For many, travel may still be a pipe dream in a Coronavirus-dominated world, but as some areas of the globe open up to international travel — or even as the prospect of future adventure is still on the cards — can we take the time to learn to be better tourists, backpackers, travellers and so forth? Can we learn how to travel both ethically and mindfully? Some believe so.
A recent article from Lonely Planet astutely pointed out that “often, the personal benefits we gain when traveling come at the expense of the places and people we visit. These include degradation of the environment, threats to local culture and heritage, overcrowding, and residents being priced out of their own cities.”
Jeff Greenwald, executive director of Ethical Traveler, spoke to Lonely Planet explaining that “ethical travel really is simply mindful travel,” and that every traveler has the opportunity to represent not just themselves, but their place of origin.
“It’s travel with an awareness of the places you’re visiting, your impact on those places, where your money is going, and how you can be a good representative of your own country when you travel, rather than just an example of everything that’s wrong with your own country.”
Here are just some of the many that you can travel mindfully. Often mindful travel is aided by researching your destination before you visit under the lens of ethical travel. This way, you can ensure you’ll be aware of tourism problems, be respectful of local customs and be the best mindful traveller you can be.
Nature and Wildlife
Interactions with local nature reserves and wildlife is one particular area where you can be mindful. Obvious examples include not leaving litter and being respectful of local areas – if the guidelines ask you not to feed the animals, to stay on paths and not trample on the flora and fauna, then do so. These are also good practices to adopt as standard anyway.
Less obvious ways can be looking into the ethicality of activities. Many activities such as elephant riding, petting tigers, or posing for photos with captive animals are known to be harmful and abusive to the animals. If you are looking to experience the local wildlife, research the activity first – a good rule of thumb is to assume that unusual interactions with wild animal touching, riding, close contact, and so forth will not be ethical. Although many animal sanctuaries help the animals in question, always research into whether it is genuinely ethical before attending.
According to Lonely Planet, “[A 2019 Exodus Travels study], which surveyed 2000 internationally-traveling Americans, also revealed that 39 percent feel ‘travel guilt’ over their past experiences abroad, especially if it involved practices like swimming with dolphins or posing for photos with captive wildlife. Respondents say that a combination of personal research, greater concern for the environment, and documentaries like Blackfish have made them more conscientious.”
Support the Locals
Tourism can be immensely beneficial to countries economically, but often larger corporations benefit from tourism over local communities. Further, the lasting impact of colonization and commercialisation on travel can mean that local communities are not benefiting from tourism but are instead being negatively impacted by it. One example is as popular areas expand for tourism, local people are priced out of living in those areas or do not receive proper money made from their crafts or services – instead, this profit going to larger corporations, often in other countries. In some areas, Native or Indigenous communities are exploited completely.
Therefore, you can choose to support local businesses, artists, and traders over the larger organizations. This can mean opting to buy souvenirs and gifts from local craftspeople rather than the commercialised airport gift shop. Visiting a locally owned restaurant or reserve, rather than one owned by an offshore business person. Joining local tours and paying local landowners over larger tours. Opting for local services can not only offer richer, authentic, and unique experiences, but can even save you money.
To find out where the local establishments are, ask residents and people of interest, such as a local taxi driver or accommodation host. There is also a wealth of information on travel blogs and websites that can point you in the right direction. Soon you’ll be a pro at seeking these areas out for yourself.
Early on in the pandemic, when much of the world was placed into lockdown, images of clear waters, pollution reduction and wildlife returning to areas frequently disrupted by humans dazzled and inspired the world. While many people looked at how quickly damaging human practices can be curbed, this can also be remembered as you travel – from reducing your carbon footprint generally to your direct and immediate effect on the places that you visit.
Just as it is important to look after the environment in your home country, it is important to do so while travelling. Some poorer countries will be feeling the effects of climate change more than richer ones, and therefore it is all the more important that you take care of the environment.
This can be anything and everything from bringing your own reusable water bottle — check that the water is drinkable before you refill — to renting bicycles rather than taking a taxi. Look up the environmental problems in the area that you are visiting, such as the damage tourists have to coral reefs. Do your best to not add to those problems and reduce your impact.