Responsible tourism is a HUGE topic right now. As governments around the world aim to do their bit for the environment – the recent ban on plastic straws, micro beads and plastic cutlery are just a few initiatives that come to mind. As avid travellers we all have a part to play in preserving this planet for future generations, from limiting waste to helping local communities. Read on to discover 7 simple tips that will help you become a more responsible and sustainable traveller. I’d love to hear more ideas, share your thoughts in the comments box below!
Take your litter home
According to a recent statistic, the amount of litter dumped into our oceans each year exceeds 9bn tons. When travelling across countries, continents or indeed the world, it is so important to remember that the waste we produce needs to be disposed of responsibly. Littering is something we are all taught not to do at some point in our lives and yet there are so many beautiful places being destroyed in this way.
On a recent trip to Australia, we were gobsmacked to see litter in many incredibly stunning spots, including beaches not far from the Great Barrier Reef. This litter will likely cause direct harm to the local marine and coral life if not taken care of.
The best approach is to leave your location in the way that you would like to find it and don’t be afraid to ask someone not to litter. Pick up litter you see in the ocean, on the beach or even in the street, as rubbish in cities is likely to find its way to the ocean by some means.
- Enjoy litter picking, then try plogging!
Bring a reusable water bottle
A reusable water bottle is something that everybody should have on their packing list. It’s not only more eco-friendly, but it makes financial sense too! If you’re visiting a warm country, you’ll go through an incredible amount of water. Even if its winter time, sightseeing is thirsty work and you’ll be surprised by how much liquid you need.
Of course there are many different types of water bottles, but one style that makes sense for a lot of travellers is a foldable one; helpful if you have a limited amount of space in your backpack.
Depending on the country that you’re visiting you may be able to fill your bottle from the tap. You may also have access to filtered water at your accommodation. In areas where it’s not safe to drink the water, or as is the case in parts of Spain and Portugal the water may not be pleasant to drink, you could use a Steripen or Lifestraw.
If you do need to buy bottled water, do what you can to buy as little plastic as possible and be sure to recycle it.
Limit your plastic waste
Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet showed just how much damage plastic can cause to our oceans. It’s estimated that 12m tons of plastic has being dumped in our seas, which has had a devastating effect on sea life.
Here are just some of the ways I avoid overuse of plastics and aim to be an eco-friendly and sustainable traveller:
- Re-usable bag – I carry these everywhere I go. It saves using plastic carrier bags and doubles as a litter bag if there are no waste bins around.
- Wooden or re-useable straw – I always have my bamboo straw with me. Many places give you a plastic straw when buying drinks, but it feels good to say “no straw required”, and to use my own.
- Re-usable bottle / coffee cup – bringing your own re-usuable water bottle saves buying plastic water bottles; they’re easy to re-fill and carry with you at all times. Coffee cups too – did you know over 2.5bn cups are thrown away just in UK every year!
- Micro beads – as a rule I do not buy products with micro beads. The UK government have banned these and it’s likely more countries will follow. The micro beads harm marine life and are not biodegradable. Check products carefully, especially personal care items.
Look for community-run tour operators
One of the most important parts of travelling in my opinion, is to make sure we are doing more good than harm. A very actionable way of doing this is to partner with local, sustainable tourism operators wherever you are. This means that you need to look for organisations that are run by the community, employ local people, and give money back to the surrounding area. A great example is Bali Eco Tours in Ubud, a local run and operated organisation that offers a variety of tours in and around Ubud.
When you partner with community-run operators you are positively and actively making a difference to the lives of local people. Your money doesn’t go to some massive conglomerate, but uplifts the people that really need it. It may take a little more research time and effort, but if you think of the positive impact choosing an ethical community organisation can have, you’ll see there really is no other way to be a responsible traveller.
When you do your research, look for the following:
- Traveller testimonials: what are people saying about the operator online, not just on the organisation’s website?
- History: what is the story of the organisation, and does that match up with what they are actually doing?
- Accountability: who are the beneficiaries and partners of the operator, are they mostly local groups and people?
- Employees: who is employed by the operator, are they local?
By checking out these four things, you can definitely get an idea of what kind of organisation you are dealing with and whether they should get your money.
Join local conservation projects
Growing up on Australia’s east coast I’ve always had a profound respect for the ocean and marine life. It wasn’t until I travelled through Asia that I realised the gravity of litter in our oceans around the world. Since that point I have actively been seeking ways to combat the amount of trash that washes up on our beaches.
Just by researching and supporting local companies that care about the environment we can all make a big difference.
In Asia I came across many environmentally minded companies that organise clean-ups of beaches and common litter gathering points. Having just received my deep diving certification in Thailand, I was happy to find a local scuba diving company that actually cared about the underwater world I was experiencing in a completely new way. Princess Divers on Phi Phi Island not only orchestrated massive ocean and beach clean-up trips, but they also educated each and every one of their guests on how to better protect the ocean.
Whether you’re diving to the dark depths of the ocean or just relaxing on the beach, it has never been more important to seek out and support companies that implement conservation practices, and not take our oceans for granted. Read more here.
Get on your bike!
One of the best things you can do is bike around your destination. You’ll cut your carbon footprint, keep fit and it’s also brilliant fun!
We find that it helps us really understand the layout of a town or city. When you’re on a train, bus or taxi the scenery whizzes past and can leave you disorientated. On a bike you’re forced to engage with your environment: you get to know street names and how to get from A to B. You’ll find yourself feeling like a local really quickly.
You’ll also travel on roads and see places you’d never see if you were on public transport. You’ll nip down quiet side streets and up alleys that are off-limits to motorised transport. You get underneath the skin of a destination, past the glossy tourist attractions and into its soul.
On two wheels you notice things you’d never spot from the back of a car or bus: a gorgeous cafe, locals chatting, a brightly coloured hedgerow or verges full of vivid flowers. When you’re on public transport, those things get lost in the blur. On a bike they’ll be some of your lasting memories.
And as if you needed any further persuasion…cycling burns calories. If you struggle with maintaining your weight while travelling, cycling is a great option. You’ll zing with energy and won’t feel any guilt when you’re scoffing that delicious gelato!
- In Vancouver? Then check out these awesome bike routes.
- In some parts of the world kayaking is a better option – India, Kerela.
Purchase sustainable souvenirs
Do you purchase souvenirs when you travel? If so, you have the opportunity to make a positive impact! Unfortunately there is not a list of sustainable souvenirs to choose from, the key is to understand that it’s all based on the destination you’re visiting.
Looking for souvenirs can be an exciting way to learn more about a place. Arts, crafts or objects that locals use in their everyday life are a good place to start. You can even try to purchase them directly from the artisan or at a local market rather than from a larger souvenir shop. It will give the object a meaningful story, which is what souvenirs are all about.
But souvenir shops can be good for those communities that don’t receive tourists directly. In Vanuatu for example, you can purchase Tanna Coffee as a souvenir, helping to supports a region off the tourist track that is still struggling to recover from a recent cyclone.
Avoid cheap factory-produced items like magnets, keyrings or t-shirts that are often imported. The economic impact is minimal and it’s not eco-friendly. It can also be dangerous to buy items made from animals (fur, skin, teeth, shells, corals etc.) or using scarce resources such as rare woods.
Think about it next time you go shopping during your holidays, and you’ll be a more responsible traveller!