Those of us who love to travel want to be doing it for as long as possible. But that’s not only dependent on our own health, but also on the health of the planet. How can we travel and have a zero impact on the earth, or even improve the planet’s health? First and foremost, we need to respect the environment. In the same way that we used to derive pleasure and excitement from jetting from one new adventure to the next, we can drill down and learn about the people who inhabit our precious planet. By staying local on a trip, we can learn about the people whose homes we may visit, and their cultures, some ancient and in harmony with the earth.
What is Responsible Tourism?
In 2002, in the city of Cape Town, The Cape Town Declaration was penned by representatives from 20 countries. It lays out a number of guiding principles for Responsible Tourism, as identified by the attendees. The document defines Responsible Tourism. They declare that it is characterized by travel and tourism which:
- “minimizes negative economic, environmental and social impacts
- generates greater economic benefits for local people and enhances the well-being of host communities, improves working conditions, and access to the industry
- involves local people in decisions that affect their lives and life changes
- makes positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, to the maintenance of the world’s diversity
- provides more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people, and a greater understanding of local cultural, social, and environmental issues
- provides access for people with disabilities and the disadvantaged
- is culturally sensitive, engenders respect between tourists and hosts, and builds local pride and confidence.”
What We Can Do to Be Responsible Tourists
There are many, many ways to travel responsibly. They are simple and usable no matter where you are traveling:
- Carry lightweight shopping bags that stuff into their own small, attached bags. For years now, I’ve used Chico bags which last for years and do the trick for shopping, carrying picnic items, swimming needs, and anything that does not fit in your daypack or fanny pack. Use it when you buy locally handmade (not banned) products for souvenirs. Use the bag to carry out any trace of yourself, i.e., trash and unused items.
- Bring a reusable water bottle. If you’re in a region where drinking the water is questionable, bring a bottle that includes a filter and/or purification tablets to make it safe to drink. You’ll save on water bottle purchases and help reduce plastic use. You can even pack a reusable straw.
- Bring your own coffee/tea travel mug.
- Check the list of ingredients in your sunscreen. Make sure that it is “reef safe,” and does not contain chemicals that harm the ocean environment.
- Take shorter showers. Also, you can lessen your consumption of plastics by using shampoo and conditioner bars, for example.
- At your hotel, ask for house cleaning only as needed. Many hotels are making efforts toward sustainability, including recycling plastics and soap, using eco-friendly laundry soaps, and composting.
- Tour by bicycle or walking.
- Stay several nights in one place. The less you’re moving from place to place, the less impact you’re having on the planet, and the more you’re supporting the local economy.
- Try areas less traveled. This offers so many advantages. First, with Covid, you’re less likely to encounter large crowds, so less exposure to the virus. Second, your expenditures are likely to make more of an impact on the locals. Third, you have more of an opportunity to live like a local, rather than a tourist, exposing you to new and unique views of the world.
- Choose an eco-friendly destination. That way, you help to ensure the sustainability of future vacations. Check out the article, Voluntourism – Seniors Can Combine Travel with Volunteering, for ideas about staying in one location and making a contribution while you’re there. The more you engage with locals, the more meaningful will be your experience. Be sensitive and respectful of the culture. For example, head coverings may be required in some countries (bring a scarf that matches a dress, for example, to make that scarf multifunctional).
- If you’re shy, travel with a group, or join and find a travel buddy at seniortravelbuddies.com.
- Try to learn a few phrases in the language and use that language as much as possible. Learn the proper way to greet people in the local language. Locals certainly appreciate efforts made by visitors. There are many translation apps you can download on your phone to help you with that. Or, bring along a small translation device.
- Try to book a direct flight to your destination as direct flights reduce the carbon footprint.
Responsible travel does not have to be limiting. It can, in fact, be quite the opposite, opening up endless ways to explore this planet. Responsible Tourism, though not the same as sustainable tourism, supports it. Sustainability is the goal and Responsible Tourism is about taking responsibility for making tourism sustainable. Be adventurous and continue to explore. Happy travels now and in the future.