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10 Tips how you can Travel Better

Want to know how to be a more ethical / green / sustainable / responsible traveller? These 10 simple tips will have you on your way to travelling better.

As a traveller, our decisions and actions have an impact on the places we visit. There are a lot of tourists who visit a country, see the primary sites, snap photos and move on with little time for real interaction. Many will stay, eat, and tour with organisations that invest little into the local economy.

But there are also a growing number of travellers wanting a more meaningful and 'authentic' experience and for their visit to have a more positive impact.

Responsible travel is about ethical, sustainable practises that provide positive impacts to the community economically, culturally and environmentally. Not only does this benefit the community and the traveller but overall makes our world a better place through building inter-cultural relations, reducing poverty and ensuring environmental sustainability.

Deciding what is ethical, sustainable or eco friendly isn't always clear cut. There are competing interests involved and competing philosophies, as well as financial and logistical considerations. Trying to find things that fit the bill of being positive to the community and the environment and the traveller seems like a hard ask.

So what can you do? Where do you start? Well, here are 10 tips on that can help you to Travel Better.

Tread softly, trade fairly and get to know the locals.

1. Choose sustainable / ethical / green operators

It's great to see businesses taking up green initiatives and many see the benefits of waving their green credentials as a marketing tool. But you do need to check what those labels mean to them. "Eco tour" could simply mean it's not "urban", nothing to do with how environmentally friendly it is. Other companies will fully list out on their site their commitment to environment or community.

There are now government departments and third party organisations that list sustainable tourism operators. A quick Google or Tripadvisor check can also expose a company for not being all it holds out to be. And if you see something you don't like - particularly if it goes against their stated practices - speak up.

2. Reduce - Reuse - Recycle - Renew

Saving water, using renewable resources and recycling shouldn't just be something you do at home. If you are in a place that doesn't have the facilities to renew / recycle then there is more onus on you to reduce where you can. Even simple things like carrying a foldaway carry bag for shopping and reusing water bottles and turning off / down the air con in your room can have a big impact on the environment. And if you're out in the wilderness don't forget to take your trash with you.

3. Get into the culture

Every country has its own culture and identity, and, often, more than one. Taste the flavour of local life by getting out and about in the community. Go to the markets. Learn a few words in the language. Eat local food. Visit museums, theatres and galleries. Go to festivals. Do a workshop. Read the news. Travel with a local. Take public transport. Get off the tourist track. Don't just be a distant voyeur - immerse yourself in what you came to see.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has. [Margaret Mead]

4. Go Local

Put money directly into the hands of the local community by using locally owned accommodation, tour operators, artisans and other local businesses like cafes and restaurants.

Many foreign owned companies also positively contribute to the local community and employ local staff. They can fill an important gap where local capacity doesn't exist, particularly in locations where tourism is just developing. Be selective - support foreign owned companies that pay fair (living) wages, treat staff well and engage with the local community.

5. Trade Fairly

In markets all around the world haggling is not only condoned but it is often the norm. But don't let the desire for a bargain under cut ethical bargaining. Pay a fair price for the goods / services. Don't make unreasonable deadlines the may mean the person has to work through the night or travel far late or dangerous.

6. Don't create a charity culture.

Sustainable tourism enables a community. However, contributing to businesses does not necessarily trickle down to everyone in society nor will the benefits happen immediately. It can be heart breaking to see the poverty some people live with and it's difficult to walk past. But the general consensus is that indiscriminately giving money or items can create a "begging culture" where foreigners are seen as a cash cow. This, in turn (particularly in places where begging was not the norm before tourists came along) can negatively affect the way the society functions and the how visitors view locals and vice versa. Rather than giving directly to an individual, look into local charities that are providing more targeted and sustainable support for the poor or marginalised.

"Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime" [Maimonides]

7. Make your carbon footprint smaller

Air travel is the biggest component of CO2 emissions for travellers. The advice here is fly less often, fly direct (as more take off and landings use more fuel); travel lighter and make your way overland.

8. Get out into the environment

Travelling isn't confined to the urban environment. More tourists are getting out into the countryside, parks and forests. By showing an interest in nature, tourists have helped persuade communities to protect those environments. In many cases, Tourism provides a the legitimate economical alternative people need to move away from more ecologically damaging industries. Getting out into nature has scientific benefits for you too: a walk in the oxygen rich greenery makes you feel better and stress less. Just what you need on holiday.

9. Think before you act

If you wouldn't do it at home, or wouldn't expect visitors to do it, then why is it okay for you to do it when you're travelling? Some customs and norms, like dress codes, do need to be followed, or should be. Others not so much. Just because there is a lot of litter on the streets doesn't mean you should add to it. Riding elephant in Asia has been practiced for centuries and it's not an illegal tourism activity (yet). But with the population under threat, and many wildlife organisations against the practice, is it really the tourism kick you need?

10. Have a positive attitude & Chillax

Things are different in other places and countries. There are norms and conditions that you might not have at home and can be frustrating to navigate. There are language barriers, bad weather, unhelpful people, nasty illnesses and general travel stress. Although they might impact on your experience, try not to let them colour your general opinion of the region or the locals. And never take out your frustrations on innocent people. Sometimes we all need a time-out and a nap.



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