Have a think about everything our great planet has to offer. Imagine all of those spectacular mountains, canyons, beaches, oceans, lakes, deserts, forests, glaciers and, of course, the incredible wildlife that inhabit them all. Equally, humankind has made its own mark and across our world you can find a wealth of diverse cultures and magnificent man-made structures that are steeped in history.
It is a real privilege that we have the opportunity to experience all of this for ourselves. But, to enjoy this privilege, we need to respect the responsibility we have to protect and preserve those cultures and those places we visit: not only for future generations but in respect to the hundreds, thousands or sometimes millions of years of change, evolution, call it what you will, that has shaped the world as we know it today.
Being a responsible tourist is not difficult and it should not limit what you can do on your travels. If anything, it should enrich the experience. It is simply about being respectful of the environment you are visiting. Here are my four tips for responsible travel (for more tips/information, the Lonely Planet also does a very comprehensive guide)…
1. Research in advance
If you are visiting a culture you are not familiar with then always take the time to read up on the local rules and customs in advance. It’s really sad to see overly confident male tourists strutting down the streets of Bangkok with their shirt off. Yes Bangkok is an increasingly international and culturally diverse city but that does not mean that shirt-less men are not going to embarrass the locals who view this as taboo. To get the most out of your cultural experience you want to immerse yourself, not ostracise yourself! The Lonely Planet guides always include very good overviews on local cultures.
2. Follow the rules
This is quite a simple one really. There are a number of global, national and local organisations, who are all keen to protect the wonders they are responsible for, laying down the law and making sure this law is enforced. So if you are told not to take photos of a sacred religious artefact then please do not take a photo. If you are told to keep away from the coral then keep your flippers away from the coral. And if you are told, not to feed the animals, then please, don’t feed the animals!!
3. Stick to the beaten path
I know that it can be exciting to get off the beaten track and find something few other people have seen but please make sure you take these decisions responsibly. Perhaps, you fancy a ramble through one of Utah’s stunning national parks. But go off the beaten track and you may damage the park’s delicate vegetation or, even worse, destroy the cryptobiotic crusts that the desert is so reliant on. You may think you’re treading on crusty dirt but, in fact, you are treading on a microbial community that is responsible for sustaining desert vegetation and wildlife! The reality is that, when you go off the beaten track, you never know what damage you may be doing to that ecosystem.
4. Use common sense!
Sadly I’ve come across a couple of sites that have been closed to tourists due to mindless vandalism. And I’ve come across way too many places whose beauty is spoilt by the rubbish that litters them. In fact, while I was in Australia, I heard rumours that self-drive adventures on Fraser Island may soon be a thing of the past due to the impact litter and pollution has had on the island’s ecosystem. Simply put, there are some things everyone knows they shouldn’t do!
As always any thoughts or suggestions around responsible travel are welcome!