Make a difference: 5 ways to travel more responsibly in 2019

Travelling responsibly has never been more critical. From choosing local guides to challenging your tour company to do better, these are the five things you can do to make a difference

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1: Go local

Local guide in Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve Ecuador (Shutterstock)

Local guide in Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve Ecuador (Shutterstock)

This is such a simple concept, but one with huge potential to change the lives of local communities around the world. When taking a trip, making the commitment to stay in small, locally-owned hotels, or taking a tour run by a local company really helps to ensure that your traveller pounds are left in the local economy. 

While many activities included on tours can involve meeting local people, it’s often the case that much of the money generated from these experiences goes back into a foreign company and very little stays in the local communities. 

Opting for a company that is committed to supporting local communities, through employment, training, local experiences or social enterprise, is a fantastic way of ensuring you are making a difference to the people in the destinations you visit. Companies should be able to demonstrate how they are supporting travellers and where traveller money is being spent. G Adventures’ Ripple Score for example, measures how much in-destination spend from services such as accommodation, transport and food, is spent with locally-owned companies. It means travellers can look at a trip and know exactly how much is staying in the local economy. 

2: Interaction with children – take a pledge

Local school kids in Africa (Shutterstock)

Local school kids in Africa (Shutterstock)

It goes without saying that when travellers visit destinations, coming into contact with local children is inevitable. Whether it’s meeting a child on the street or visiting a school, thinking about how these interactions can affect the children is an important part of travelling responsibly. 

While many actions are well-meaning, travellers taking selfies with children, geo-tagging their location on social media or giving money or gifts are all potentially harmful to children. Would you go up to a child on the streets in your home town and ask for a photo? 

Many companies will promote visits to local schools and classroom tours. While visiting schools can be a great way of supporting education programmes, entering classrooms where children are learning is highly disruptive. In some cases, children will have their school day interrupted multiple times by travellers which, over time, can seriously impact their learning. 

G Adventures created their industry-first set of Child Welfare Guidelines in 2018, in partnership with ChildSafe Movement and Planeterra, and are asking travellers to sign a pledge to be more responsible when interacting with children in the destinations they travel. If you’re unsure about the right thing to do, asking yourself ‘would I do it at home?’ often provides a good gauge as to whether an activity or action is appropriate.

3: Make small changes

Volunteer picking up a plastic bottle on a beach (Shutterstock)

Volunteer picking up a plastic bottle on a beach (Shutterstock)

Making a difference doesn’t always have to mean making huge changes to the way you travel. There are a number of small and simple things that travellers can do to make their travel more responsible. With plastic being the hottest topic on the environmental agenda at the moment, making the simple commitment not to use plastic bottles during your travels, and taking your own refillable bottle with you on your adventure, not only lessens your environmental impact but also will inspire and educate other travellers you meet along the way. 

When it comes to planning and organising your trip, opt out of printed itineraries and flight tickets and download everything through company apps instead. G Adventures has a great app, which allows travellers to view their itinerary, fill in their important information, look at packing lists and also interact and chat with their fellow travellers ahead of the trip. Plus it’s all stored on your phone – easy!

Another simple way travellers can make a change, is looking at how, and what they photograph while travelling. Too often children and local people are exploited as travellers snap their next Instagram post. Understanding that local people are not tourist attractions and treating them with the respect to ask permission before taking any photos is a simple change travellers can make, but one that will be highly appreciated.

4: Saying no to unethical animal activities

Tourist with tiger in Thailand (Shutterstock)

Tourist with tiger in Thailand (Shutterstock)

When travelling to different parts of the world, travellers will come into contact with a number of different opinions and cultural views on what is and isn’t acceptable when it comes to animals and tourism. Many travel companies, like G Adventures, will have their own robust animal welfare policies in place but, if you’re travelling alone, there’s some simple points you can remember to make sure you’re always doing the right thing. Avoid attractions where travellers come into direct contact with animals in captivity that are meant for the wild, particularly when animals are touched or fed by visitors of used for photo opportunities. The reason being, quite simply, that these animals are wild and should be living in the wild, not being photographed for our latest social media post. 

Many travellers will come into contact with attractions that are unnatural to wildlife such as elephant riding, unlicenced zoos or “entertainment” such as snake charming during their travels. These activities, while being marketed as fun experiences, often result in a huge amount of suffering for the animals involved. There are many great alternative activities that travellers can choose to do – swap elephant riding for visiting a national park and trying to see elephants in the wild where your money will go towards the sustaining their remaining natural habitat!

If you’re ever unsure about what is or isn’t ok, then ask yourself if the animal is free from hunger and thirst, free from discomfort, free from pain, disease or injury, able to express normal behaviour and free from fear and distress. If the answer to any of these is no, or you’re not sure, then don’t support it.

5: Challenge companies to be better

Give a thumbs up to responsible travel (Shutterstock)

Give a thumbs up to responsible travel (Shutterstock)

Finally, as a traveller, recognise the power you have to push companies to operate ethically and act more responsibly. If you see or experience something during your tour that didn’t feel right, then make sure you speak up. Reporting it to your guide, or to the company directly, helps companies to review policies and put the wheels in motion to implement better practices. Ultimately you the traveller are the reason travel companies stay in business. If you vote with your voice (and your wallet!) then that will lead to positive change in the industry. You’d be amazed how just a few letters and emails can trigger companies to act.  

So, whether it’s not supporting enough local businesses, concern about how children may be being negatively impacted by your tour, too much single-use plastics or animals being abused for tourists benefit – be sure to speak up.  Remember, even good companies make mistakes – let them know how they can be better!

Living by the core value of 'Do the right thing', G Adventures is committed to responsible travel and changing lives through their purpose-driven business model. Working to protect wildlife, children and Indigenous communities in the destinations they visit, G Adventures also works to leave as much money in the local economy, ensuring that communities around the world benefit from this travel exchange. 

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