Ahh. At last. There you are, lying out on your lounger underneath the sun umbrella, with an endless white sandy beach stretched out before you. Drink in hand, you will spend the afternoon reading and people watching, perhaps a brief swim in the warm waters of this tropical ocean.
You make sure you have your sunscreen on and keep yourself well hydrated. Later on, you will return to your hotel room and dine in the hotel’s extravagant restaurant. Tomorrow brings the promise of an exciting snorkeling day, to see the beautiful coral reef and the rainbow-colored fish that abounds in these warm waters.
You have worked hard to pay for this vacation so you will enjoy the time off. In fact, this place is so relaxing that you vow to visit it again and see some of the local amenities on your next visit.
Fast forward five years and there you are again… but WAIT! What has happened to the beach, the beautiful coral reefs, that little bistro you wanted to eat at just down the street…?
This has all changed.
The Picture Today
Over-tourism has threatened the very environment you saw as so relaxing on your first trip. That white sandy beach is littered with plastic from straws, water bottles, and other non-disposable plastics that have filled the ocean.
That coral reef has been bleached by the chemicals in the sunscreen creams that we are so careful to apply before going into the water. The loss of that coral reef also impacts the fish population that lives amongst the protection of the reef.
Lack of business for the local bistro means that it had to close its door and the big American-style fast-food franchises are moving in. I am sure you are getting the picture by now, so how can we, as travelers wanting an exciting vacation, change this. After all, we are just one person or one family.
New Term: Responsible Tourism
Vacations should be exciting and not limiting, of course, but we also want to ensure the sustainability of future vacations. This is where responsible tourism comes into the picture.
What exactly is responsible tourism and how can we become responsible tourists?
One word, respect, is the principal motivator to being responsible. As more and more tourists enjoy this beautiful planet, we should be respectful and sensitive to the environment, the people whose homes we are visiting, the cultures that has been formed in years past. As we do this, we will open up the many layers of this planet.
How to Be a Responsible Tourist
Some practical ways to show respect for the environment are to:
- Pack your own cloth bag for shopping. Use that when you buy locally handmade (not banned) products for souvenirs.
- Pack your own reusable water bottle and spend a little extra to get one with a strong filter so that you do not have to get the bottled water at the stores. Reusable straws are easily bought now too.
- If you must have your coffee, pack your own coffee mug or drink from mugs in the local bistro.
- Check the list of ingredients in your sunscreen, and do not use if it contains any chemical that may harm the ocean environment.
- Take shorter showers.
- At your hotel, do not ask for housecleaning every day, only as needed. Many hotels are now winning awards for their efforts toward sustainable tourism. This effort includes recycling plastics, recycling soap bits, using eco-friendly laundry soaps, composting.
- Do some research before you book your hotel. Even better, book your stay at a small homestay or locally run hostel. Stay a few days to reduce your travel and your carbon footprint.
- Use a bicycle to tour the area or enjoy a walking tour.
- Try to book a direct flight to your destination as direct flights will reduce the carbon footprint.
- Be adventurous with your dining options. Support the locally run cafes, bistros, restaurants and savor some of the local cuisines.
- Why not try a local cooking class. Perhaps you might even learn what is in Baba’s secret sauce!
- Book some exciting locally run tours that you have researched before to ensure that the employees are being treated properly; that wages are fair, living accommodation, if provided by the employer, is decent.
- Stay clear of tour operators who offer up-close encounters with local wildlife. Quite often, these animals are made to behave via physical abuse.
- Be sensitive and respectful of the culture. For example, head coverings may be required in some countries. Show respect and cover your head.
- Greetings are different in many countries, so learn the polite way of greeting the local people.
- Try to learn a few phrases in the language and use that language as much as possible. There are many translation apps you can download on your phone to help you with that. I know I would use those apps a lot as language is not my forte.
- Do some research on local customs, show respect for their history, and perhaps even engage in an intelligent conversation to learn more a custom you’re interested in. You might even learn more about how to dress in a sari!
- If you are traveling with children, this will be a great example to them of how to make travel more engaging, educational, and fun.
Responsible travel does not have to be limiting. It can, in fact, be quite the opposite, opening up endless ways to explore this planet. Be adventurous and continue to explore. Happy travels now and in the future.
Do you think you are a responsible traveler? What do you do to show respect to the people and places you visit? Have you re-visited a location only to see it had changed dramatically since your first visit? How had things changed? Please share with the community.