Top travel bloggers on meaningful ways in which we can contribute to sustainable tourism.
Embracing sustainable tourism or responsible travel is the way forward for travellers and the industry – but how do we make sure that we don’t trample on the essence of the places we visit? Top travel bloggers from around the world share their tips for responsible travel and amazing anecdotes from their journeys.
‘Responsible travel can be summed up in one word: respect’
Iain Mallory – Travel blogger, Writer and Photographer, Mallory on Travel
Responsible tourism or travel has become fashionable, but what does it mean? For me, it can be summed up in a word: respect. Respect for culture, environment, wildlife, even other travellers, usually results in a positive experience for all.
Local communities: Choosing slow travel to that far flung corner of the world may not be possible for many of us, but there are other options to be more responsible. Contributing to the local community is a powerful way to make more responsible travel choices. Is it impossible to resist that touch of luxury provided by large hotel chains?
Ecostays: Small boutique hotels or eco-lodges can still provide a degree of luxury, but the room rate will remain in the community, it is likely all staff will be local, and food locally sourced. Better still, why not stay in a family run guest house or a homestay? They may not be as luxurious, but you will see directly where your money goes and the experience will be a rich one.
Eat local: Eating out at every one of the 36 restaurants at the resort hotel, the food will certainly be excellent, but did you try that tiny, backstreet eatery where the guest cooks their seafood on heated stones? What about the street food vendor that you passed every evening, didn’t that wild mushroom goulash smell great?
Respect tradition: Adjusting expectations and respecting traditions should be a given. Being demanding of the young trainee waiter serving your meal, and expecting quick service just means neither of you enjoy the experience.
Culture: Seek out authentic cultural experiences provided by local communities rather than commercial ‘staged’ performances by professional troupes.
‘Do your reseach before you volunteer abroad’
Emily Scott, creator of Responsible Travel blog Two Dusty Travelers
Voluntourism: Do your research before you volunteer abroad. I’ve volunteered abroad over a dozen times as a Registered Nurse, and I’ve seen how easy it is for people with good intentions to cause harm unintentionally.
For example, the popularity of orphanage volunteering has led to child trafficking to fill orphanages because volunteers will pay large sums to play with kids. And many unskilled volunteer positions (like building houses or painting schools) actually end up taking jobs away from locals who desperately need them.
Social media: Responsible travelers should use social media thoughtfully. We should carefully consider what photos we take and post. Our images may be the only reference that many family and friends ever get for the places we visit. We must use that power wisely!
Especially when traveling in developing countries, try to focus on positive things and tell stories about the wonderful people you meet, rather than relying on the same old stereotypes about poverty and tragedy. And don’t take photos of children or strangers without permission. Before you snap a photo, ask yourself: Would I want a photo of myself like this posted on social media?
‘Public transport is a stress-free, green way to explore’
Sally Allsop, Travel Blogger, Life Loving
Train travel: Travelling by public transport is a lot more eco-friendly than hiring a car or using a taxi. Many trains and buses address the environmental impact by trying to run with low carbon emissions. Electric services like underground and trams run on clean electric energy.
I’ve travelled a lot around Europe by train. It’s a really stress-free way to get to your destination. Especially of you take one of the overnight or high speed services. You can use your spare time to research your destination, read books or just catch up on sleep. Most train stations are in the heart of the city or town you are travelling to, so it makes it easy to get around.
‘I want locals to get the maximum economic impact from my trip’
James Ian, Experiential Blogger, Travel Collecting
My experiential travel blog includes a focus on minimizing the impact of travel. Part of this is to research where I am going, organizations I use, places I stay, tours I take, etc. to check they are employing local people, so that the people in the area are getting the maximum economic impact from my trip.
Tourism impact: This often improves their standard of living and helps them see that there are benefits to preserving their area, which helps them put effort into conservation. I also research other things that companies do such as investing in the community and what impact tourism is having on a region and what measures are in place to safeguard the environment and culture.
One example is the Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda, where treks (usually 7 days) must be accompanied by a local guide and porters, there are annual limits in place for how many people can go there, and several of the accommodations near the base are run by local communities.
‘Little acts of kindness can make a huge impact on somebody’s world.’
I am a permanent traveller and have been on the road since March 2017. Here are a few “rules” I am trying to follow to be a responsible traveler:
Support local businesses: Always try to support local businesses vs biggest corporation when possible. Especially with buying tours, I try to go to local agencies or when available to contract a local guide directly.
Local Food: As I love to cook my own food, when possible, I love to shop in the local markets, which is a way to support local vendors and also to eat healthier.
Respect nature, always.
Culture: Understand a culture and respect their traditions and unwritten social rules.
Exploitation: Don’t support beggars and child exploitation by giving tips. It might sound cruel but it only supports the business of those who exploit children for their own interests.
Water: Be wise with water consumption, especially in countries that suffer from water scarcity.
Getting around: Walk or use public transportation when possible.
Be kind to others (always, not only when traveling) and help when you can. Little acts of kindness and consideration can make a huge impact on the world or on somebody’s world.
‘The most destructive thing most travelers do is generate tons of plastic waste’
Tim Leffel, Writer, Author, Editor, Publisher, The World’s Cheapest Destinations
Plastic Pollution: The most destructive thing most travelers do is generate tons of plastic waste by constantly buying bottled water. This is such an easy problem to fix just by buying some kind of water filtration system and they will even pay for themselves in the end. Otherwise they are adding to that country’s garbage woes on a daily basis.
There are lots of things travelers do wrong in terms of disrespecting the culture and it has gotten far worse in the Instagram age, but I’ll let someone less old and cranky address those…
‘Learn about a place’s history, culture, religion, laws, customs, and language’
Joe and Kayla, travel bloggers at JKGO
Research: Our best tip is to learn as much as you can about a destination and culture before you go. Learn about a place’s history, culture, religion, laws, customs, and language. This will give you greater context and understanding of why it’s the way that it is today. You can also help make local people feel appreciated and respected, and avoid accidentally offending anyone.
Etiquette: Take food for example – food etiquette can vary wildly in different cultures around the world. For example, Italians don’t take home leftover food from a restaurant. The Chinese will leave a small amount of food on their plate because an empty plate means that their host didn’t feed them enough. The Japanese slurp their food loudly to express enjoyment. Learn what is customary where you are going to avoid embarrassing yourself or offending your host.
‘Google ‘elephant riding in Thailand’ and you’ll discover all the reasons not to ride elephants’
Viktoria Altman, Blogger, Photographer, Writer – Travel Tipster
No Elephant Rides: Research activities in advance. It only takes a few minutes to search and learn what other people say about activities in the area you will visit. For example, if you google “elephant riding in Thailand” you’ll quickly find out all the reasons not to ride elephants – and all the great alternatives to this activity.
Charities: Understand that not all “charities” are actually charities. In many parts of the world, the word “charity” is used by organizations that are nothing of the sort. For instance, in Thailand, many so-called elephant refuges are just riding camps designed to attract the eco-conscious visitors. A quick search online will help you find information about the specific charity. Additionally you can quickly get a feel of what to look for in a legitimate organization – and when to walk away.
Spread the word: Leave detailed reviews with the good (and the bad) information you find out about a particular organization on popular review forums and websites. Tell your friends, especially those who plan on visiting the same area what to look for and what to avoid.
Got a little room in your suitcase? Contact local organizations and ask them if you could bring them something from abroad. Books, vitamins, and other necessities are a big hit – just be sure to check the country’s regulations before you fly.
‘The reality of visiting Machu Picchu was very different from what I expected’
Gabrielle Small, Travel Blogger, Jack and Gab Explore
Last month, I traveled to Peru. Visiting Machu Picchu was at the top of my list, and I couldn’t wait to see one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. After a stunning train ride through the Peruvian countryside to arrive at Machu Picchu, my excitement was at an all time high.
Reality bites: The reality was very different from what I expected. Crowds around the block lined up at the bus station at 4:30 in the morning to take the bus up the mountain. Then, at the gates of Machu Picchu, more waiting. Once we made it to the incredible historical Incan ruins, more waiting to take a picture in the best spots. The entire experience was basically just waiting in line again and again.
Off the beaten path: When we rented a car and drove deeper into the more rural areas of Peru, it opened up a different world to us. Spending time in Puno on the banks of Lake Titicaca, the locals were more friendly and took a genuine interest in us. There was no waiting at restaurants or attractions.
Authentic experiences: We got an authentic look into the culture of Peru, even spending the night on one of the floating Uros Islands. In even more rural Yanque, Peru, a sign on the bathroom door gave us an entirely new appreciation for rural travel. The sign, handwritten by the host of our Airbnb, thanked us for traveling to rural Peru and improving the standard of life for everyone that lived there.
As responsible travelers and human beings, traveling off-the-grid is something we should all do. It not only leads to a better travel experience, it also improves the lives of others.
‘We want exploring places and meeting people of other cultures to be a major part of our children’s childhoods.’
My family and I travel a lot even though our children are young, as we want exploring other places and meeting people of other cultures to be a major part of their childhoods. Yet we don’t want to contribute to pollution, carbon emissions and exploitative behaviours towards people, animals or destinations, so we very deliberately create our travel experiences to be as sustainable as we can.
We have some wonderful adventures within our home country Australia, as well as in South East Asia. We stayed with a family in rural Thailand to experience village life and support their excellent elephant program, in which we hiked for hours through rainforest to see them living naturally. We also volunteered for a week to help sea turtles on an island in Malaysia, and we’ve supported many social enterprises and ethical initiatives in Cambodia too.
Green travel in Australia: We have recently returned from the heart of Australia, where we explored Uluru respectfully and learnt much about our ancient culture and landscape. We chose not to climb Uluru out of respect for the Anangu people, and instead had a great time riding around the base and learning from a free guided ranger walk. We chose other activities that were supportive of local people and the environment too, and it was such an amazing trip! We were once again reminded of how easy and enjoyable it is to travel sustainably.
Supporting local people with your travel income: Choosing locally-owned accommodation, tours and dining make a big difference to the people who live at the destination. Similarly, supporting local artisans and craftspeople while you shop is important, to prevent cheap knock-offs ruining their business and profiting from their skills. While haggling might be acceptable in many countries, it is never okay to push vendors really hard to save a dollar. Supporting and respecting them is what matters most.
Learn about the culture you and some basic language skills: Understanding the culture of the people whose home you have travelled to is a basic courtesy, even if you do not agree with it all. Respecting their rules and customs prevents offensive behavior, and allows for connection between cultures. Knowing how to say some basic words also goes a long way too.
Reusable items: Take reusable items with you, such as a stainless-steel water bottle, reusable bags and washable straws. These help you minimise the rubbish you create. Also, dealing with any trash you create properly is vital. Hold onto it until you find an appropriate bin and recycle if you can. It’s not ok to litter, not even with cigarette butts as they have become a major polluter to oceans and waterways.
Sunscreen: Using reef-friendly sunscreen and non-toxic bug repellant is also a way to prevent pollution. Standard sunscreens have caused much damage to coral reefs around the world, and toxic bug spray washes off into waterways and can affect other animals, too.
Environment: Being conscious of local endangered species, poaching and unsustainable environmental practices is easy with a little research. Knowing any issues common to the places you are visiting ensures that you don’t inadvertently support them, through souvenir purchases or eating exotic meats for example.
Wildlife: Respecting wildlife in their natural habitats, rather than supporting performance shows or enclosures that feature them in captivity. Demand from tourists is changing animal tourism for the better, and the more support ethical companies receive, the more will become available. Also, never feeding or touching wild animals ensures they do not become dependent on humans.
Photography: Always asking before photographing anyone else. Local people are not photo opportunities and they have the right to say no to a photo. Many Australian aboriginal people do not want to be photographed, ever, yet they are often snapped without their consent. It’s highly disrespectful and offensive to their beliefs and wishes.
Never visiting child orphanages: they are exploitive tourism opportunities. However well-intentioned you are, supporting them now is creating more demand for children who actually have families, to live away from them. It is sad that orphanages have become so unethical: they prey on tourists and local families who are very poor, who send their kids away believing they will have a better life there. The orphanages do not treat most children well and money from travelers does not improve the situation.
Travelling slowly is a great way to have less negative impact as you travel. Immersing yourself in fewer places allows for more understanding to be gained and new friendships to be made. Just skimming over the highlights is usually quite superficial, and you miss most of the wonderful things that make your destination and its people unique.
Travelling slowly has another great benefit: it minimizes your carbon emissions. Going to fewer places means you need fewer connections, and you can utilize bikes or walking tracks more often. Taking public transport or shared transportation wherever possible also helps to lessen your emissions, as does packing lightly. We travelled through South East Asia for four months with carry-on only, so we know it can be done!
‘Homestays and activities operated by locals ensure your money is going directly to the community’
Steph Dyson, Travel blogger – beyond the beaten trail adventures in South America, WorldlyAdventurer.com
Move away from just visiting the tourist hot spots and instead seek out lesser-visited places where hotels, restaurants and tours are more likely to be operated by local people, not large corporations. This also means the money you are spending in the country is being spread a lot further as it won’t just be concentrated in certain areas of the country (and ones potentially lacking the infrastructure to cope sustainably with large numbers of tourists).
Homestays and activities operated by local and indigenous groups are also excellent for ensuring that your money is going directly to the community. These types of activities are better booked on the ground rather than through international tour agencies who will take a proportion of the profits, rather than sending all of the profits directly to the community.
Think carefully about volunteering and whether it’s actually the most responsible thing that you can do. Orphanage volunteering or other types of volunteering are a big no-no and even projects where you build a school or install a well can actually not be as ethically-sound as you might first think. In many instances, donating money to a project rather than your time can have a far more sustainable and greater impact in the long run.