Today we welcome Donna Lawrence, Responsible Travel Manager for World Expeditions as a contributor to The Brave Discussion. Throughout the coming year Donna will be sharing tips and stories on responsible travelling, a welcome and appropriate new addition to the selection of issues we discuss and raise awareness for on The Brave Discussion. Donna shares with us in her first post some great tips to consider when travelling.
No matter how you travel – as part of a small group, backpacking across continents, or taking off on a family adventure holiday – there are many ways to minimise your personal footprint. Here are 10 things you can do before leaving home and while travelling, that will make a difference.
1. Before leaving home: do your research
Be well informed by researching the culture/s you’ll visit becoming aware of customs and traditions to ensure that you don’t offend. After all, your experience will be greater if your hosts are happy to have you in their world. For example, appropriate clothing is required in many countries throughout Asia and the Middle East since skimpy clothing is seen as offensive. The social phenomena that ‘what you wear and how you behave will dictate how you are treated’ applies across most of the world’s cultures.
If you are travelling independently stay at locally owned accommodation, buy locally produced food and handicrafts and ensure that the local economy benefits.
If you plan to travel with a travel company scrutinise their Responsible Travel policy and don’t be afraid to ask questions such as:
- how do you campaign for conservation?
- how do you treat your local staff, how do you care for their safety at work, do you provide them with training and do you pay them award wages?
- how do you ensure that your groups do not divert resources away from local communities, drive up prices, or deplete resources
- do you encourage cultural exchange where there can be a mutual exchange of learning and understanding
- what is your policy on transport because there is a strong argument that tourists using local transport can push services into overuse?
- do you have a ‘giving back’ program whereby your company contributes in a meaningful and sustainable way to host communities?
- how do you educate your travellers about travelling responsibly?
2. While travelling: take only photos, leave only footprints
It’s impossible to travel and not leave a mark on the environment and cultures we pass by. We should aim to minimise our mark. Carry a supply of biodegradable bags with you to hold your rubbish, disposing of it at the next proper disposal spot. In fact, why not pick up a few pieces of rubbish that aren’t yours!
When walking through nature, tread carefully and stick to the paths and trails. Don’t remove vegetation or take souvenirs from the environment.
3. Balancing the inequalities: tread carefully
If you are travelling through developing nations you will undoubtedly come face to face with poverty and low standards of medicine. Please resist the temptation to give money to street beggars since it leads to dependency and reduces the incentive to seek long-term solutions. Often children will not attend school in favour of spending the day begging. Instead locate a foundation where you know money will get to the right place, volunteer on a community project.
Except in life threatening situations you should limit assistance to local people to just first aid since you’re unlikely to be aware of the endemic diseases and cultural factors. It is much safer to refer these matters to professional medical services.
4. Photography: be considerate
In some cultures it’s believed that a photograph is a window into one’s soul and that by taking one’s picture takes a part of one’s soul away. Always ask permission to take someone’s photo especially if it’s a close-up photo of just one person.
Also be mindful when at sacred sites and monuments and check with a local that it is ok to take photographs. In most countries it’s illegal to take photos of military personnel or military buildings, police or military activity, and political demonstrations or skirmishes.
5. Travelling with kids: travel is a great education
If you are setting off on your next adventure with the kids in tow why not use the opportunity to teach them about the destination, the culture, and the environments that they will be experiencing. Through a good understanding and respect of culture and the natural environment your children will have a richer experience.
6. Wildlife: a safe distance is always best
Just as humans have boundaries that define our personal space so do animals and the consequences of infringing on the personal space of many animals can be severe – attack, bite, disease. Always view animals from a safe distance and invest in a pair of binoculars. Research the website/s of the National Park/s you’ll be visiting and you’ll be sure to find recommended safe viewing distances. Dress in neutral colours and keep the noise down so that you do not disturb animals from their natural behaviours.
Avoid any activity involving animal cruelty such as dancing bears, bullfights and animal circuses and don’t purchase goods made of animal products such as skins, horns, bones, shells and traditional medicines.
7. Taking care of yourself: be street smart
It’s important to be looking out for your own welfare as well. Stay well away from illicit drugs since the death penalty is in place in some countries. It is safer to exchange your currency at an authorized agent such as Travelex or a Bank in order to avoid possible black markets for money exchange. And always carry your travel documents, money and cards in a money belt on you and concealed by clothes. Even better leave them in your hotel room.
8. Global warming: take responsibility for your contribution
The vast majority of carbon you’ll produce on holiday come from your air travel. To reduce the carbon associated with your air travel, try to book the most direct flights. The next step is to offset the unavoidable carbon that is produced by your air travel by researching a reliable carbon offset company and purchase carbon credits that support renewable energy. Even if you cannot afford to offset the full amount of the carbon produced by your air travel, offsetting some of it is better then none.
9. Giving back: you’ll be surprised at the mutual return
There are many “voluntouring” trips on offer where you can spend part of your holidays working to improve the lives of others less fortunate. Do your homework to ensure that the volunteering you do is arrange on a consultative basis with the host community, that the project is sustainable and long-term, that there is transparency in regards to donations or money, and that the project engages the host community to ensure its longevity. My company World Expeditions has a giving back program called COMMUNITY PROJECT TRAVEL.
10. Commit to the International Institute For Peace ‘Credo of the Peaceful Traveller
Grateful for the opportunity to travel and experience the world and because peace begins with the individual, I affirm my personal responsibility and commitment to:
- Journey with an open mind and gentle heart
- Accept with grace and gratitude the diversity I encounter
- Revere and protect the natural environment which sustains all life
- Appreciate all cultures I discover
- Respect and thank my hosts for their welcome
- Offer my hand in friendship to everyone I meet
- Support travel services that share these views and act upon them and,
- By my spirit, words and actions, encourage others to travel the world in peace