Author: Ipsita Barua, Travel Editor
“I don’t like to travel to see new places”, said nobody ever. With all our vacation plans still being fuzzy and blurry, travel might no longer be as carefree and spontaneous. Itineraries now have to consider flight re-routes, restrictions, health guidelines, accommodations adhering to safety measures and a whole lot of baggage the pandemic has dumped upon us. I agree it does take away some bit of the pack-and-go excitement but it’s also herding travel enthusiasts towards Responsible Tourism, a term often heard but quickly dismissed as a jargon coined by high-flying travel columnists.
So, what exactly does Responsible Tourism/ Travel entail? Is it worth making room for in a tight-grid travel plan? Do you have to cross out that luxury spa off your list? Do you only have to stay in guesthouses and inns?
There are some essential do’s and don’ts for being responsible travellers, but nothing that threatens to dampen your experience or mar your excitement.
What does it mean to travel responsibly?
It’s a bit deeper than being responsible for your valuables and belongings. It’s all about being responsible for your actions while travelling. It’s about being socially and culturally aware and consciously taking the right decisions while choosing your accommodation, transport, tour guide, activities, restaurants and souvenir shops that will leave a positive impact on the people and place.
Nobody likes to be seen or remembered as ‘that loud, annoying and irresponsible tourist’, and a disdained embodiment of narcissism in someone else’s city or country. Show you care, respect and understand the customs, culture, beliefs and sensibilities of the place you visit.
Here are a few simple things to keep in mind the next time you travel.
Hotels, resorts and all other commercial accommodations are increasingly adopting eco-friendly measures to offer sustainable stays. This includes farm-to-table dining, using alternative energy sources, energy saving lighting, recycling, option to decline daily cleaning services, occupancy sensors in rooms that control lights, electronics, blinds and temperature setting, low-flow showerheads and toilets and green cleaning products. Take some time to research your hotel and check whether they help to preserve the environment and support their local community. You can also check for certifications from places like Green Globe, Earth Check or a membership to a Green Hotel Association.
Know the culture
Read up on the culture of the place you are planning to visit and learn a few basic words of the local language that translate into Hello, Thank You, Sorry, Excuse Me or Please. Take care not to invade privacy by taking photographs without asking, being too loud or noisy, dressing inappropriately or disrespecting religious traditions. It’ll earn you respect and the generosity of the locals.
Hire a local guide
There’s no better person to show you a place as passionately as a local does.
Not only would you be supporting the local community but also discovering hidden gems, learning little-known facts about the local life, food, landscape, history and enjoying an all-rounded authentic experience of the place. You will find that local guides have a personalized approach, are more flexible to accommodate changes and greatly helpful in avoiding scamsters who target unsuspecting visitors.
Never buy products made from endangered species, hard woods or ancient artefacts. If you are investing in a piece of expensive jewellery or precious gems, research the legality and ethics of the outlet before you go. Always look for items and souvenirs that are handmade locally and browse the streetside vendors and flea markets for unique gifts and great deals. You’ll get better value for your hard-earned money while also contributing to the livelihood of the local people.
Avoid animal excursions
While riding elephants, petting tigers and watching orcas do the flip sound exotic and offer Instagram-worthy photo ops, it’s a complete no no. Most of these tours are completely unethical or even illegal, focusing on the big tourist bucks rather than the well-being of the animals who are help captive and forced to perform for entertainment. Look for animal rescue shelters or NGOs that are transparent in their operations and you could choose to either spend some time or money as a volunteer.
Leave no trace
Did you know that hermit crabs rely on shells you take from the beach? The biodiversity of a place is as much a living, breathing being as its population. Refrain from plucking exotic wildflowers on your hike, displacing corals while snorkelling or picking shells from the beach. It upsets an entire eco-system. If you are picnicking or camping, make sure you clean up the place spotlessly before leaving and dispose any plastic or non-degradable waste appropriately.
While we are all learning to embrace an altered everyday life, why should travel be any different, especially when you can make a positive impact on cultures, communities and the environment simply by being more aware and conscious, while making great memories.
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