Many travelers dream of being able to fully experience and better appreciate the natural world we live in. However, few travelers give thought to the consequences of their traveling decisions. Often, the way we travel can negatively impact local environments, cultures, and people. It’s important then that when we decide to go on holiday, our ethics and values travel along with us.
Being able to explore the beautiful world we live in without recklessly ruining it is possible — it just involves more thoughtful planning. While this may sound exhausting, this type of thoughtfulness actually transforms your holiday from simple travel for pleasure to travel with a purpose. The type of relaxation and satisfaction achieved through ethical travel is tenfold more meaningful and valuable than the alternative. Here we will explore simple ways you can change your approach to leisure and business travel, helping you to visualize a more ethical adventure.
Educate Yourself About Your Destination
The first step towards ensuring that your trip is respectful and beneficial to all involved is to thoroughly research your destination. A city name and some information by hearsay about what it’s like are not enough.
While tourism initiatives can boost the local economy, they also have the potential to disrupt existing local businesses and/or put further strain on natural resources. Educating yourself about the social, environmental and economical climate of your destination is key to making good travel decisions that do not worsen existing problems. For instance, if you are planning an island getaway in an area where the coral reef is degrading as a result of human activity, you can learn about coral-reef friendly behaviors and implement these through your trip.
Understanding the cultural habits and main trade in an area can enrich the experience for you and the locals whose home you are visiting. For example, if you find that fishing is the main trade in an area, you can make an effort to support local fishermen by buying and eating their fish rather than going on a fishing excursion. Eating local is a must in ethical tourism. Be sure to enjoy your meals in locally-owned restaurants that serve locally sourced food. This not only enriches your cultural experience by tasting the true flavor of an area but also boosts the local economy. Similarly, when deciding where you will stay, supporting locally owned and locally staffed accommodations is a must. These values form the basis of sustainable sailing company SeilNorge, which takes tourists on sailing tours along the Norwegian coastline, stopping only at beautiful local restaurants along the way.
Tread Lightly and Safely
When you are visiting vulnerable natural parts of the world, keep in mind that you want to help preserve these areas for future generations, not become a part of the group which leads to their demise. Thinking about the type of transportation you are using is a crucial part of this process. To minimize your carbon footprint, always opt for public transport like trains and buses instead of airplanes and/or private transport. The aviation industry makes for 2% of global emissions, with the International Air Transport Association predicting a doubling of passenger numbers by 2037. All this means that emissions as a result of air travel are set to increase unless we do something about it.
The preservation of an area’s inhabitants—humans and animals alike— is another point to consider. Something you can do before you even pack your bags is ensure that you are in good health. This is an important step to mitigate health risks to the local populations as well as prevent impacts on the local environment. If you are the carrier of a communicable disease, you need to either put measures in place to ensure you do not spread the infection or cancel the trip.
Secondly, considering the local flora and fauna is a must, especially if your trip is nature-centered, like a safari. Safari ethics are extremely important for the safety and well-being of both the animals and humans involved, and you must ensure that your guide understands and respects this. Guides should advocate, for instance, that wild animals are not pets and should not be treated so, as this causes a disruption in the natural balance of things and puts both animal and human parties in danger. Hiring locals guides who have grown up in an area and understand how to respect it is the best option in this regard.
Get Your Kids and Your Business On Board
Even if you have your ethical head on straight, your fellow travelers might not follow suit. If you are traveling with kids, it is important to both explain your ethical choices to them, as well as model ethical behavior. You should explain to them why you are taking a walking tour instead of a bus tour, or why you are ordering the locally sourced option as opposed to the more familiar, imported option. When you have explained to your child why packing lightly is ethically important, it only makes sense that your own suitcase is not bursting at the seams.
Traveling for business, as well, can come with its own set of ethical challenges. Often you will not have the power to make decisions yourself — but you do have a right to voice your opinions about ethical travel. Talking to your boss about only embarking on completely essential trips, for instance, is somewhere you can start. If an online conference call could suffice, suggest foregoing the trip.
When a human presence is absolutely essential, try to get as much as possible done in one trip so as to prevent another plane trip. Opting to take accommodation arrangements into your own hands and supporting smaller, local businesses is another move that is in your power to make. Practicing cyber ethics on a business trip is another must. Ensure that your online behaviors are safe, so as to secure the safety of the business hardware and software you are carrying with you to remote locations.
With the recent global COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent imposition of travel bans everywhere, it is important that ethical travel is on our minds. If anything, this health crisis is a stark reminder that the attitude of simply hopping on a plane to somewhere without giving it a second or serious thought is one that is not sustainable, and requires immediate change.