How to be a force for the good in easy, simple ways
At some point, a lot of travel bloggers, and even those who work in the travel industry, ask themselves whether they should be advocating travel considering the many issues that confront the industry – the effects of overtourism being one to begin with.
But the urge to see the world and its beauty in this lifetime is almost universal in nature. And that is why, the industry whilst facilitating travel for everyone is also trying to implement various good practices which help preserve the unique and beautiful wildlife as well as help sustain local communities, natural environments and places of historical importance on our planet.
That leads us to a question – what can we do as travellers and tourists to make a difference? And are there any small but significant steps we can take towards responsible tourism?
The answer is yes. There are many positive, and affirmative actions that we can take on a personal level and these in turn can help sustain local economies, as well as make certain that we do not erode the natural beauty and diversity of the places we visit. In fact, the World Tourism Organization (WTO), a United Nations Specialized Agency has also published a leaflet, updated in 2020, called ‘The Responsible Tourist and Traveller’ and this was to facilitate the understanding of the core principles of the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism.
Here are some simple ways in which we can become responsible tourists and take constructive action:
A ‘positive’ mindset
One of the most important ways we can arm and equip ourselves when we travel is by developing a mindset which makes us appreciative of the places we travel to. Which means that we are curious but respectful of local customs and traditions, mindful of how we interact with the community and its people (learning how to say hello and thank you in their language, being friendly and open but not jumping to conclusions or criticising their way of life). It also means that we are considerate towards the people we meet during our travels – from the hospitality staff to those who drive, ferry or take us to our destinations as well as other tourists like us. Conversations with local people, buying products and services from the area you are based at, exploring the region’s cuisine are all good ways to enjoy your vacation as well as boost the economy and business of the region.
Using public transport and minimising the use of single-use plastics
Many cities offer great public transport options – from buses, trams, trains and even ferries. For instance, in Malta, we never used a cab, except for our maiden drive from the airport to our Airbnb. From Birkirkara, where our accommodation was, we travelled to Valletta, Gozo, Dwerja, Rabat, Mdina, Mosta and many more places using a network of Malta’s public transport buses (and ferries for some destinations).
Your host, the staff at the concierge desk and in fact, local people that you meet on the streets will be happy to guide you in using public transport. Of course, you can always use a judicious mix of public and private transport as per your needs and what is actually available on the ground.
That brings us to another issue – single-use plastics. I have found it helpful to carry with me a mid-sized thermos, and a reusable coffee cup. The other things in my kitty are – a light-weight cotton tote bag, small reusable bottles for our toiletries that I refill for every trip, a washing-machine friendly shower cap, and pocket-sized face towels. The face towels sprayed with a little water are a good alternative to use and throw wipes.
You can try these out and see if you can make some more additions that help reduce the use of single-use plastics during your travels.
Wildlife and endangered flora and fauna
I remember that once during a trip to a butterfly park in India, the caretaker asked us if we wanted to take a few butterflies home. I was aghast but said no as politely as I could. The various species of butterflies were for the enjoyment of everyone who came to the park, and for aiding children’s interest in the natural world around them. While I understood that he was trying to make some extra money and he may have genuinely needed some, I could not participate in, or encourage such activities.
Similarly, there may be incidents on your travels where you come across offers to either buy products that are illegal or endanger wildlife and while these offers come from local people – always say no. The opportunity to see a wild animal in its natural habitat is also something that most of us would keep at the top of our lists but we need to ensure that we use the services of licensed operators, those that follow the rules and regulations and have animal welfare at their heart.
Also, some beaches prohibit holidaymakers to pick and take away pebbles, and you may actually be fined for doing so. In fact, when at a beach, do consider the – ‘five-point-litter’ rule. You can carry a paper bag and pick up five pieces of rubbish that you see on a beach, and in this way you are doing your bit in keeping it clean.
The argument for and against geotagging
Geotagging is a topic that is rife for debates. On one hand, it is believed that geotagging has led to overtourism and there are places where the incessant flow of tourists is simply not supported – there is no infrastructure in place for the inflow of thousands of tourists, and this in turn affects the local environment. On the other hand, some people are of the opinion that the anti-geotagging movement is one form of gatekeeping where a certain group of travellers want to keep things exclusive to themselves. And this group could be more privileged – in terms of local knowledge, expertise and even resources and wants to keep the lesser privileged group at a distance.
What has worked for me on a personal level? Authentic storytelling. I do not geotag my travels but rather invest in writing about them in a manner that makes the readers feel as if they are a part of the journey. I offer unique insights, share little anecdotes and offer plenty of tips and resources to experience a city, region and country in an engaging, mindful and responsible manner. I personalise my blogs and photographs in a manner that makes them engaging and interesting for my audience. I am also happy to share my exact itinerary if someone asks me for it and by doing so, I have never felt the need to geotag my posts.
Last but not the least
When I am on a city-break, I try and be conscious of the fact that the city is home to a lot of people, and they need to get to their workplaces and go about their life. I know that it would annoy me if I were to encounter a group of people who are blocking the pedestrian pathways. So, when I am a tourist, I try not to hog a pathway, and stay aware of other people and their needs. If I am inside a shop or a studio, and I want a photograph for my blog, I ask for permission. These are little things really, but they help.
And as always, we are open to tips, suggestions and feedback so please let us know if you have something to say on this topic.
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Prerna Shah is a media and content professional with over a decade of experience in both print and digital. Based currently in Dublin, Ireland, she pursues her passion for storytelling by creating engaging and authentic content on a variety of topics and issues, and also by maintaining a personal blog.