With more of us travelling than ever before, it’s more important than ever to be mindful of our impact on the people and places we visit. So we asked the experts for their top responsible travel tips.
In 2018, it seems everyone (and even their pets) is going on adventures. In fact, statistics from Tourism Research Australia show that some 10 million Australians went overseas in 2017, versus just under 5 million a decade earlier.
The joys and benefits of travel are wide-ranging. From providing us with longer-lasting happiness to relieving stress, boosting creativity and even making us smarter – it’d be easy to assume that there’s no downside to getting out into the big wide world. Unfortunately, there are some very real environmental, cultural and economic downsides. So here are a few tips for those looking to build a bit more sustainability into their sojourning.
1. Fly better
First things first: flying is terrible for the environment. There are no two ways about it. The aviation industry churns through some 5 million barrels of oil a day, which equates to 2.5 per cent of the world’s total carbon emissions. Since it doesn’t seem likely or viable that the world’s population is going to wake up tomorrow and decide they’re never going to fly again (in fact, passenger aircraft numbers could well double by 2035), our best bet, for now, is to make better choices.
The first of those choices is to take the train if you can. Or, if you have to fly, then fly with an efficient airline. You can find a handy airline-efficiency ranking at Atmosfair, and airlines such as United, Qantas and KLM currently use sustainable aviation biofuel. Once you’ve booked, carbon offset your flight.
Some airlines, such as Air New Zealand, actually let you offset during the booking process with carbon offset calculators through which passengers can pay to offset their emissions. It costs about $5 to offset a return trip from Melbourne to Sydney, and $90 to offset a return trip from Melbourne to London. That money will be invested into a green solution or project elsewhere. And if your airline doesn’t have its own carbon offset calculator, you can visit ClimateCare and use theirs just the same.
2. Think local, think eco-friendly
Not all tour operators are created equal. If all or some of your trip is being booked with a tour company, pay close attention to the type of experience they’re offering. Ask them if their guides are local; if their drivers, porters and any other relevant staff are local; and if the accommodation they use is locally-owned. If the answer is no, keep shopping. The same applies if you’re booking your own transport and accommodation – go local.
“We don’t see the point of travelling if you’re not thinking local-first,” says Julian Carnall, co-founder of Large Minority, a responsibly-minded travel company that offers tuk-tuk and sailing adventures in Sri Lanka, Cambodia, the Philippines and the Amazon rainforest. “If you visit a destination, particularly in the developing world, the least you can do is invest your money back into that destination – rather than foreign companies or corporations – and try and leave it better off than you found it.”
Ten per cent of every single Large Minority trip sold gets donated straight back into local community projects, and their trips actively encourage their travellers to plant trees, collect rubbish, and raise money for local schools and other community services. “The next step, if you’re booking your own travel, it to think eco-friendly too,” says Carnall. “Accommodation, transport, activities – if you’re going as local and as eco-friendly as you can, you’re on the right track.”
3. Pick a selfless destination
Instead of picking a destination based on your personal preference – which is what most of us do by default – you could try picking a destination in which your very presence can have a positive impact.
If you want to hike the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim, for example, you might consider taking your hiking boots to Nepal instead, which is still recovering from the devastating 2015 earthquake, and where your tourist dollars will have a much more profound and immediate effect. Or perhaps you’ll make an effort to travel with more Indigenous-owned tour operators during your Australian road trip to help preserve and support Australia’s Indigenous culture.
“It’s just about making a small shift in how we decide on a destination or experience,” says Meera Dattani, UK editor of Adventure.com, an online travel magazine which actively promotes adventures with impact. “It’s about shifting the focus from you, the traveller, to the destination, and thinking, ‘Where can I do the most good?’ Sometimes that might mean planning a trip in a destination you may never have thought of, but that’s half the fun!”
Additionally, the negative impact of over tourism on communities and destinations cannot be overstated. So if your dream trip is to somewhere you know is already struggling to deal with its tourist numbers, you might consider opting for a less saturated destination instead.
4. Treat animals with respect
A good rule of thumb when it comes to engaging with any animal-related experiences overseas is to avoid anything in which an animal is doing something it wouldn’t do in the wild. That means no elephant rides, no killer whales in fish tanks, no photos with monkeys wearing clothes, and no dancing bears. Sorry.
Films such as 2013’s Blackfish cast a light on the harm that comes to marine animals kept in captivity, and Intrepid Travel became the first tour company to ban elephant rides on their trips in May 2014, with many other travel companies having since followed suit. In 2016, TripAdvisor even banned selling tickets to all animal attractions and Botswana (the country) imposed a country-wide ban on elephant rides. “In these times of increasing loss of habitat for wildlife, climate change and other human-generated pressures on the planet, it’s important that we actively participate the protection of wildlife,” said Intrepid co-founder Geoff Manchester at the time of the elephant ban.
That doesn’t mean you can’t have any animal experiences on your travels. It just means you need to seek out operators that serve up cruelty-free experiences and visit destinations that allow you to view animals in the wild.
5. Use your head
When you’re on the ground in a destination, being a responsible and sustainable traveller really isn’t rocket science. It’s simply a matter of respecting the people, cultures and creatures you come across and treading as lightly as possible.
Carbon neutral since 2010, group tour company Intrepid Travel boast 25 carbon neutral offices in all corners of the world and close to 1500 carbon-offset trips. “Most of the things travellers can do are pretty simple,” says Liz Manning, Intrepid’s responsible business manager. “Things like taking your own reusable drink bottle, using less plastic, shopping at local markets and businesses, staying in hotels or guesthouses with good sustainability practices, not visiting orphanages – where the children are often mistreated – these are just a few of the ways you can make your trip more environmentally and socially responsible. Most importantly, try not to overthink it and just enjoy your time in a new place.”