There is now more than ever a consciousness around the practice of ethical travel. A heightened respect of different cultures, seas and lands. Being able to travel is a privilege, and as tourists and travellers, we need to be aware of the impacts we can have.
How to be a more ethical traveller
If you’re conscious of being as respectful and aware as you can when travelling, I have outlined some carefully considered points below to help you to be as ethical and respectful (of people and planet) as possible whilst on the road.
1. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Repurpose, Repair
All the R’s. From reducing your plastic waste on the road by using a reusable water bottle and not wrapping your luggage in plastic wrap, recycling any plastic that you do end up purchasing, re-using cotton canvas shopping bags and re-purposing old plastic containers, and repairing backpacks and clothes.
Can you also begin to reduce your plastic consumption by looking to buy travel products and clothing from a more sustainable production line, or items made from biodegradable or recyclable materials? Like cotton clothing or a bamboo toothbrush, remember only to replace things like toothbrushes, when your original plastic one has worn out.
2. Look at different modes of transport
As travellers, this is often the toughest issue to change, as travelling great distances will usually involve a flight. We all want to explore, learn and see, and flying is often the mode of transport that springs to mind. And as we should all now know it is not great for the environment…
We can offset our carbon footprint, or try and fly less. But preferably we should be switching to different modes of transport where we can. Now while it’s not yet possible to catch a train to New Zealand, Europe on the other hand has excellent train links, and catching the train instead of a flight is more eco-friendly.
France has now banned short domestic flights to encourage people to catch the train instead.
Even simply choosing to walk and bike more at a destination, over hiring a car or taxi, is optimal. For greater distances and moving between two destinations, always try and check out public transport options like buses and trains over flying. It will likely be cheaper!
3. Avoid companies which don’t uphold good animal welfare
It can be hard to tell how some tour operators/businesses/individuals truly treat their animals, but there are some obvious places to avoid, like photo ops with drugged wild cats, or any shows where animals are forced to perform. (Sorry ‘seaworlds’ of the world, but we’ve all been exposed to the questionable training methods and depressed marine mammals circling their tanks and we don’t like it).
We should really be supporting only zoos and sanctuaries that keep animals for conservational reasons (like the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust on Jersey) or rehabilitation centres. The history of the ‘zoo’, was to impress people with wild and exotic animals for the sake of earning money, and without a care towards the animal’s welfare.
Although many zoos have greatly improved conditions, it still stems from the history of earning money for the display of wild animals. Essentially we shouldn’t really be interacting with (caging/feeding/touching) wild animals unless it’s on their terms, or to protect them.
4. Buy locally sourced produce
Food, drinks, souvenirs, and beer too! Not only does it directly support the people of the country you’re in, but it also helps to reduce your carbon footprint caused by imported goods.
Visit markets, try and find shops that are “made in (this country!)” and avoid the big ol’ chains like Starbucks and McDonald’s, they don’t need your money, but the local farmer or cafe does.
5. Learn about the culture
You don’t have to study like you’re cramming for an exam. But I think it’s important to try and understand what a culture is like today, and how it got there. Find out what the local religions are, learn some of the language basics, visit a local museum to understand that country’s history and even delve into their recent history. From wars and governmental issues to natural disasters. It’s a simple act, but it will be appreciated by locals, and you’ll learn a lot.
Having knowledge and sensitivity to certain issues or cultural differences may also stop you from being unintentionally offensive. For example, wearing modest clothing in many places of worship, bringing a gift to a Fijian village chief or not exposing the soles of your feet in many Middle Eastern countries.
6. Choose eco-tours & activities
So many tour operators are now recognising their customer’s need for sustainable options. From dive boats on the Great Barrier Reef that encourage reef-safe sunscreen and use less fuel, like the boat Daytripper! To actually choosing more eco-friendly options, like bike hire instead of car hire, or hopping into a kayak instead of a power boat.
7. Leave no trace
From responsibly throwing away or recycling your litter, using only designated campfire spaces, not touching coral reefs, to leaving living and especially endangered seashells and flowers in place. If you can go the extra mile and even pick up other people’s litter, well that’s just grand.
We should leave places exactly as we found them, not only for others to enjoy, but to minimise any damage or irreversible destruction to ecosystems or habitats.
8. Visit in the low seasons
A great way to help local communities, particularly areas that become particularly touristy at certain times of the year, is to try and visit them out of season.
It reduces the demand on services and the environment, spreads the financial benefit of tourism throughout the year, and it will likely be a little cheaper for you! If an area is touristy all year round, consider the possibility of trying somewhere else instead.
9. Say no to daily linen changes
This is a little hotel-specific, and some hotels are even encouraging this themselves which is great! But if you’re staying for more than one night, hang up your towels and hang the ‘do not disturb’ sign on your door so the hotel staff know not to enter the room and change the sheets/towels. It helps to majorly reduce the amount of water and cleaning detergent used.
10. Keep the conversation going
To help out, we should all be talking more about ethical travel, with family, friends and even other travellers (without being preachy of course). The more we can bring it to the forefront of our minds and normalise these actions, the better our relationship will be with cultures different to our own, and the planet as a whole. Every act counts.