Let me start like this. Why most of all the tourists worldwide don’t care? Give this a minute of thinking.
Okay. I am going to tell you.
We believe that we deserve a break. Break from work duties, difficult decisions and responsibilities. Most of people act differently when on holiday. We believe that besides getting time off work, we are free and we can be careless. We can do whatever we want to. We don’t want to think about things we should do. That’s what we do all the other times. There are no responsibilities, no duties in the world of holidaying.
We drink cocktails just after breakfast, go bungee jumping, spend so much money on fancy lunch. Why? We have worked soooo hard. We deserve a break from thinking about consequences. Holiday is here to enjoy it.
Responsible travelling. Eco-travelling. Green travelling. I hate the sound of them. They make me feel like I do have responsibilities. Damn, I deserve this. I just want to have fun so leave me alone. Telling me what I should do on my holiday is like telling me that I need to take notes while I am reading a book. It's just not enjoyable anymore.
I have worked sooooo hard.
You deserve that exotic street food served on a plastic plate even though it won’t get recycled. It is your turn to enjoy life now. And the millionth plastic bottle you've just thrown away? You will start with recycling again when you are back at home.
What happens in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas.
You have waited for for so long, right? Watching Facebook updates of your friends-travellers for years. You don’t want to give up on flying to far lands because of the carbon footprint. Give up on trying local delicacies because they have been caught unsustainably. Give up on local attractions just because some of their staff are children.
Telling me what I should do on my holiday is like telling me that I need to take notes while I am reading a book. It's just not enjoyable anymore.
I know what I am talking about for one single reason. I have rode an elephant. Call me a hypocrite, lecturing while doing such a thing but this was the most important lesson on responsible travelling I've ever got.
I worked hard to earn enough money to go on my first trip to Asia and I was eager to spend it on experiences of a lifetime. The world was my oyster and this trip was supposed to make up for years of craving for a proper backpacking trip. I felt I really deserved it and I was desperate to belong to the community of other cool backpackers by doing all the cool things they did. And they, believe it or not, rode elephants.
I ended up being offered a three day motorbike tour (if you were in Vietnam, you will know Dalat's Easy Riders) where we would visit elephants in a little village and get to ride them as a part of the tour.
I did ask if the elephants were treated well (you need to trust me on this one — I LOVE animals), the guy organising our tour said they were and that was the end of story for me. I didn’t want to think about any moral issues which could stop me from this experience. I felt like it was my turn. I deserved riding an elephant.
It was a lack of knowledge and enthusiasm for getting as many experiences as possible which surely prevented me from thinking about consequences of this action.
That brings me to the second reason (even more ridiculous than the first one) why people don't care about responsible travelling. They just don't know. Before I went to Vietnam, I didn't read blogs. I didn't go through Pinterest boards. I didn't realise these elephants were probably captured from wilderness and mistreated for years for a pure entertainment of unaware tourists like myself.
I am absolutely sure that amount of people who actually don't care about suffering of animals (environment, people) is very small. The rest cares but needs to be educated.
Riding an elephant was one of the best things I have ever done and probably the worst thing I have ever done. I am really sad to think there are still so many people making the same mistake like me. Because of the lack of knowledge and because they believe they can do anything while they are on holiday. They deserve it, right?
Still thinking that responsible travelling is just for travel nerds who don’t want to fully enjoy the travel experience they are getting? That the difference is next to nothing and that someone else should care?
Responsible travelling: Why you should care
1. we only have one Earth
Quite frankly, we only have one planet. What you do in one place influences people somewhere completely different and it doesn't matter if it is your hometown or other side of the planet. Island nations face rising sea levels and garbage problem which was caused by someone else (Have you ever noticed that it is always inhabitants of these little islands who recycle and take care of other people's garbage brought to them by the sea? This irony keeps bringing me to tears!), smog can be transported over the oceans.
Point is that we can’t think of individual locations as isolated. The world is just one and it is interconnected more than ever before in the past. You link these locations every single time you travel. Who else should care more than you, traveller?
2. You care about the environment most of the time
When I say most of the time, I mean most of the time when you are not travelling. I know that you are an environmentally aware person. I bet you recycle and care about what happens to the environment.
Travelling is no different to your normal life. It doesn't matter where you litter. It doesn't matter where CO2 produced by you goes. Dead endangered species of shark doesn't care if you ate it while on holiday or for Monday supper.
No matter if you are a nomad or go on holiday just once a year, considerate and mindful way of thinking should be a part of your daily routine wherever you are. You brush your teeth both at home and on holiday too, right?
3. Responsible travelling is more Sustainable
I don't know you. But I bet you want to keep travelling. This is a ridiculously obvious fact. Even if you don’t care about the environment, locals or animals, you do care about travelling. And you want to continue travelling and enjoy the same sights tourists enjoyed 20 years ago. Unspoiled, pristine, beautiful.
Last year, the news about The Great Barrier Reef being dead went viral. While this has fortunately turned out to be just a half-truth, it brought attention to one unpleasant fact: that human actions can destroy something as vast and old as the Great Barrier Reef.
With the way tourism industry is working now, soon, there might not be any more corals to admire on tropical islands. No more fish to watch while diving. No more Tibetan antelopes. No more pristine landscapes as they will be full of plastic bottles.
That's why responsible travelling isn't just another vague concept. It might be the only way of travelling if we want to continue.
4. Increasing numbers of tourists
Even if the way people travel stays the same, it is going to get much worse as the amounts of tourists are still rising. While most of people from the Western countries already travel, countries like China are only just getting started. Their middle class grows by thousands (and possibly millions) every year. These new rich want what the previous generations didn’t have. They want to consume and they want to travel. That means a lot more litter on Koh Phi Phi. A lot more sewage in the Caribbean. A lot more elephant rides in Angkor Wat.
While there is nothing we can do about millions of new tourists, we can try to change tourism industry itself. Responsible travelling practises might be the only way certain destinations can survive a tide of new visitors.
Do you think the monks in Thailand enjoy watching tigers suffer? That hotels love changing your towel every single day? No. This is business and they are trying to do whatever they can to satisfy you and get money of you.
If you can show them you are willing to pay for taking care of an elephant instead of riding it and that you will pay the same price for a hotel room even if they don’t change your towel every day, you will motivate them to change their practises. Once the millions start arriving, they will be ready.
5. Tourism impacts people's lives - negatively
Tourism means new income. To the governments and to the people. However, unprecedented numbers of tourists also change local societies in a way nobody expected before. In Thailand, thousands of young girls end up working in dodgy bars as strippers or prostitutes, in a large part for foreign tourists. In India, beggars are organised into gangs concentrated around tourist areas.
Nepal is facing an issue of fake orphanages. Foreign volunteers pay money or raise donations for these institutions full of children whose parents are actually alive. Children are basically being held hostages, unable to reunite with their families as they represent a profitable business.
These are some serious issues all caused by us, oblivious tourists. Responsible travelling means being mindful, thinking about consequences of our actions and taking the right steps to impact the lives of people we encounter in the most positive way possible.
6. Mistreatment of animals
Elephants, camels, dogs, monkeys, tigers, orcas, dolphins. Any animal you can think of is being mistreated right now somewhere in the world for the entertainment of tourists. Would you let your dog suffer? No? Why should we believe that we can let other animals suffer just because we are on holiday and we don’t give a sh*t about what happens after our plane takes off?
World Animal Organisation compiled a list of the cruelest animal attractions around the world. Educate yourself and don't be a part of the problem like me.
7. destruction of local eco-systems
Large amounts of people coming to previously quiet and remote areas are a crazy load for the local ecosystems. Area which used to sustain only small number of local inhabitants is now expected to provide resources to several times more people. Some of these resources include water, firewood, food.
The scary part? It's not just about more people coming to these areas. Even when it comes to the natural resources, it shows up that tourists are much more likely to use more of them while they are on holiday. This UNEP's report says: "Because of the hot climate and the tendency of tourists to consume more water when on holiday than they do at home, the amount used can run up to 440 liters a day. This is almost double what the inhabitants of an average Spanish city use."
Except disproportionate use of resources, tourists leave behind a lot of solid waste, sewage, air pollution caused by increased air/road traffic. Although I am very much aware that locals in many developing countries are indifferent to littering in a much higher degree than foreign visitors, a lot of litter is left behind by tourists.
This is my mini compilation of the litter I saw on my trek in Nepal last year. I took videos on one single day. While a lot of it was thrown away by local villagers, some were definitely a responsibility of tourists (for example toilet paper. Nepalis don't use it.) Also, even if you throw your trash into a bin, as there is often no waste disposal system, your coke bottle will probably end up being burnt behind a village anyway. Consider moving to zero-waste travelling.
Conventional tourism destroys local ecosystems and even threatens the livelihood of local inhabitants who are forced to compete for resources. Responsible travelling, on the other hand, makes it possible to enjoy what a destination has to offer while not hurting it with our actions.
8. Responsible travelling is more authentic
You want the authentic experience, right? Not the fake tribesmen, shows for tourists. You want the real stuff. Unfortunately, there are less and less places where you could encounter traditional cultures as they existed a hundred years ago. Most of the encounters are shows for tourists which are good for a Facebook album but give you no real experience. Don't travel to take photos. Don't travel to see the world which doesn't exist anymore.
Conventional travelling gives you a new profile picture. Responsible travelling gives you memories to remember your whole life. There are other ways to connect with locals, you know? They won't be dressed in traditional costumes but they will be real. I will much rather speak to a local girl in jeans than watch a performance of a bored looking “villager” in a traditional costume who only learnt the choreography last week and now can’t wait to get to his phone.
Seeking real experiences is an integral part of responsible and mindful travelling. It is the kind of travelling which gives you much more insight into different cultures, enriches you and lets you grow.
So there’s an ugly true, my dear traveller. With every action you take, no matter what part of the world you are in, you influence your social, cultural and natural environment. The sooner we admit this, the sooner we can move on and start changing things for the better.
Doesn't tourism sound like a terrible, terrible pursuit?
Umph, I am glad you know now!
Fortunately, you are not the first one to realise. There are now plenty of people who travel responsibly and try to reduce their negative impacts on local communities and environments. AND they write about it to make it easier for suckers like us.
Responsible Travelling: Resources
1. Just a Pack
This travel blog is run by Randi and Michael, nomads who have been travelling for over two years and are currently based in Prague (definitely follow their Facebook page for some beautiful photos of Prague and the Czech Republic). They are not afraid going off the beaten track…and writing about it.
Although you find all sorts of posts on their blog, it is their devotion to travel responsibly with minimal impact what sets them apart from other travel bloggers. They show you green accommodation options from around the world and gear you shouldn’t miss as a responsible traveller. Don't mind getting your hands dirty? Good. They have some great tips for your travels too.
I’ve been following Just a Pack for a while. As a blogger myself, I know how difficult it is not to get caught up in typical content everyone else is creating. Randi and Michael set up trends and write about topics others might find...just too much. The proof is a really helpful & informative article about menstruation cup for female travellers. How many other bloggers would write about this? :)
Alesha and Jarryd, an adventurous Australian couple who don’t mind going rough. They trek, they hang out with locals in the remotest areas possible, they travel overland tens of thousands miles instead of flying. They are always after authentic as well as real.
Nomadasaurus write about what they say — adventurous travelling. There isn’t a trek long enough or dangerous enough for them not to conquer. I put them on this list of great resources for their commitment to go deep and local, showing that travelling off-the-beaten track benefits local communities and isn’t as difficult as some believe. Although responsible travelling is not their main focus, they do travel responsibly and their values infiltrate everything they write about — using technologies such as steripen, travelling overland, meeting locals.
Alesha and Jarryd are responsible travellers but don’t make a big fuss about it. They believe in the power of example. I love their courage and devotion to stay with local people and travel to countries less travelled. Follow them for great in-depth travel guides with an ethical side to it + gorgeous photos!
What really stands out to me is this article where they explain their beliefs and humble hopes for the future of responsible tourism. I hope we can look forward to more articles on responsible travelling soon!
3. Nomad is beautiful
Another personal favourite of mine and another couple! Ivanka and Gianni are people with a deep understanding of social, cultural and environmental issues you encounter while travelling and passion for natural living. They even seem to attract beautiful people like themselves! (And they write about it in their Beautiful People series.)
Their posts focus on responsible travel destination and activities. So no more excuses that if you travel responsibly you won’t have fun. They are also very knowledgable about different conservation areas and projects such as elephants in Thailand or rhinos in Africa. They are also committed to spread the word on what we can actually (and very specifically) do to help people around us while travelling.
The post I have been going back to over and over is a super informative and inspirational article Why and How to Help Locals While Travelling. These guys develop bonds with local people and have an amazing and gentle insight into human soul. Reading their posts always puts a smile on my face!
4. Lonely planet
The Travel Bible. Do I need to say more? The distinct blue travel guide books are carried, swapped, lost and forgotten by travellers all over the world and recently even the Lonely Planet website started being really quite useful!
Besides classic country travel guides, they issue topic-focused books, phrasebooks or experience guides. Being always a few steps ahead, the Lonely Planet also started speaking of responsible travelling before it became a buzzword. As with everything else they do, books will give you an idea of issues you might encounter on your travels, basic understanding of cultural differences or suggest volunteering opportunities. Not more, not less.
You can’t not love Lonely Planet, right? They explain everything in simple words without beating behind the bush while telling you everything you need to know to be a responsible traveller in a certain destination. I was for example very impressed by the extent they went into while speaking about responsible trekking in Nepal.
5. Responsible travel
Google search likes these guys and it has sent me to their website so many times over the past months that eventually I started wondering what it was all about. Because Responsible Travel has always answered my questions! They are a tour company focusing on responsible travelling around the world but even if you are not interested in booking a tour with them, their website is super helpful and full of useful information.
Obviously, a lot of their website concentrates around tours they provide. However, they have heaps of free travel guides with surprisingly in-depth information on different ways of travelling, including, of course, responsible travelling. Besides general guidelines concerning responsible tourism, Responsible Travel offers concrete ways of helping the communities you are travelling to… or at least not harming them. They also mention their campaigns related to each country.
What I like about Responsible Travel is their commitment to travel ethically which extends far beyond their commercial purposes. They also provide a lot of really useful information — completely for free. Although I am not much of a tour traveller, if I was going to go on a tour, I wouldn’t mind going with these guys!
In case you have never heard of Workaway, read on. When people ask me about it, I compare it with Woofing and Couchsurfing but it is so much more than that. Workaway allows people to find hosts from all around the world to provide them with food and accommodation for free or a small fee in exchange for a couple of hours of work every day.
The work you do can be anything — teaching English in a school, helping with household chores, participating on a new permaculture project on farm or even building an ashram. There are also quite a few NGOs listed now and so you can get involved with various organisations empowering women, local communities or for example helping stray dogs.
For me, Workaway is the top. It lets you get to know the locals in a way only few other programmes out there allow you. You become a part of their life, potentially family, and start understanding their customs and habits much better. You can enrich their life with new skills and perspectives too.
7. Working Abroad
There are heaps of organisations facilitating volunteering opportunities out there. Working Abroad is one of them. They put a great emphasis on learning process while volunteering with one of their affiliated NGOs.
Working Abroad provides you with opportunity of volunteering for various projects related to conservation, community development, teaching or health care. You do need to pay but I found Working Abroad placements much more affordable than other organisations of this type.
Yes, there are a lot of companies like Working Abroad out there, however, from my personal experience, these guys are really good. They make sure the NGOs they cooperate with are seeking a real impact rather than just cashing in on naive foreigners. Also, they often post available positions on their Facebook page. If you want to genuinely make a difference while volunteering, I would definitely recommend their company.
Green Global Travel
One more couple! The masterminds behind this eco-tourism blog are Bret and Mary, nature enthusiasts who have been sharing their stories of connecting with the Mother Earth for some time now. No matter what climate or eco-system you can think of, they have been there and they have written about it!
Bret and Mary tell you their best tips on how to enjoy natural environment while not harming local eco-systems or wildlife and give you great alternatives to conventional means of travel. Their view is fresh and topics they write about aren't those you easily find anywhere else.
Rather than giving a few tips every now and then, in their "Go Green" series, Bret and Mary have shared more than 120 (!) practical and easily done tips on how to green your life not just while travelling but also while living at home. Definitely a blog you should follow no matter where you are in your life right now!
9. The Path She took
Cora is a green tourism enthusiast, vegetarian, nature lover and still a girl living normal travel life despite her ceaseless efforts to reduce her impact on the environment.
Her blog is packed with tips and advice on more sustainable ways of travelling from eco-friendly cosmetics to eco-unfriendly accommodation options and what to do about them. Follow if you want yet another proof that great travel experiences and responsible travelling go hand in hand!
Cora really is an enthusiast and she really is just a normal girl who doesn't compromise her comfort or standards to keep it up with her green travelling values. Get inspired!
10. Uncornered Market
Nomadic couple, adventurers, teachers, storytellers and speakers. Audrey and Dan live a life of travel but take it to a completely different dimension. Travelling in their eyes is a two-way road which can enrich you just as much as it can help people you interact with.
Audrey and Dan are people’s people. They have a deep understanding of social injustice you encounter while you travel and great empathy. They write about local communities and places just as much as they write about you - what you should do as a traveller rather than what you should expect from the places you visit. Their brilliant travel and food guides are just a cherry on a cake.
What sets Uncornered Market from many other blogs and websites to me is the depth of analysis they scrutinise their topics with. They put an emphasis on the information value and you always get the whole story — the good, the bad and what you can do about it. Great blog about growing as a person...while travelling. My favourite post? Their recent Redefining Tourism: 20 Tips for the Mindful Traveler.
One more volunteering organisation. Grassroots Volunteers started only a few years ago but managed to develop a network of grassroots organisations and NGOs to whom they provide volunteers.
You can use Grassroots Volunteers to find all sorts of volunteering opportunities around the world, a lot of them are for free as well. Some of the areas you can get involved with are for example teaching opportunities, conservation etc.
I like the choice of volunteering opportunities which are for free. Although I understand the point of paying for volunteering (especially as an unskilled youngster), high participation fees have stopped me from so many great opportunities! Big thumbs up!
12. Pack For A Purpose
The system is easy — go to their website, choose your destination and look for registered organisations. Those can be for example schools in need of material help which you will provide them with. By simply packing the stuff with you as you travel.
Although I have never participated on this yet, I love the idea! Especially in case of items which are hard to get by in certain countries. In case of others, I keep thinking of participating but actually buying the stuff as I arrive to the country. Like that, you benefit the locals twice — receivers of the materials and local businessmen. Win-win!
13. Altruistic Traveller
Altruistic Bianca has a hands-on experience from many countries across the globe and stays true to her mission: spread the word about responsible travelling as much as she can.
As she states right on the first page, she is particularly interested in a community development. But her blog encompasses so much more. Read about ethical eateries from around the world (those which support local communities, for example), conservation projects, her encounters with locals, responsible city travel guides and much more.
What I love about this blog the most is especially Bianca's determination to write about responsible travelling from all different angles and showing that being ethical, you can still enjoying your travels. Also, after reading some of the posts, there will be no more excuses that you don't have money/time to get involved! Going to a social cafe instead of Starbuck's or buying fair-trade souvenirs made by ethnic minorities instead of Chinese fake versions is what makes a difference too.
14. Nomadic Matt
Nomadic Matt is to travel blogs what Lonely Planet is to travel guide books. His blog was one of the first ones out there and got real big. Matt is a nomad in his heart and is not afraid of pointing out realities of travelling other bloggers overlook (or just don’t want to speak about as it is not exactly a crowd-pleaser topic).
Although Matt doesn’t identify himself as a responsible travel blogger, I think it was years of experience with travelling, living abroad and volunteering which made him realise that the model of travelling as we know it now needs to change.
As more of a general travel blog, Matt uses his influence on “conventional backpackers” who his readers are in an admirable way. No matter the truths he speaks about aren’t sweet talk, he says them aloud and makes thousands of people aware of these topics even though they wouldn’t be actively searching for them in a first place.
15. Homestay, AirBnb, couchsurfing
Some of them are paid, some of them are for free, the idea is still the same. Stay with locals in their own houses, speak to them, learn about them, live in a new place like a local yourself.
There are so many reasons why staying with locals options are much more responsible. For me, it is mainly the fact of dispersing the income between wider population rather than making it stay with a few hotels or hostels in the area so that everyone can benefit. Also, as a vegetarian, it is also a great option to cook for myself - good to your diet and also budget.
16. Rob Greenfield
This guy does…everything. Seriously, he is one of the most devoted eco activists out there. In his own words, he’s the dude making a difference.
He is a passionate zero-waster, permaculturer, cyclist, volunteer, social and environmental activist. On his website, you can watch videos and read posts documenting his journey. Also, all these materials are under Creative Commons licence which means you can share and work with them in whatever way you want!
Rob Greenfield activities are more like an inventory of everything you can and should do not just while travelling but also when having a “normal life”. He shows you that even a little charitable act matters and that the only thing you need is courage and hope that you CAN change things. Get inspired by all his activities and take the change into your own hands.
So these are my 16 favourite resources for responsible travelling. Have I missed your favourite one? Share with me in the comments!