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Travel smarter: 7 ways to be a responsible tourist

How can you travel the world and have a positive impact on the places you visit? From booking your flights to what to do when you arrive, these 7 guidelines will help you gain an A* in responsible travel.

1. Research your destination

Copenhagen
Photo credit: Kasper Rasmussen

Putting a little bit of effort into researching your holiday destination is the best way to ensure you’re being respectful (and it’ll help you earn the respect of the locals too). Scout out the best places to immerse yourself in the culture, avoid the normal tourist traps and live like the locals. Did you know, for example, that the Danes convert some of their cemeteries into places for socialising? Assistens Kirkegård in Copenhagen is a plush green oasis that’s perfect for a leisurely stroll and a lesson in Danish history – among the graves you’ll find Hans Christian Andersen’s name.

Once you’ve got your itinerary sorted, swot up on basic words and phrases, but don’t add to your luggage weight with a bulky guide book. Instead, apps such as TripLingo or iTranslate Voice will offer instant help when you’re on the move. The latter even translates your voice as you speak, so it’ll come in handy if you’d like to have more of a meaningful chat than “Where’s the closest loo?”

2. Choose accommodation wisely

Caravans
Photo credit: Dmitry Naumov

Many hotels follow greener practices, including these spectacular examples in Costa Rica and the Peruvian Amazon. For some serious eco points, book small-scale and family-run accommodation or a homestay – change your filters when searching for hotels. You’ll be supporting locals by investing in the economy and might even get some invaluable insider tips from your hosts.

3. Be mindful of precious resources

Photo credit: Westend61 / Bonninstudio

Don’t risk being a greedy tourist and be careful to switch off lights, heating and air-con when they’re not in use. Avoiding excessive use of precious resources can make a real difference, so try to limit your time in the shower, too, and don’t have your towels changed every day. In South Africa, water shortages and electricity restrictions are an ongoing problem. In fact, Cape Town is currently going through a period of ‘load shedding’ in which electricity is turned off multiple times a day to help meet the demands of a rapidly growing population. So even if you’re staying in a hotel with a back-up generator, think twice before you leave that light on, or take an extra long shower – they’re not your resources to waste.

And it doesn’t stop there. We all know how much single-use plastics are affecting the environment and wildlife all around the world, so seek out recycling facilities and do your bit by bringing your own gear – investing in a reusable water bottle (plus a filter, if necessary) and a lightweight shoulder bag is a good start.

4. Travel around responsibly

Photo credit: Andrea Badrutt

Why not book direct flights rather than stopping over and pack lightly to help reduce your carbon footprint? Take it even further and consider buying certified carbon offsets and ethical travel insurance too.

Once you arrive, slow the pace and really connect with the destination and local people. Walking is a great way to do this and it’s the greenest form of travel (complete with personal healthy bonus points!). When distance or time constraints apply, use public transport – it helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and your own footprint. There are some special scenic routes to be found too, such as the Glacier Express in Switzerland, which journeys through awe-inspiring alpine landscapes. Or if that’s not your cup of (ethically-farmed) tea, there are many other scenic rail trips to choose from.

And if you want the freedom of your own set of wheels and plan to hire a car when you arrive, make sure you request a hybrid or energy-efficient vehicle to boost your eco points.

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5. Choose ethical excursions and activities

Ethical excursions
Photo credit: Chatrawee Wiratgasem

Hiring a local guide employed by a local business will ensure your money stays in the community. Another option is to volunteer and work while you holiday. It can be tricky to do this ethically, so research is key. A brilliant sustainable tourism option is WWOOF, which links you up with organic farmers and growers who will offer you food and board in exchange for completing daily tasks. You’ll get to experience a local way of life, learn new skills and help support a local business. There are locations worldwide, but this farm in Ecuador is particularly idyllic.

6. Shop locally and invest in local people

Locally sourced products
Photo credit: pniesen

You’re no doubt au fait with the merits of buying from independent shops – you often get higher quality goods, right? And if they sell items made by locals, your purchase contributes to jobs and the local economy. Look out for the Fair Trade sticker in shop windows for extra peace of mind and opt for handmade items rather than mass-produced ones.

When it comes to eating out, choose independent or family-owned restaurants (why not ask a local for a recommendation?), buy from street food stalls or visit organic farmers’ markets to get an authentic slice of local cuisine and produce. And if it’s a social-, conservation- or community-based project, even better! Sister Srey Cafe in Siem Reap, Cambodia, serves top notch coffee and supports Khmer students by providing jobs and training, as well as donating to local causes and committing to environmental sustainability through its practices. And Bloom Asia, with locations in the Philippines and Cambodia, is a not-for-profit café and cake decorating training centre that empowers vulnerable women through the vocational work it offers.

7. Respect the natural world around you

Photo credit: Tatyana_Drujinin

Tempting as it might be to take a piece of memorabilia home, a responsible tourist should leave the flora & fauna where it is. Not littering shows respect for the natural environment, as does choosing to support ethical wildlife experiences, such as viewing animals in a wild or semi-wild environment and not touching or feeding them. Choosing to use organic eco-friendly sunscreen and insect repellent will prevent harmful chemicals from getting into eco-systems and harming wildlife, so you know you’re looking out for the natural world.

Now you’re an A* responsible traveller, try out what you’ve learnt and book your next trip away.

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