When I first began traveling, the idea that you leave a place pretty much the same as when you left wasn’t common. That was almost about 5 years ago, and things have changed a lot since then. Sustainable tourism is a buzzword now, but I remember first really hearing about it recently. Since then, I’ve tried to adopt a number of practices that encourage positive actions while on the road.
Here are 5 that really made a difference to me and that have changed me as both a traveler and as a person. I’m a lot more aware of my impact on the world now and what that means for future generations.
1. Picking tours kind to animals
I’m a big animal lover, and I grew up with a variety of them as a young person. For some reason, it didn’t really register how I might be affecting local wildlife when traveling, though. Visiting Europe wasn’t much of an issue, but when I started looking into seeing some more remote destinations, it became apparent that not all tours are created equal in regards to how they treat their animals.
In Thailand, I made sure that I picked an elephant sanctuary that provided quality care to those who had been abused. For our tour from Nepal to India, we picked the tour company Intrepid because they have a mission of sustainability and making sure that any interactions with animals have their welfare in mind.
2. Choosing my voluntourism options carefully
I like to feel as though I am doing good—in both my resting life and my one on the road. While it can be easy to find some great causes where you live, it can be a bit more of a challenge when you are looking for ways to make a difference abroad. I try not to choose anything where I interact with children since there are plenty of scams surrounding working with orphanages. If choose to work with animals, I make sure that it is in a safe way where they are not harmed.
In truth, if you want to give back, the best way to do it is often to look to your own community and seeing what needs are there.
3. Trying to use less plastic
It’s almost impossible not to use plastic. It covers and makes up almost everything, and while some countries have established more environmentally-friendly options, some haven’t (including the United States). Plastic use is a giant problem, and it’s one that is probably going to take a lifetime to solve. As a traveler, it’s not always an option not to use plastic, but if you can, it can make a difference in a small but very important way.
I always carry a reusable water bottle with me, and depending on the place we visit, some iodine tablets so I don’t have to purchase plastic water bottles. I also try to recycle if I can, though in some places that is not always available.
4. Asking before taking photos
It never would have occurred to me to ask before taking someone’s photo in the past. While I mostly like taking pictures of landscapes, every now and then I might snap a photo passing by with people in it. Just as when I never thought twice about people taking a picture of me secretly (in Japan and Egypt), it didn’t occur to me that it might bother other people.
I have to say, after a recent trip to India, I appreciate when people ask to take a photo with me or of me instead of trying to do it under the radar. I’ve started keeping this in mind when I snap my own travel photos, and I always ask. It’s a small way to show another culture that you care about the people as human beings.
5. Checking out local businesses
Chain restaurants and places for shopping are great because they’re easy and you know what to expect, but they aren’t a great way to support a local economy or to help a destination thrive. In the past, I might have chosen a spot I knew well because of the branding or because it was simple and I knew what I was getting.
Not only was I missing out on a more authentic experience, but I wasn’t helping the local people. It took a little more digging, but finding spots a little bit off the beaten path and run by citizens from that area made my time abroad more real to me. It also helped those businesses to stand out from the crowd and to continue to support themselves.
Which ways have you tried to be a more sustainable traveler? Any tips?