Ethical travel has become a buzzword in recent years.
Tourists are becoming more aware of the impact their travel choices can have on the environment and local communities.
Meanwhile, tourism companies have been exploiting the ethical travel niche, which has led to a rise in greenwashing and false environmental claims.
So how can we make better ethical travel choices?
Epicure & Culture has asked 10 ethical travel experts to share their advice on planning a more responsible trip.
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1) Pack Light & Explore Your Own Backyard
“I would say the first thing you can do is pack light.
Don’t go out and buy unnecessary travel items; in fact, most travel items are really not needed. You don’t need a lot when you travel, so don’t consume just because something is sold or promoted as making travel easier.
It really won’t make enough of a difference to justify the consumerism.
Secondly, explore your own country before venturing further afield.
Most people jet off to destinations far away and do so in the most comfortable (read: irresponsible) way possible. Not a lot of people decide to stay in their own country and get to know it more intimately.
This way you can choose more environmentally sound travel options like walking and cycling — depending on where you are located — and gain a much deeper appreciation for what you have close by.”
2) Buy Locally-Sourced Products
“Wherever you go, try to live like the locals. This is always your best shot to empower the local economy.
Eat at local restaurants — the smaller and most casual it is, the best chances you have to eat well.
Additionally, sleep at family-owned bed and breakfasts or use Airbnb-like websites to stay at someone’s place directly.
Use public transport and buy local. Try to find places where you can buy directly from producers and/or artisans, be it for your daily meals, clothes or even souvenirs.
Meanwhile, visit attractions that respect the local culture and environment rather than damage it.
If you can, participate in a workshop to learn more about local life, such as a cooking class.”
3) Book Tours With Family-Owned Operators
“You can start by booking your hotel through Kind Traveler, an ethical travel organization with a great list of properties where a portion of your fee goes toward animal welfare, environmental sustainability or promoting welfare in communities.
When shopping for new clothes before heading off on your trip, choose brands that are ethically responsible.
A few whose missions I love are Cuyana, Zady, Coyuchi, and Cotopaxi.
If you’re planning to book tours through local operators, use family-owned companies ensuring the money you spend goes back into the community. There are also great group tour companies with similar initiatives.
Lastly, if you’re going to buy souvenirs, choose products that are made locally. Supporting family-owned shops is always a great idea.”
4) Buy Fair Trade Souvenirs
“Most travelers are daunted by the idea they’ll have to change the way they travel entirely.
While it will require some adjusting, you don’t have to throw out all of your plans to have a responsible trip. Match your choices to your values.
Start with something relatable and important to you. If that’s leaving a smaller environmental footprint, try carbon offsetting your flight or staying at a LEED-certified hotel.
If you’re more concerned about boosting the economy of the place you’re visiting, do a quick search for locally owned businesses.
Buy items that are Fair Trade or ethically made (versus the $5 trinket made in China while you are in France). If you aren’t sure, ask the vendor how and where it was made.
The bigger picture is to be able to integrate all of these ideas into your trip.
Start small. You probably didn’t start composting food at home on day one, right? It began with recycling and building up to that level.
The same applies for trip planning. Planning part of your trip in a responsible manner is better than doing nothing at all.”
5) Immerse Yourself In Local Culture
“A great way to immerse yourself in other cultures is to be curious about how the locals eat.
Head to a local market and find stalls that are packed with locals. Don’t worry if you can’t understand a word — food connects people, and you’ll likely find someone who will help you out.
This is a responsible choice as you’ll be supporting the local economy and producers while taking a ton of cultural knowledge with you.
When booking activities with tour operators, bear in mind that those who work with smaller groups tend to be the “environmentally responsible ones” because they care about the places they visit, they help you connect with the local culture and are able to give you great insights.
Before booking an activity, it’s good to check if the operator is committed to local communities or supports a good cause.”
6) Engage With Local Communities
“As a solo female traveler, the most important way to demonstrate responsible travel is to focus on how I can impact the local people and economy.
Is there a family-run hotel?
Can I hire a local guide?
Where are the locals’ favorite restaurants and markets? Is there a shop selling handcrafted goods?
How about a cooking class?
My travel budget isn’t grand. I spend a lot of time planning how to make the most of my trips — including how best to understand the people and culture. When I can interact with people who are proud of their hometown, I find they want to show and teach me things that no guidebook can ever touch.
All it takes is interest and willingness from me.”
7) Do Your Research First
“Responsible travel is all about being more sensitive to your impact when visiting another country.
One of the key ways of leaving only a positive mark when you travel is to only book through reputable tour agencies. Never opt for the company whose prices seem too good to be true.
The old adage “you get what you pay for” is never more pertinent than when visiting developing countries.
Companies that charge slightly more for their services are more likely to be committed to paying their guides fair wages and to act in an environmentally responsible manner.
Before you book, do your research, get recommendations from other travelers and question exactly what you’re supporting by opting for a bargain price.”
8) Avoid Questionable Animal Activities
“Part of being a responsible traveler means asking the hard questions about the treatment of animals before you go.
Although interacting with rescued animals might seem okay, the demand for animal tourism can encourage smugglers to remove more animals from the wild.
When (or if) you want to interact with animals, seek out animal rehabilitation facilities where animals are released back into the wild after treatment.
If an interaction is guaranteed, do more research into practices that guarantee a viewing/interaction as some practices — such as feedings to attract animals — can disrupt the ecosystem/feeding patterns.
If you love animals, consider taking the next step to ensure that the ones you meet on your travels are treated well.”
9) Contribute Your Time & Skills To A Cause
“Recognize that there are no quick fixes. When choosing to volunteer abroad, don’t give in to the temptation of oversimplifying the issues you encounter and expect to swoop in with a dramatic solution to long-standing challenges.
Social challenges like poverty are multifaceted and there is never a silver bullet.
Instead, recognize that local leaders are the best suited to understand the complexities at hand. Engage with locals – listen and respect what you’re hearing.
Ideally, find a program that has a long history of this type of community engagement and contribute your time, talent and treasure through this existing framework.
A key question to ask: What happens after I leave? Is there an ongoing plan to ensure the impact I am having now is a lasting one?”
10) Choose A Hotel That Supports Refugees
“I had worked in tourism for a few years before taking on a job in a Tuscan refugee home, where I quickly realized that it made sense to combine the two realities. I tried to find placements for our English speaking asylum seekers as a receptionist.
And even though nothing worked out — a long story which I tell in my book Across the Big Blue Sea — I soon found I wasn’t the only one to have had this idea.
Right in the center of Vienna, the elegant Magdas Hotel is entirely run by refugees.
And in Augsburg — a beautiful town close to Munich — the Grandhotel Cosmopolis offers rooms for travelers, tourists and refugees in the same building. Note: This takes lead from the concept that grand hotels were once places where people from the most different nationalities met and mingled.
There are also other ways to support a good cause, too.
In the midst of Rome, the lovely Beehive Ho(s)tel has hired refugees via a local charity for the repainting of their hotel rooms. At the same time, they support local artists, whose artwork can be found in Beehive’s garden and colorful common spaces.
If you want to support projects like the ones mentioned above, surf around before booking your room. I’m sure there are more hotel owners out there who try to make a difference.”
What other ethical travel tips would you add to the list? Please share in the comments below.
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