Let’s face it: travel has an impact on the world, from plane CO2 emissions to the tonnage of hotel laundry. And while it’s hard to completely negate this, we strive to minimize our impact in other ways, because we want to explore the world. Here are some easy ways that you can travel more responsibly.
Bring a reusable water bottle. This is, by far, the easiest thing you can do. Tap water is potable in many places. So, you can fill up your bottle from your hotel faucet in the morning and be ready for the trail. Of course, this isn’t always the case. When it’s not, try to get larger containers from which to refill your bottle instead of using many little plastic bottles. You can take the Travelers Against Plastic Pledge (we did it!) and check if the tap water is safe to drink in your destination.
When buying souvenirs, look for local products. Traveling responsibly isn’t just about the environment. Far more money stays with the community when you buy handmade crafts, artwork, or specialty food. That goes a long way to support the local economy, especially in rural areas.
Don’t buy just any local products. Yeah, we just said buy local products, but not all local products are good. Animal products (especially in Asia or Africa) can encourage unsustainable, inhumane, and illegal poaching practices. Also, as tempting as it may be, it’s best to stay away from antiques because many are very good fakes or, if they are real, their provenance may be sketchy (possibly illegally obtained), and it’s hard to grapple with the selling off of a culture’s heritage.
Follow the rules. We are sure you do this already, but it’s worth explaining. In protected areas where you may be hiking or walking, there may be signs instructing you not to stray off the path. This may be for your protection (steep cliffs or rough terrain) and also to protect the landscape and any special plant species, particularly in fragile coastal or alpine environments. Please stay on the path! And always listen to your guide. They know how to keep everyone safe.
Be wary of captive animal experiences. A safari in the wilds of the African bush is one thing—the animals roam freely in their natural habitats and humans are simply observers. Animal-based activities or performances, as well as many zoos, are a different matter altogether. In general, stay clear of any experience that profits from captive animals.
Be respectful of local customs. As guests in a foreign culture, the last thing we want to do is offend our hosts, which is why it’s imperative to be mindful and respect local culture and customs. Your local guide can definitely help you navigate etiquette and answer any questions (that’s one reason having a local guide is so awesome!). Taking your Groupon discounted shoes off in temples, dressing conservatively in certain places, or asking before taking photos of people are all ways that we can be good guests. Famous globetrotter Rick Steves encourages travelers to be temporary locals instead of tourists, which is a great mindset to have.
Don’t litter. This may be obvious to many, but even leaving tissue behind after you’ve “gone behind a tree” is littering. Bring a Ziplock bag to ensure you bring back any trash you create.
Use public transportation. On a few of our trips, when it makes sense to do so, we use public transportation. This is both for a more local experience and also to cut down on one more vehicle on the road. If the airport has a shuttle bus, take that instead of a private taxi. The little things add up!
Give shareable, educational gifts. Guests frequently ask about bringing gifts if they’ll be interacting with students. We and our local partners (and some governments) generally discourage gifts of candy, items that are heavily branded from your home country, or single-use items for individuals (think 1 pencil for each student). Instead, bring books, maps, teaching aids for the classroom, and other items that have a long shelf-life. For young monks and nuns, donations of clothing, particularly socks, are welcome, as many are too poor to afford that basic item.
And there it is in a nutshell: 9 simple things to keep in mind when you’re off exploring that can help better the world even just a little bit.