers?
7. Are their employees members of the local community?
8. Do they give back to the local community?
9. Are they respectful of local cultures and customs?
10. Do they have additional Corporate Social Responsibility efforts or partnerships with local organizations?
More thoroughly understanding a hotel or lodge’s social and environmental practices can help you make informed decisions that shape the impact of your trip from start to finish.
Offset your carbon footprint
How you get from point A to point B is a critical issue when it comes to responsible travel. It is estimated that air travel accounts for 11 percent of all transport-related greenhouse gas emissions in the United States alone (source: https://nyti.ms/2u2hkat). This is significant when you put it in perspective of the global aviation industry and the growing number of flights offered annually. Though we realize that flying is essential for most travel, there are simple ways in which you can offset some of the carbon emissions from your flights.
A number of airlines sell carbon credits when you buy an air ticket; airlines such as Delta, United, JetBlue, Lufthansa, and others give you the option to purchase carbon credits or to donate directly to carbon-offsetting organizations.
Carbon offsetting is the process of mitigating CO2 emissions by trading carbon credits. Polluters invest in projects such as reforestation, renewable energy installation, or methane capture projects, that aim to sequester carbon and contribute to the viability of clean energy sources. It is also important to note that many carbon offset projects have secondary benefits such as increased socio-economic opportunity for local communities and biodiversity preservation. We also encourage travelers to familiarize themselves with the counter arguments of carbon offsetting to ensure you are making informed decisions.
Do your part to conserve water
Aside from choosing to stay at locations with sustainable water practices, such as rainwater collection systems and proper greywater and blackwater treatment methods, there are a few things you can do on a personal level to help out.
Once you settle into your overnight accommodation, use water responsibly. Simple actions like turning off the water while you shampoo or brush your teeth can make a big difference in the long run. Hanging your towels to dry will let staff know that you intend to use it again and thus do not need it to be washed. Any small effort that you can make towards reducing your water usage is beneficial.
Be conscious of your waste
Solid waste pollution has become an ever-pressing environmental issue, especially in developing nations where proper waste management techniques are not always enforced. Choosing accommodations with effective waste management solutions is crucial to help in reducing tourism’s environmental impact.
Travelers should also make a conscious effort not to add to the waste problem by littering or improperly disposing of rubbish. A simple and effective measure you can take is to bring your own BPA-free water bottle. By bringing along your own reusable water bottle, you will eliminate the need for disposable ones and diminish your individual waste production.
Another handy tip is to pack reusable tote bags in your luggage. These can come in handy when shopping by eliminating the need for plastic bags. Countries are cracking down on plastic bags, including Rwanda who has made the use of them illegal, so bringing a reusable bag may be in your best interest.
Seek to understand local customs before traveling
Perhaps the most important thing you can do to become a responsible traveler is to research the local culture before visiting. Understanding how to behave, dress, and interact respectfully with locals will help bridge cultural divides and allow you to engage more meaningfully with guests.
Always ask permission before taking a picture, as it may be taboo in certain cultures and ask before entering a holy site or culturally significant area. Knowing phrases like thank you, please, can I have, where is, and so forth can also improve your experience.
Give back to local communities
Giving back to a local community you visit can profoundly enhance your own experience in addition to contributing to the longevity of your host destination.Whether this is through volunteering, learning about and assisting with conservation projects, making the effort to shop locally, or donating to an impactful nonprofit organization, even small gestures can make large changes.
There are countless ways you can have a positive impact while traveling without having to sacrifice luxury or convenience. As tourism and its impacts increase, it is becoming more important than ever to travel responsibly and do your part to help our planet, communities, and resources so that future generations may enjoy the same experiences that you have.