Travel is a beautiful experience. It offers the possibility of being completely immersed in a different culture and context, with so many alluring sights, sounds, and unique aromas. Navigating different scenarios and cultures can also be a mind-expanding and character-building experience. For us, some of the most enjoyable travel experiences include the opportunity to meet and exchange with locals, taste the local cuisine, explore local cultural heritage sites and see first-hand wildlife thriving in their natural environments.
However, we all know that travel can have several negative impacts. The transport sector is the main cause of pollution in cities, while the emissions from flights are particularly harmful to the atmosphere. There are also the negative local impacts of travel on destinations that are less developed and therefore, relatively speaking, ill-equipped to handle the safe disposal of waste, the adequate protection of pristine natural environments or the protection of endangered species, to name a few examples. There is also the question of the allocation of resources and the possibility of inadvertently contributing to the exploitation of native people and indigenous cultures.
However, with the awareness of ethical and sustainable travel options becoming more mainstream, many people are realizing that there are alternative ways to 'be a tourist'. The benefits of eco-tourism are numerous and while it may take a little more planning and research, there are many positive choices available to those who wish to travel responsibly and even give something back to their temporary host country and the local community. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
If you find yourself lucky enough to visit Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, consider taking a respectful tour, led by a local favela resident in the largest favela of the city, Rocinha (the 'r' is pronounced like an 'h'). The people that live in these neighborhoods are often discriminated against locally and do not receive the same level of government services that their neighbors enjoy. The tour allows you to support the local bakeries, artists, and community while learning about their thriving, dynamic and resilient way of life.
One of the original nature and wildlife conservationists, Jane Goodall, offers the opportunity to support their efforts to rescue and protect abused and abandoned chimpanzees through guided tours at Chimp Eden in South Africa. In Rwanda, Uganda and the Congo, eco-tourism is protecting the lives of the endangered Mountain Gorillas, an important legacy from the vision and work of Dian Fossey. In general, concerning wildlife-based tourism, it is important to do your research to make sure you are not actively contributing to the exploitation and abuse of wild animals and their natural habitats.
There are also ways to be involved in sustainable travel initiatives in major European tourist destinations, such as Amsterdam, in the Netherlands. The social and environmental impact tour operator, Plastic Whale, offers tours of the canals which also allows tourists to combat the global plastic crisis with 'plastic-fishing'. The collected plastic items are then re-purposed into other useful objects. For example, around 8,500 rescued bottles made the plastic boat that the tours operate in.
These are just a few ideas to get started. As a final note, remember to avoid animal selfies, travel slow and with local transport if you can, dispose of your rubbish responsibly and choose local tour guides and operators that are also supporting the local community and protecting the natural environment. With the social and environmental impact of your travel taken care of you can sit back and relax, and enjoy your next adventure!