What is sustainable travel? Is it a style? A fashion? A movement? A result of travelling unsustainably? Are we better off just not travelling?
We'd reduce our carbon footprint, we wouldn't damage these local communities and fragile environments BUT we wouldn't learn...we wouldn't be able to help...we wouldn't be able to contribute to their economy...and we wouldn't be able to make a difference!
Unfortunately it only takes a small minority to cause this damage and whilst we've all contributed over the years, due to a lack of education and knowledge, we now know what the effects are and how we can make a difference. To be sustainable is to meet the present needs of the community but to not compromise the needs of future generations. If we continue to travel the way we do, with ignorance and a lack of understanding, these places wont be there for our next generation. So it's important that we understand the impacts of our travels, our carbon footprint, our effect on local cultures, our contribution to their community and the effects on their economy.
Holidays for many people are about over indulging, spoiling themselves, eating more, spending more and sleeping more. Is this because it's a break from their regular routine and they're using this time as a break away from the 'norm'? Most probably yes but is this at the cost of other people's lives and futures? Could we achieve more? A restful break, a great 'holiday', an insightful experience and help other communities?
There is no one more than my Mum that loves the sun and this year she went on her first holiday, which involved no beach, no sundeck and no sun bathing. She went to Vietnam and Cambodia for a cultural, sightseeing tour and said it was one of the best holidays she's ever been on. This is someone that holidays for sun, she has always travelled for one reason and that is to sunbathe and as a result all she has gained is several forms of skin cancer. Yet, this year she went on a trip that had culture, education, travel, enlightenment, and community awareness, and came back more enriched than ever. She learnt about their history, their traditions and the difficulties that they face, which has resulted in them giving back and making a difference.
So there is a great example of a restful break, an insightful experience and helping other communities.
Our contribution to sustainable travel can be as little as an alternative mode of transport, a half-day cultural sightseeing tour, reusing a towel during your stay, turning off water in between brushing your teeth or using local providers...All of these help and the more we talk about it, the more we can make a difference!
The other end of the spectrum is 'volunteering' - to actively contribute towards the issues that these local communities face and to leave the environment in a better condition than when you arrived. These kind of volunteering opportunities vary drastically, incorporating both community and conservation based programmes, from: conserving endangered species to protecting stray dogs'; or building local schools and offering your services, and skills, to help.
Some may travel to develop themselves and gain vital experience in a chosen career path or for study programmes and cultural awareness, so the main purpose of their trip is to be involved in 'these' kind of programmes. But, if that is not your intention you can still travel sustainably and contribute with little change to your regular itinerary. A few things you may want to consider:
- Does your accommodation have a sustainability policy?
- Are you using a local operator for tours & excursions?
- Do you understand the local culture & traditions?
- Are you aware of any issues that the local community face?
- What threats are there to the native species? Can you help?
- Are you buying/eating/drinking local produce?
- Is your money going into the right pockets?
The financial gains into the local economy are so important and making sure that your money goes to the right place makes such a difference. For example, don't give street money to young children or street beggars as most of the time they're part of much larger syndicate and don't see the money, so you're just adding to the issue. Instead offer food and drink but make sure the item is open and can't be re-sold.
My biggest gripe is when people travel so far and then order food as if they were in their local café. Firstly, if this is you - you're crazy, as trying and experimenting new cuisine is most of the fun and usually so much tastier, especially if you're from the UK. Plus by trying local produce you'll be contributing to their local economy, the farmers, the fisherman, the citizens that make these places so special. And...use local guides and operators for any tours, and excursions, as generally these will also be local people that have been trained to offer this service, as opposed to large-international-corporate-companies that take jobs away from the communities, and send money into the pockets of their international investors.
Aside from the financial perceptive, the rest is down to you, to do a little research and make sure you understand where you're going. With Google at our fingertips, it takes seconds to learn about new places, their culture, their history, their traditions, the issues they face and how you can help.
Travel Safe ;}