Traveling - the only thing we can buy that makes us richer. It allows us to expand our horizons, discover new cultures, and witness everyday miracles all around the globe.
In the day and age of constant and global interconnectivity; travel is necessary for us to become better, more well-rounded, and conscious global citizens. However, whether we're traveling within our borders or to a foreign country, if we do so without consideration of our impact, the benefits we gain as individuals are outweighed by the damages inflicted upon communities.
Luckily, through thoughtful planning and conscious decision making, our individual journeys can have positive impacts on the collective from social, economical and environmental standpoints. It might take a little more time to consider where to go, what to do, and how to spend our time and money, but our planet, and the welfare of everyone on it, are worth it
Educate ourselves: Before, During and After
Responsible travel starts simple. Before arriving at our destination, it is important to go beyond learning the basics about the places were visiting. Checking up on a country's political climate, environmental issues, cultural norms, traditional attire, etc, are small efforts that go a long way.
Being educated will help us arrive to our destination prepared, and ready to make decisions that will be respectful of cultural beliefs, beneficial to local economies, and sustainable for the environment. On top of that, our awareness will enable us to consciously create a dialogue with locals. These conversations are crucial for becoming even more informed and enlightened individuals, and are key to building cultural bridges, and hopefully, friendships.
Support local businesses
Its the same, simple investment principle abroad as when we're in our hometowns. To manifest a lasting, and positive impact on the countries we visit our best bets are local businesses.
Investing in local businesses guarantees that the money we spend is actually going back into the community, and supporting the people whose livelihoods depend on tourism. Whether we’re booking accommodations, eating out, buying souvenirs, or looking for things to do, supporting locally owned and managed businesses is a way to support an entire community.
Opt for ground travel, or public transportation
Choosing to travel by train, bus, bike or foot are more eco-friendly way to get around than hopping on the first flight because they emit less CO2 into the atmosphere. Evidently, there are limitations (distance and time) to traveling by ground. However, taking a bus or train between more spread out destinations is more cost-effective and sustainable than flying, as is walking or biking within a city.
Not only does ground travel have evident financial and economic benefits, its also a wonderful way to actually see, and get a feel for what a city has to offer. Some of my greatest discoveries and sights came to me during hour-long walks across a city, and window-seat bus rides through the back-country.
Choose local, or green accommodations
Staying with locals, or locally owned and managed accommodations is an ideal place to start because, as actual residents in the community, these people have an invested interest in preserving their environment and cultural traditions.
Taking it a step further could mean staying in eco-lodges, hostels or hotels that use alternative or renewable energy sources, source their food from local harvesters, implement gray water recycling methods or are in some way involved in nature or conservation methods.
If neither local or green are possible, just avoiding anything all-inclusive. These kinds of resorts offer convenience and affordability for the traveler, but they often incur incredible amounts of waste, lack proper recycling programs, do not use alternative energy sources, import many, if not most goods, and do not compensate employees in ways that foster community growth, or sustainability
Respect wildlife and natural environments
Lastly and obviously - respecting wildlife and natural environment.
Being respectful of all animals, their habitat and the environment is hopefully something we're all already doing at home. It is as straight-forward as only taking pictures when appropriate, picking up after ourselves, staying on trail and not imposing our presence where it isn't natural, or wanted.
As we travel to more exotic places, we're sometimes tempted to seek out experiences that include exotic animals too. As a rule of thumb, I avoid such experiences because, if nature were running its course without interference, those encounters wouldn't occur.
Happy (conscious) travels!