I am very fortunate to travel the world for a living. It has made me more open to the world and willing to reach my goals in life, big or small.
Travel, by its very nature, has some impact on the planet, both environmentally and culturally. But these impacts don’t have to be negative ones.
Building understanding between cultures and countries is great, but you have to be respectful of the place you’re in – there are too many stories of brash tourists expecting their host countries to bend and sway to their culture to document, and no-one wants to be that person. I’ve put together a list of some simple ways you can reduce the impact of travelling, and ensure that any impact you have is positive.
1. Don’t litter
This should be common sense. But you’d be amazed (or perhaps not) at the amount of travellers who treat their host country like a huge bin. Take rubbish with you and recycle where the facilities are available. If you’re hiking or trekking be mindful of human waste, which means not leaving tissue or toilet paper lying around. Instead bury or pack out your own waste. There are biodegradable and eco-friendly toilet bags that you can carry with you to prevent the pollution of streams or the degradation of pristine landscapes.
2. Go off the beaten path, sensitively
There are tourist spots in every country. You might not notice the ones in your own backyard because they’re so familiar to you, but there are always places that attract tourists, vying for their cash. By visiting less well known places you can help the local economy by spending your money there and also help show that not all tourists are loud, brash and disrespectful to local culture – this is one way you can have a really positive impact.
3. Recycle, reuse, repair
I use about 2 to 3 pairs of walking boots every year, and they tend to fill up my cupboards. So if your clothes get ripped or your shoes start falling apart, find a local person who can fix them for you. This way, you contribute to the local economy, reduce the amount of things thrown away and you get a real feel for the culture of the country you’re in. You can even get some amazing clothing made from recycled materials in a lot of countries. So purchasing these instead of cheap trinkets for presents also helps reduce your impact on the environment. And it helps spread understanding of other cultures. If you want to lighten your luggage, donate items to a local charity, your tour guide, your porters, or to the local school rather than throwing them away.
4. Clean up after yourself
I like making friends all over the world, and leaving a good impression is important. If you’re staying in a locally run hostel do your bit by stripping your bedsheets when you leave, cleaning up any mess you wouldn’t want anyone else to have to. Don’t cause any damage, including graffiti or taking things from sacred places as a “memento”. Doing things just to get a good photo for your social media accounts is hardly ever worth the negative impact.
5. Be on your best behaviour
I believe that the better your behaviour, the better the world is for everyone and you can set a good example to your fellow travellers by doing so. It’s also important to remember that how you behave can impact on the local community, so if you’re seen drunk and weaving about all over the place this can encourage local kids to follow your lead. Be sensible and discreet, and remember how you are being perceived can influence others to do the same, both positively and negatively. Read customs of the country before you set off, religious items, throwing things,
6. Be wary of volunteering
Not to say that volunteering isn’t a great way to help developing communities, but unless you’ve got the skills they need, and a meaningful amount of time to spend doing it, be very cautious about “voluntourism”. You might feel great about spending a day helping out in an orphanage. But remember the kids are going to be dealing with meeting new people all the time and the ensuing lack of stability. Only trust renown organisations with long term objectives. If you can teach, spend a decent amount of time doing it. If you can’t, don’t pretend you can for the sake of having an anecdote that makes you look good.
The more you travel, the more you discover that there’s lots of stuff that cannot be controlled on your trip. But leaving no trace is definitely something that we can have an impact on. My advice is to always plan ahead and to write down a list of things that will make a real difference. And I promise that it will give you a sense of perspective, a larger view on the cultures you encounter and a greater respect of the planet.