At Exploration, we care about responsible tourism and sustainable development. We also believe that if you are privileged enough to have the opportunity to travel the world, it is a fantastic thing to be able to give something back to the places you visit.
This can be done in any number of ways, but here’s a few things that we think are a great way to ensure that your travels aren’t having a negative impact on local inhabitants, their economies, their culture and the environment.
- Planning on staying in hostels or hotels? Why not avoid the big chains and seek out alternative accommodation? Some great options include staying with host families (this can benefit you both as you’ll contribute to their income and you will learn a huge amount about daily life in the country you’re in) or staying in guesthouses run by locals. You’ll often find that you’ll get a far more personal experience in smaller accommodation, and you’ll be contributing to the local economy. Organisations like Eco Hostels pride themselves on featuring exclusively environmentally friendly accommodation, including camping, B&Bs and hostels. Couchsurfing is another great option: an organisation founded on the principles of cultural exchange that run events all over the globe to get people connected. And you’ll save yourself a good heap of money, too! To read more about Couchsurfing and personal safety, make sure you read their guidelines here.
- Visiting a tourist hub? There are many parts of the world that are now saturated by tourism (the Islands in southern Thailand, or the Great Barrier Reef, for example), and this can have an extremely detrimental effect on the environment. If you’re planning on visiting somewhere that you know is inundated by travellers like yourself, it is your responsibility to make sure that you are not contributing to environmental degradation. Check out some eco-friendly guidebooks before you go, Google some low-impact activities, and don’t hesitate to contact organisations or accommodation and quiz them on their commitment to sustainability. Websites like Eco Traveller and the free Eco Traveller magazine, along with websites like Responsible Travel have a wealth of environmentally-conscious resources for you to go through. Get as clued up as you can, and use your common sense – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
- Voluntourism. This is a tricky one: it’s so easy to get lured in to spending lots of money on a once-in-a-lifetime volunteering opportunity abroad. Many for-profit volunteering companies will ask for huge sums of money from travel newbies, tempting them with the promise of being able to help local inhabitants or wildlife and the idea of really being able to make a difference. However, we cannot stress this enough: spending two weeks in a foreign country volunteering and paying lots of money to a company that rakes in profit which almost exclusively ends up in the Western economy is really not enough to make a fundamental change in a system. What works is sustained effort: reputable organisations like Raleigh International and Africa Venture won’t ask you for your own money; they will encourage you to fundraise to pay for your flights through events and then provide you with food, accommodation, and a sustained, organised volunteering opportunity. Other companies like Original Volunteers will sometimes ask for a small donation towards the project you’ll be volunteering for, and you’ll often have the option of choosing to stay as long as you like to really get stuck in to a volunteering project and understand how things work and how you can help. Again, the main takeaway here is to be aware and informed of what you’re doing and how your presence might have both negative and positive effects on your host country.
- WOOF. Another volunteering organisation so great it needs its own bullet point! It gives you the opportunity to work on organic farms and smallholdings across the world through a well-organised and vetted organisation. Volunteering with WOOF will give you a completely unique experience and you can get stuck in to a vast array of different projects – all the while saving yourself a bit of extra money for your next trip!
- Animal Welfare. This is also a tricky subject abroad – here in the EU and the UK, we have strict animal welfare standards that farmers and slaughterhouses must adhere to in order to minimise animal suffering and promote a healthy attitude towards rearing and killing animals for meat. Abroad, it is far more difficult to know what you’re eating and where it’s come from – it’s up to you to make the decision on what you’re comfortable with. However, it’s essential that you make every effort towards ensuring that in whatever you do, you’re not contributing to the slaughter, exploitation or suffering of endangered animals: other cultures have different attitudes towards animal welfare, and it is important to recognise this, but always be aware that animal exploitation for the tourist industry is a common occurrence. Many zoos in Thailand sedate tigers on a daily basis so thousands of tourists can come and pet them, and often, elephants giving tourist rides are not properly cared for. Do your research beforehand and make sure you’re happy with how the animals are kept. Does the zoo you’re visiting use the opportunity to educate people about the animals they exhibit? Do they donate to research and conservation? Use your judgement and be conscious of what’s going on around you. If you’re not comfortable with something, remove yourself from the situation, and make sure the organisation in question is informed.
- Carbon Offsetting. There’s no beating around the bush: travel costs the environment. Don’t despair, however: there’s loads of ways you can offset your carbon footprint and minimise your environmental impact. This article from The Guardian gives a fantastic overview of how carbon offsetting works, and how you can go about doing it yourself or investing in an organisation that will help you. Our Editor-in-Chief is running a half marathon for the Rainforest Foundation UK, which is a 4* rated charity that does fantastic work abroad to protect rainforests from logging, mining and other threats. Donate to her JustGiving page here or even better, set up your own fundraising target!
- Cultural Awaaaaaahness. We’ve all seen the Gap Yah YouTube skit (if you’ve been living under a rock for the past five years, find it here), and it’s all very well talking about how you’ve found yourself travelling and have experienced so many new cultures. Joking aside, though, in our increasingly globalised world, it’s absolutely vital for you to consider maturely what kind of impact you are having on the country you’re visiting. This means having the utmost respect for the way others live their lives, and recognising that your way isn’t always the right way (and even understanding that sometimes there isn’t a right way at all). So when you’re visiting a country with different customs and traditions to your own, do your research and act accordingly. Learn as much of the language as you can (this includes body language – in India it’s rude to eat with both hands or show your feet), and dress appropriately (cover your body or head as required, regardless of the weather. You are a guest in your host country, and you need to be respectful of local ways). Be polite, don’t draw more attention to yourself than you can help, and be aware of your surroundings (this is for your safety as well!). Understand that everyone makes blunders occasionally – it’s almost always unavoidable – but just try your best, and don’t get frustrated at the differences between your host and home countries. If you’re not prepared to handle cultural difference, then you need to seriously consider what travelling can offer you.
Any comments, tips, questions to add? Use the box below and let us know what you think!