Six easy steps to travel responsibly

Responsible travel practices have become even more essential as traveling has become a mega-industry with more people packing their suitcases or backpacks to faraway places. Our vacations are a special treat to us. Depending on the type of traveler, we ache with wanderlust, a desire for adventure or relaxation, and sometimes forget the implications of our visit. We were often lucky to be taken to off-the-beaten-path destinations. Places that do not evolve solely around tourism. What we found there: Lovely people eager to share their homes and stories with us. But we also encountered an incredible amount of pollution.

Over the many journeys, our awareness of our footprint increased. So naturally, we were trying to reduce our harmful “travel habits” and replace them with more responsible practices.

 

Hopkins, Belize: Dani by the beach
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Sustainable tourism vs. responsible traveling – What’s the difference?

The terms “sustainable tourism” and “responsible traveling” are increasingly becoming buzzwords.

Sustainable tourism means causing as little negative impact as possible while fulfilling local economic needs. Ideally, sustainable tourism practices take a long-term perspective in developing and maintaining a destination’s landmark, culture, and heritage.

Contrary to that, responsible traveling refers to the personal level. Responsible travel is about leaving a positive impact as a visitor by respecting the environment, people, and cultures.

Being a responsible traveler doesn’t necessarily mean you have to give up on comfort. Instead, it’s about cultural, social, and environmental awareness. Responsible travel is about understanding the effect on the places you travel to, whether in the environment or its people.

If you want to travel more responsibly, try our tips below. They should help to get you started!

Hopkins, Belize: Colorful house

1. Avoid unnecessary airfares – take the bus and make friends on the road

Admittedly, it’s hard to avoid airplanes entirely while satisfying our wanderlust. Nonetheless, you can reduce your carbon footprint by flying less frequently. Take local public transportation once you have reached your destination.

Traveling by bus rather than plane will reduce your travel emissions and give you an excellent opportunity to get in touch with the locals. It might take you a lot longer to get from A to B, but in our opinion, it’s almost always worth it!

2. Do your research first

Travel has become fast. We enter the plane, and when we exit after just a couple of hours, we find ourselves surrounded by a completely different culture and way of living. Being a responsible traveler means reading up on your destination’s practices and cultural values before you head there. Become aware of local customs, so you behave respectfully.

3. Immerse in local life

Traveling is more than just visiting a destination. It’s about immersing yourselves in foreign cultures and getting to know the people. Don’t be shy when somebody starts a conversation with you. We often heard phrases like “we can tell that people are worried or afraid of us.” Imagine how it must feel if tons of foreigners visited your hometown being afraid of you. Often we have made the experience that people are proud to show off their home country to foreign visitors. We found this especially true for developing countries. Learn a few essential words or phrases. This will be enough to break the ice.

With billions of people traveling each year, imagine if every single one of them would share one conversation, one exchange of words with somebody from a foreign culture. It would not just change our perspective but create understanding and change the world in a beautiful way.

4. Source locally and responsibly

Our tourist dollars may have a significant impact on the local economy. Stay in locally owned accommodations or places that give back to the local community. Visit locally owned restaurants or book your tour through sustainable family-operated companies. We feel like people should benefit from our visit. Therefore we make a point of choosing locally-owned alternatives.

5. Reduce your waste

Often we visit places that cannot provide sophisticated water and waste management systems. Microplastic and other ingredients steaming our cosmetics pollute water and the environment. Make a point of bringing sustainable zero-waste products such as:

  • shampoo bars
  • sunscreen free of toxic components (e.g., oxybenzone)
  • reusable cotton pad alternatives
  • reusable water bottles and water filters
  • a tote for shopping
  • sustainable cutlery
  • a set of warps to pack your food or leftovers

The list goes on and on… and as you can see, you only have to make small changes to reduce the footprint drastically you leave behind. Just think about all the plastic bottles you won’t have to use…

P.S: Check out our unique zero-waste packing list! Click here!

6. Take a second before taking pictures

Too often, we wander around with the camera glued to our hands, unaware of the people surrounding us. We start shooting away as soon as we enter a scene. Often we invade moments or disturb others without our knowledge. Take a second to access the scene you are coming from, and most importantly, ask for permission before taking pictures, especially of people. Keep in mind: it’s their home, they are real people, and this is not a photo set with paid models. We found that when you ask people to take a picture of them, you are likely to hear the story behind that person. Use your camera to create tangible memories with people rather than using them as attractions.

Border crossing from Nicaragua to El Salvador