Most adventure travelers place a high priority on doing no damage during their adventures, but just how can you make sure that your travel is as ethical as it can be? Here are our cardinal rules of sustainable travel that you should try to follow the next time you’re away from home.
Photo By: Chris Potter
1) Take Only Memories (and Photos)
“Take only memories, leave only footprints, kill nothing but time” is that old quotable quote. But it couldn’t be more true as the basis for sustainable travel. This means not damaging in any way the sites, the nature, the culture, the locals – and treat where you are with respect in every way. This also means don’t litter. Don’t touch or take from the wild – for instance, if you’re scuba diving don’t touch the fish, break off pieces of coral or pick up the starfish. Don’t break bits off sacred sites and tourist attractions as souvenirs, instead – where allowed – take photos.
2) Carbon Off-Sets
Sometimes it will be inevitable that you have to take a plane ride to your destinations. To combat airline carbon emissions, which makes up something like 2% of global emissions, some airlines offer the option of buying carbon offsets when you buy your tickets. Some airlines with offset programs include Virgin Australia, British Airways, American Airways, Air Canada and many more. If you volunteer to buy these carbon offsets it means you to fly “carbon neutral,” which is a great contribution to traveling more sustainably. Another option is to choose alternatives to airline travel, if you can. If it’s a short flight, you might be able to make the same journey overland, which might take a bit longer but is better for the environment AND allows you to have far more adventure along the way. Taking public transport options like a bus or train are the best, but if your route allows why not cycle? You are going on an adventure holiday aren’t you?
3) Reusable Water Bottles
Plastic water bottles are a huge enemy to sustainable travel. If you’re going somewhere hot it’s likely you’ll be drinking your way through dozens of bottles each week. While in many countries bottled water is the norm, you can do your bit to help by using a reusable bottle instead. If water quality is a problem and that’s why you’d like to buy new bottles of water all the time consider using water purification tablets instead.
4) Eat Local
To add to the sustainability of your trip, try to buy from locals meaning eating locally grown food, made by local workers. Avoid big international chains, as they often do little to help locals, and they often import their food from overseas meaning you’re missing a great chance to help local growers and farms. Of course, never buy items made with parts of endangered animals. Our recommendation is that you buy from local farms and markets if you can instead of chain supermarkets if you plan on cooking yourself, or if you’re eating out try street food and little local restaurants instead of big international coffee chains and fast food restaurants. In this way you’re helping the environment plus helping the local’s by contributing your money to them – not international businesses.
5) Don’t Hurt Wildlife
Never hurt the environment. That elephant or donkey ride, or tiger park may be doing far more harm to the animals than you think. If you do want to get up close to animals find tours or companies that guarantee that their animals are properly cared for and aren’t mistreated. Avoid anything that looks like animals might be harmed for tourist’s pleasure. There are also animal orphanages and hospitals where you could try to volunteer if you can. But these rules also apply if you’re out on your own. For example, if you’re scuba diving don’t ride on that turtle, touch the fish and other sea-life, break off pieces of coral, kick the reefs with your fins and so forth.
6) Be Culturally Appropriate
There are many elements to traveling sustainably and one is that you take only memories, without leaving behind your cultural mark on the place. This means dressing appropriately for starters. If a country is more conservative and almost everyone has their knees and shoulders covered then don’t wear shorts and a singlet top – even if that’s what you’d wear back home. If a mosque or church has rules that you must wear a scarf to cover your hair and shoulders then follow the guidelines without fuss. Find out any other local customs and try to fit in. For example if you’re in a Muslim country during Ramadan don’t flout the rules like breaking the fast in public. Follow the rules of your hostel or home-stay too. Finally, another important consideration is that you should never disrespect people by taking photos of them without asking permission first. You wouldn’t like a tourist taking photos of you going about your everyday life back home, so don’t assume your photo subject is OK unless you’ve asked and they told you to go ahead. If you do take a photo, they’ll be super happy – especially the kids – if you show them the image, but if you promise to send them a copy of the image, then you should remember to do so once you get home.
7) Be a Good Ambassador
You’re on holidays, you want to have a good time, we understand that – but the locals shouldn’t come at your expense. Most of the time the locals will be more than happy to give you directions, provide tips and generally be very welcoming of tourists who want to see the sites in their homeland. But tourists also have to hold up their end of the bargain by being culturally respectful, obeying local laws and generally behaving well. This can mean anything from not screaming if the bouncer has told you the club is in a residential area, to not littering, and not being that stereotypical “obnoxious tourist.” Be a good ambassador for your home country by following these rules, and you’ll help ensure that other tourists will be welcome after you.
+1 check out our recent article on tips on volunteering abroad.