Life needs a little spice every now and again, which is why travelling has become such a necessity for many of us.
Perhaps 'responsible travel' sounds, well, too responsible, when adventures are all about seizing the moment.
When else would a tipple at 11 am be a fabulous idea? Or scaling limestone rocks even if you actively avoid a commute with a slight incline of a hill? And, of course, you’ll try that deep-fried cricket, even if you’d usually turn your nose up at a pallid cheese sandwich from the reduced section, even though it looks like it could survive a nuclear war. That's what travel's all about!
The usual rules just don’t apply when you’re travelling, and that can reinvigorate a lust for life. But sometimes complacency can cause far-reaching negative effects.
It happens to the best of us, often without even realising the implications. The concern is that international travel is on the rise and a lot of insignificant actions are becoming hugely significant, threatening the beautiful world we love to explore.
Here at the Wild Frontiers office, our responsible travel team often meet to discuss ways that we can make a positive impact on the countries we visit and share ideas on how we can travel more responsibly.
So, here are our suggestions for some small positive changes you can implement the next time you set off on your adventures:
When booking with Wild Frontiers, check out our policies on responsible travel. It’s been an integral part of our business policy from the very beginning and we’ve even established the Wild Frontiers Foundation to create awareness and deliver funding to projects within the destinations we visit. These kinds of initiatives are gaining momentum in the tourism industry, so even if you don’t book with us, be mindful of this elsewhere. After all, they should be handling the intricacies of eco-travel for you, saving you extra research time.
Research places that are not typical tourist hotspots. Over-tourism isn’t just about being annoyed at throngs of tourists in your photos, robbing you of the ‘authenticity’ of a place. Unfortunately, it’s causing damage to world heritage sites that have stood the test of time, it’s damaging the environment and in some cases, is negatively impacting the communities in popular bucket-list destinations.
There are plenty of amazing places out there not overrun by tourists. They're not only more atmospheric, but you’re more likely to be sold unique wares for good prices and you’ll have the opportunity to get to know local people and understand a different way of life in a genuine way. They'll serve more authentic, tasty food, too! This strengthens the surrounding communities and will leave you feeling richer for the experience. We always take this into consideration when creating itineraries. Check out our blog on alternative bucket list destinations to get some inspiration.
Machu Picchu is a huge victim of over-tourism. In just 20 years tourist numbers jumped from 400,000 to 1.4 million tourists, damaging the ancient ruins. After UNESCO threatened to place it on the 'List of World Heritage Sites in Danger,' the Peruvian government limited ticket numbers to 5,000 a day, to be used in two timed slots, and visitors must be accompanied by an approved guide.
Try to prioritise eco-friendly or locally owned hotel/guesthouse options, if you’re not booking with us. They often put a huge amount of effort into lessening the impact on the environment, so it makes it easier for you to travel responsibly. You'll sometimes find that these hotels will employ and train locals for staff, frequently providing much-needed jobs.
Research local customs and phrases in the local language, once you’ve settled on the right experience for you. Even the smallest of efforts shows consideration and respect.
We select eco-friendly accommodation such as the Shinta Mani Wild on our Southern Cambodia in Luxury Tour, which was built on 350 hectares of protected land in cooperation with the Wildlife Alliance. They educate guests on the threats to the ecosystem, protecting the wildlife corridor between Bokor National Park and Kirirom National Park, and provide employment opportunities for local residents.
Pack Up (consciously) and Go
Planning what to take away with you ahead of time can ensure you don’t overpack. The heavier your luggage the more fuel is required by the aeroplane, and therefore, carbon emissions increase. It’s easy to throw that extra top in ‘just in case’ but, if everyone does the same, that’s up to 143 extra tops on board! Your aching shoulders will thank you, too.
If you take single-use plastic, bring it back home with you and recycle it properly if there aren’t proper recycling options where you're headed.
Consider ‘naked’ toiletry options, if the above sounds like a hassle. There are many eco-friendly options these days, such as:
- Lush's extensive range of ‘naked’ products such as shampoo bars and solid conditioners, lasts 80 - 100 washes and takes up far less room in your bag. They also have dry shampoo, powdered/solid deodorants, shower jelly/bombs, toothy tabs and mouthwash tabs. ‘Naked’ means they don’t use plastic, or in instances where they do use plastic, they make it much easier to recycle.
- A standard bar of soap in a reusable soap container is still much better if you aren’t sold on the thought of plastic-free products.
- Bamboo toothbrush > plastic toothbrush
- Flannel > plastic loofah
- ‘Yes To’ facial wipes are made up of 100% plant cellulose, as opposed to standard make-up wipes/wet wipes, which contain up to 60% non-biodegradable plastic, at almost the same price. Alternatively, you can buy reusable muslin cloths/flannels to remove your make-up.
- Paper stemmed cotton buds > plastic cotton buds
- Invest in reef-friendly sunscreen if you plan on taking a dip in the ocean at any point. Badger Sunscreen is a good option.
Thailand's Maya Bay, made famous in the movie The Beach, saw 5,000 visitors a day, devastating the ecosystem and forcing the Thai government to close the beach. Marine life was all but wiped out and 80% of the coral reef sustained damage from the excess of boats and snorkelers wearing sunscreen containing chemicals that are toxic to young coral. The closure began in June of 2018 and was eventually made indefinite. Marine life has already begun to return to the area.
Pack a scarf. Even if you’re heading straight for the sweltering plains of Africa. It can be used as a pillow, blanket or eye mask on your flight, or it could be fashioned into a sarong or a top. It can cover shoulders when entering temples, or be used as a faceguard if you’re whizzing through the desert to protect your head from the sun. It might even make a decent emergency parachute. Don’t try this, of course, it’s mostly just good to try your luck in that kind of unlikely event.
Take a tote bag with you. For shopping in local markets, to hold your beach gear, for day trips or to hold dirty laundry. You need never accept a plastic bag if you’re toting a tote or two!
Consider investing in a Kindle, or similar, to download your holiday reading rather than having to pack lots of heavy books. Nothing beats a book, of course, but at least it’ll ensure you never run out of reading material on a trip.
Take your own headphones so you don’t have to use the plastic ones wrapped in - the horror - more plastic.
Pack a refillable filtered water bottle, such as Water-to-Go. It filters out 99.9% of microbiological contaminants from any non-saltwater source in the world. This means whether you’re trying to get in your minimum of eight ounces every hour on your dehydrating flight, filling up at dodgy petrol station sinks in Pakistan like Clem, or trying to satisfy a hefty water addiction, like Tara in India (who’s used to only the best Sierra Nevada mountain water back home!), you’ll never go thirsty and there’s no need to contribute to the single-use plastic problem.
Download your e-ticket onto a smartphone rather than printing out your ticket on paper.
Travel responsibly from start to finish. If you opt to have us book your group tour flights for you, we can arrange transfers to and from the airport with the group you’re travelling with. We also contribute to renewable energy projects t to help offset the carbon emissions when you book your flights through us. For more information on this, read our blog 'What is Carbon Offsetting?' or read more from EcoAct.
Taking public transport lessens your carbon footprint. Even if you aren’t travelling with us, opt to take the train or the bus to the airport or carpool together if you’re going with friends.
Try and opt for a direct flight rather than one with layovers so you'll save on carbon emissions.
Refuse the complimentary in-flight bags the airline hands out. Have you seen the movie Inception? Well, this is like that but with plastic within plastic. And no Leo DiCaprio (he’s off fighting global warming elsewhere). It’s easy to make your own though: just pop a toothpaste tab with a bamboo toothbrush, your multi-purpose scarf and earplugs into your hand luggage. Voila!
Approximately 15% of the world's population travels every year. That's 1.2 billion people. This number is predicted to increase 60% by 2020. (Update - obviously this didn't happen. Awkward.)
Treat each and every country as if it were your very own home. You are a guest - show respect, be polite, always throw your waste in the bin and dress respectfully, according to local custom.
Always be aware of what you’re buying as souvenirs. At best, you might be purchasing something that will come with a hefty fine if you attempt to take it out, or into a country that prohibits those imports. At worst, you may be creating a demand for the poaching or import of endangered animals, including ivory, fur, medicines made from animals and in some cases, live animals. It’s important to be vigilant. Sometimes souvenirs can be mislabelled to sell to tourists, or they may be difficult to spot. Don’t assume that just because you can buy it, it means it’s legal or ethical to do so.
Don’t unknowingly encourage animal abuse. If on your travels you ever see a wild animal (often monkeys) being touted around by a local or in a cage at an establishment, never play with it, take photographs or buy it – even with the best intentions of taking it to an animal shelter. Unfortunately, this creates demand. Ignore it, encourage others to ignore it, or firmly inform the manager that you fully intended to spend a lot of money in the establishment but won't be for that reason. It may be easy to judge the people doing this but consider that their situation may be desperate, and they aren’t aware of or care about the animal’s welfare over their own. Just don't give them attention or money. It won’t continue if it doesn’t yield the results they desire.
Always ask permission before taking photos of people, it’s just polite. Apply the same rules as you would at home. For example, is it an appropriate time and place to take a photo? Don’t be rattled if they ask for a tip, either pay up, haggle a bit or politely decline. If you take a good one, show them!
Don’t interact with wild animals. You don’t want to lose any fingers and you definitely don’t want them losing their life once they feel comfortable approaching the next human with less than good intentions.
Always turn off your air-con/lights when you leave your room, use water sparingly and try to reuse your towel. It may seem obvious, but not all countries have electricity and water in abundance, be conscious not to add to the problem.
If hotels have miniature toiletries, don’t use them or instead, donate them to shelters, and then encourage the hotel to consider ditching the single-use plastic and have fixed dispensers installed instead.
Refuse a plastic straw, save a turtle. If you really need something to slurp down those cocktails without getting a pineapple slice in the eye, invest in a metal reusable straw. Check out 'The Benefits of Turtle Tourism' if you want to see how tourism and wildlife can co-exist in a mutually beneficial way.
Buffets are not good for the environment. This is a tough one but try to resist. Hotels will always provide a surplus of food at a buffet (imagine the ruckus if they ran out before everyone had eaten) and this means a lot of food will be thrown away. A recent study found that just over half of buffet food goes to waste which is hugely damaging, not only to the environment (food waste in landfills produces methane which is 21 times more damaging than Carbon Dioxide) but considering one in seven people around the world go hungry, it’s incredibly wasteful.
When buying goods, don’t drive too hard a bargain. Some countries expect a bit of haggling (though be sure to check first) but most people aren’t trying to scam you, they simply assume you have money since you can afford to visit their country. Consider how much those last few digits mean to you and what they might mean to that person’s livelihood.
Giving to begging children is incredibly problematic. It’s difficult to refuse kids who might be begging you for money, all doe-eyed and charming, but it fosters a begging culture. And this doesn’t just apply to money. Sweets are a definite no-go when you consider that dental care may be too expensive for a lot of people across the world to afford. School supplies are also a tricky one as they can just be sold back to shops. This practice undermines parents and encourages kids to stay OUT of school if they know they can earn money, which sets them up for a life of poverty. And often, organised child-trafficking groups who have caught on to the earning potential of begging kids in popular tourist destinations, abduct children and maim them if they’re not perceived to be ‘cute’ enough to earn. When they get too ‘old’, they are often pushed into prostitution, or worse.
It's estimated that 300,000 children across India are drugged, beaten and forced to beg every day and according to the Indian National Rights Commission, 40,000 children are abducted every year.
Encourage hotels to be ‘greener’ – if you notice your hotel could do with some eco-friendly improvements, in the form of better recycling facilities or to reduce their plastic waste, speak up! Make sure you outline this in any feedback you give them, they should welcome it.
Sing the praises of any initiatives/travel companies/hotels/restaurants etc. that ARE doing things right! Leave reviews, tell your friends, encourage others to visit if they need recommendations, and spread the word. Other establishments that aren’t quite up to scratch may start to take note, so they too get the praise and recognition that brings in the paying customers.
Research ways you can lessen your carbon footprint at home. Once you’re in the mindset of travelling consciously, living consciously will be easier too!