Responsible travel is all about helping to share some of the benefits of tourism with local people without causing negative effects on either the environment or their culture.
I’m in favour of this and hence this post all about it.
It’s vital so that local communities can share the creation of positive employment, better working conditions and increased standards of living from our visit rather than be detrimentally affected.
Local people benefit from tourism by through receiving increased income which, when managed correctly, can be used to improve standards of education, diet and access to medical treatment.
If travellers remain ignorant and uncaring as to how their travel arrangements affect others, tourism will continue to just make the rich hotel owners, property owners, travel companies and shop owners even richer while the poorer members of the community will remain exploited and struggling to improve their circumstances.
Here are some guide-lines for responsible travellers to follow for low-impact, culturally sensitive and environmentally friendly travel.
I love to go before I go – this part of the trip is the build up and the anticipation. Oh, how I love to research, read blogs about the places we are about to go. Our study of other cultures and languages helps us to respect the people we are travelling amongst and heightens our personal experience. It is much more fulfilling and satisfying to be able to participate in other cultures fully and knowledgeably.
We like to seek out information from guide books but also look into their history, their classic and contemporary literature and film. Look into the culturally accepted behaviour, customs, etiquettes and dress codes.
As girls we often need to be aware of how our dress may be considered culturally insensitive and be willing and aware of the need to adapt- a long loose skirt or pair of trousers or a shawl, even if you’re at an age that you get too hot!
And for the younger gals – Short shorts are usually too short!
Make an effort before you leave on your travels to learn some valuable phrases in the languages of the place you are visiting or even consider language CDs or classes.
It’s worth the effort.
In France & Italy, even making the attempt will encourage a more understanding exchange, and in South America, the local people will be delighted with your venture into their native tongue.
If you wish to be a responsible traveller, it’s a good idea to think about where your money is going. Luckily, these days, travel companies are becoming much more aware of human rights issues and there are usually choices you can make that will result in positive benefits for local communities and the environment.
This may mean that you won’t just be able to pick the cheapest option – definitely a temptation when trying to travel on a tight budget – but it is rewarding.
Here are some of the adventures and places we chose with ethical and responsible travel in mind.
We found several independent articles which spoke of Llama Path’s commitment to not just meeting the legal requirements of porters’ maximum weight carried and minimum wage, but to going above and beyond.
They are providing excellent sportswear uniforms, hiking boots, medical insurance, fixed work rotations and improved food rations and sleeping conditions.
Even with all this added concern for the welfare of their porters, they were still competitively priced. Having completed the trail with them, we agree with what we originally read, and were pleased that the company we chose definitely had their priorities in order.
Our wish to visit the Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador was made into a reality at the Napo Wildlife Centre and Eco-Lodge. The local Anangu Quichua Community established and built the Lodge with the desire to protect their ancestral lands (now the Yasuni National Park) and have the means to maintain the lifestyle, traditions and beliefs of their culture.
This is eco-tourism at its best and the conservation of the environment, wildlife and the community for the future is apparent and definitely rewards the decision to see the rainforest as their guests.
On some of the islands of Lake Titicaca, there was the chance to participate in community controlled tourism whereby home stays, transportation and dining is offered by the locals.
On Taquille Island, the local people lost control because of mass day-trip tourism that was controlled by non-Taquileans. So they developed their own tourism model which includes lodging for groups, cultural activities and local guides.
On the nearby island of Amantani some families open their homes to tourists for overnight stays and provide cooked meals, arranged through tour guides, which we did. It was fun but very cold so we needed all the deliciously warm and heavy blankets on offer.
The families who do this are required to have a special room set aside for the tourists and must follow a code by the tour companies that help them. It was a great way to be hosted by the locals, and know that the accommodation costs were going directly into the home.
We’re staying in Caye Caulker, Belize… and on our way home we meet the ‘Caye Caulker Caveman’. He’s a solid guy, with dark frizzy hair that’s sun bleached white on top… and a big smile that stretches from ear to ear… It turns out Caye Caulker Caveman is a true legend of the sea.
He tells us it’s his job to respect the sea, make us happy, and show us his special place.
We loved his character instantly, and after some friendly banter, we booked a snorkelling trip with him for the next day.
After a fast ride in a little ‘collectivo’ van from Tulum, we got dropped off to take the short walk to the beach. In total contrast to our exhirilating swimming with whale sharks, this was a calm and relaxing day with the turtles.
We had the impression we were just going to cruise onto the beach, hire snorkels and be off.
This wasn’t the case, the beach was packed with people.
Thankfully in the last few years there’s been some controls put in place to preserve this amazing place.
Hopefully it’s not too late.
Initially I was a little disappointed that we couldn’t just go off and do our own thing. Then I quickly realised that not everyone is responsible as us.
The results of massive snorkel tourism, and related bad practices have played havoc here (grabbing green sea turtles, standing on coral, poaching sea turtle nests, illegal vendors, shoddy equipment.)
Although a lot of the time I like to cook my own food, I do like to try ‘some’ local delicacies.
Don’t just visit Western restaurants – buying yet another burger isn’t going to be something to write home about and it’s great to try and spend your money in local businesses.
We chose to drink the local Corn Beer and delicious Pisco Sours in Peru, delicious fruit shakes in Bolivia, local rum in Nicaragua, Mojito’s in Cuba and Myanamar Mules in Myanmar all served by locals, much more exciting than a branded soda in a can.
Then there’s Cuy In Peru, fried bugs in Mexico, deep fried birds and frogs in Myanmar, pig’s offal in Singapore…the list goes on.
Some people get caught up in the exhilaration of their currency being worth a lot in another country. Yes, you don’t want to get ripped off, and haggling can be addictive or annoying, but it can be important to remind oneself that a small difference in price to you can mean quite a lot to the local trader.
Don’t be too hard-line as it can end up ruining your own experience, being fair and realistic can be rewarding too.
In many of the places that we visit, there are clearly defined rules as to how to respect the environment. On our cruise in Galapagos there were rules prescribed by Ecuadorian law that we wouldn’t dream of disobeying as they made too much sense!
Rules such as not removing or taking any natural objects or animals from the islands, keeping to the paths, not touching or feeding any animals, no littering or defacing of rocks! The places we visited were so beautiful there was no way we wanted to spoil any of it.
It definitely pays to have a guide who knows what they’re talking about when it comes to limiting environmental impact, and choosing a company that really cares about not just maintaining the status quo but seeks to improve and facilitate ecological development and growth.
It does pay to think about what is happening to your rubbish and sensitively using limited resources such as water, electricity and fuel. Some countries might not have the user-friendly council provided rubbish and recycling bins and facilities, so think smart and ask the locals.
Often glass bottles can be reused and so they are the more environmentally friendly option over plastic or aluminium cans.
Many travellers think ‘leave only footsteps, take only photos’.
But in some cultures, the images that you make and take may not be welcome or accepted. So it is important not to merely treat people as part of the scene or landscape.
Sometimes, photos can even be considered sensitive politically and you may be in danger of upsetting the authorities if you are found with certain photographs. Definitely don’t pictures inside the church here or you could end up in jail!
Some cultures also believe image of self are taboo and can inflict damage or steal a person’s soul. This may be from ignorance, or may be part of cultural or religious beliefs, so do respect their opinions and refrain from what may be considered offensive and intrusive behaviour.
While you may only be wishing to record another way of life or living, the people for whom this is their way of life, may feel disrespected or embarrassed at this attention.
Often if you do take a photo without asking, people will demand payment, and you can sometimes be offered their involvement before they name their price. Although I don’t actually agree with this, if locals have dressed up with having their photos taken for cash obviously in mind, then negotiate a price first to avoid things turning nasty.
And although it may seem that paying for their participation may seem a good way to put money into local hands, it can encourage begging especially amongst children and in turn this can lead to exploitation.
If you have a digital camera, then showing the photos you take to the local people can be the best way of gaining their support if they don’t understand what you are trying to do and they will probably find it very excited if they are not used to seeing themselves in a photo.
In Bali the kids squealed with delight seeing themselves on my camera screen.
Perhaps what is most important is having the desire to be a responsible traveller. For us it’s vital to actually care about the impact and consequences of our time in other countries and cultures.