Ever heard the mantra ‘Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints and kill nothing but time’? It’s a famous adage because travel and tourism are taking their toll on the planet, and many people aren’t being as responsible as they should be during their travels. However, you don’t need to be one of them; here’s how to become a better, more aware traveller.
Be mindful of how you travel. Although air travel is cheap and relatively easy, you’re leaving behind a whopping carbon footprint. Arguably, flying is the only way of reaching many overseas destinations within a reasonable timeframe from Australia. But this doesn’t mean you have to get around those destinations by plane too. Train travel can be just as economical, you’ll probably have a lot more space, and you’ll be able to appreciate and take in your surroundings. India, Southeast Asia, East Africa, China, and Europe are great places to explore by train - and you’ll get a much deeper sense of what the countries are actually about if you travel by train.
Ditch the plastic. When you buy locally-purified water, ask for it in recyclable glass bottles. When you go shopping, take along your own tote bags - don’t rely on plastic bags. Heard about The Great Pacific Garbage Patch? It’s thousands of miles of dumped plastic that will take thousands of years to biodegrade. Avoid being part of the problem by reducing how much rubbish you throw away. If you’re camping, remove all excess packaging before you set off - you’ll lighten the load and reduce the risk of inadvertently dumping waste.
Avoid buying wildlife products. Of course you’d never buy ivory or animals skins, but what about shells or fur-lined clothing? No matter how ‘cool’ or cheap something is, when you buy a product that was once a living creature (or a living creature’s home), you’re boosting the marketplace for trafficking rare and endangered species.
Be a traveller, not a tourist. Learn a few words of the local language - this will earn you respect. Before you leave, if you’re travelling with an ethical tour operator (see above), ask if there’s anything you can bring from home to help local communities or schools, and keen an eye out for any special projects that you can help out with. Immersing yourself in the local culture will be hugely gratifying, and you’ll help to give something back.
Respect boundaries. Local cultures and holy places need to be treated with respect; make sure you’re quiet, calm and covered up when you visit these areas. If you’re in any doubt about appropriate behaviour, ask, or stay away. Visiting a sacred place barefoot or with your head uncovered might seem like no big deal to you, but others may not feel the same, and it may tarnish your standing with the community. Don’t forget - you’re not supposed to know everything about the area you’re in. If in doubt, ask! Most people will be happy to answer any questions you may have.
Buy local produce and goods where possible, to support local communities. Locally-sourced goods aren’t always cheaper, but you’ll be contributing to the local economy and helping the people you’ve been living alongside. Look out for ‘local’ goods that seem cheaper than similar goods for sale; if there’s a marked difference in price, the cheaper goods could possibly be imported from countries like China, as village artisans who craft by hand may charge more. Buying the real deal supports authentic cultural heritage and provides jobs for the local people.
Do you try to travel responsibly? What irresponsible travel habits have you seen on your travels? Tell us on our Facebook page.