How to travel responsibly and sustainably.

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Traveling will make you rich, not necessarily with money but it will certainly fund you with a wealth of culture, respect and you will learn things about yourself you may have never been able to. Traveling is a privilege and for that reason we have to find ways to make our travels as sustainable and responsible as we can. In order to leave the destinations re-visitable and do our part by living sustainably. This article translates why you should and how you can travel responsibly and sustainably.

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A little foreword, these articles are not aimed at achieving some sort of moral superiority. We don’t need a handful of people living perfectly sustainable, responsible virtue-signalling lives, we need as many imperfect people as possible making more earth, people, animal and ocean wise choices. Whether you choose to apply one or all of the suggestions pointed out in this article – that’s great! Please don’t get discouraged by the angry eco-shamers, do your best! Its all about being mindful of your actions and understanding the impact of your movements, and not constantly sacrificing good choices for the sake of convenience.

Travelling is not bad! So, long as you want to travel responsibly and sustainably, the benefits of travel on your health and the health of the economy of the destination you’re visiting are so immense that I would not discourage anyone from travelling. It’s just good practice to do your research and be accountable for what you take and what you leave behind. Ok, lets get into how to travel responsibly and sustainably.

What is sustainable travel?

For the purpose of this article the definition of sustainable and responsible travel will be travel that is socially, culturally and environmentally aware, i.e. travel that consiously makes an effort in order to do no harm and also avoids funding things that do harm. I’m sure you get the concept.

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So what can you do to travel responsibly and sustainably while travelling?

Responsible and sustainable travel for the environment

What you can buy

-The basics would be to bring a reusable water bottle and a reusable shopping bag. Please make sure your destination has clean drinking water out of taps or get your water for your bottle from a reliable source, there is nothing worse than getting an unhappy tummy on your travels.

-Pack shampoo bars and soap bars as opposed to bottles. they are much more earth-friendly and your bags will be lighter because they aren’t as bulky as bottles. Win win.

-Avoid fast fashion. If you are going to most definitely wear that souvenir then go for it but don’t sink money into fashion that is just going to sit in your wardrobe collecting dust. Buy quality over quantity. Only buy clothes you love and/or need. This one is not only more eco-friendly but it also puts pressure on the industry to be more quality and ethically focused. if we dig deeper and find out where and how our clothes are manufactured we can address issues like sweat shops.

What you can do

-Walk when you can (without compromising your safety of course), its also healthier to walk!

-If you are staying at a hotel, opt to get your towels and bed-sheets washed less often. It is only you sleeping in them after all. Hang your towels to dry and get them washed only when necessary.

-Don’t cuddle the wildlife. Avoid sanctuaries that allow cub cuddling, elephant riding, ostrich riding. Research wildlife sanctuaries and opt for ones that are doing their part to maintain a similar environment to what the animal is used to, lessening stress on the animals and maintaining a healthy outlook on these animals as not domesticated. In nature we would keep our distance from large animals or predators and that is a healthy outlook to have. Just because they are cute doesn’t mean that you should anthropomorphize them. Admire them from a safe distance preferably in the wild like on a photographic safari.

-As a rule don’t waste water. I would say in water scarce areas, but its a good practice in every day life too. Close taps. Short showers. Only do laundry on the eco-setting and not every day.

-Respect wildlife and don’t take home seashells (seashells are little houses guys) you can check out this guide to ethical shelling if you really do want to take one home.

-When I go to the beach I try to keep my eyes open for litter, cigarette butt and the sort and I collect them and dispose of them in a bin, I’m not saying every day has got to be a beach clean up but if you see a piece, it wont hurt you to just grab it and throw it away later.

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Responsible and sustainable travel for socio-economic welfare and cultural preservation

For the economy

-Research your destinations first. Do not travel to over-crowded tourist attractions in the high seasons, this puts pressure on the infrastructure and local resources. If you travel in off peak seasons you may also benefit consequently from lower accommodation costs and bring money into the country in the quiet months. Responsible travel doesn’t have to be hard or annoying, there are perks.

-Plan for slow travel. Spend the maximum time you can at each destination. Travel with purpose and take in all you can from each destination. This is to balance out your carbon footprint of the flight and minimize zipping across a country at lightning speed to do as much as possible. Getting to know the culture takes time anyway. Trust me, try it once and you may find you prefer it to tourist attraction hunting.

-Just because you are in a new place does not mean you have to change your morals. Whale meat, shark fin, turtle etc. are all delicacies that are rarely sustainably caught (I say that to be polite, the real manner in which these types of fishing occur is horrific) don’t fund these markets or practices. Instead try the local staple foods opposed to the exotic meats.

For the people

-Respect the culture of the destination. You are representing your country to them as much as they are to you but you are a guest in their home so try your best to observe and learn what you can from the diversity. Trying to blend in also preserves cultures from being overly influenced thereby keeping the heritage in tact for future generations to engage with and learn from. Just because you don’t understand a mindset doesn’t mean that it is wrong just observe and introspect, ask questions but do not insult. When you travel responsibly and sustainably you are essentially not negatively impacting how the destination would flow if you weren’t there

-Shop local, you are a tourist so try direct your tourist money towards supplementing the economy. Try the local cuisine, don’t just stop at a franchise that you recognize for convenience.

-Volunteering is a great way to go because you are not just throwing money at a problem you are donating time and energy too. If you like sharks here is a great volunteering program to consider. Another resource is “positive impact travel” I think its a great read for those who are considering volunteering as a means to explore the globe with minimal impact. They suggest organisations and means of travel. If you’re interested in travel with meaning, keen to volunteer or just want to connect with others as you travel.

About airbnb’s and other similar organisations

-One controversial topic is the use of air bnb’s. Now, I won’t say I am for or against these types of organizations but I will say this, do your research on the living arrangements. If a host is renting out a room in their house I would see that as sustainable. But often times investors are buying up properties in tourist heavy areas in order to capitalize on the short term rentals. As a result they drive property values in certain areas up and make it difficult for locals to secure a place to live in reasonable distance to their place of work.

-Another problem is people setting up air bnb’s in areas that are not zoned for tourists leading to strain on the infrastructure and can become a nuance to the regular lives of the locals. Once again, sustainable and responsible travel is about researching and understanding your impact and making sure that you aren’t leaving a problem behind for the sake of a good time. Check out your hosts situation and make your mind up yourself, air bnb’s are more often than not way more affordable than hotels.

I hope you enjoyed this article and it has helped you on your quest to travel responsibly and sustainably. For further reading on this topic check out this site . I found it very good.

If you are interested in an interesting slow travel experience with a twist of up-skilling yourself check out our travel writing or environmental journalism program where you can spend a month with us in South Africa.

Happy travels!

Team - Robyn

Blogger Profile - Robyn Green

Robyn joined the Africa Media in 2018 to bring a young and enthusiastic approach to our social media and marketing campaigns. She brings with her a serious passion for people and animals alike. She also teaches a workshop called Social Media and the Independent artist, which is aimed at helping freelance photographers, writers and film makers build their online presence.

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