Travel responsibly with these 9 simple travel planning tips.
1. Know what responsible travel is. Responsible travel simply means traveling with not only your own needs in mind, but also the needs of your destination. Responsible travelers realize that when they travel, they are entering someone else’s home, whether they literally visit someone or not. Responsible travelers treat others as those people would like to be treated, and they care for the environment in their destination as they would care for their own home and community.
2. Think: What exactly do you want to experience? You’re about to travel, and you’re looking at an array of possibilities: new people, intriguing places, and the hope of memorable experiences. What are you interests? What do you love to see, feel, do, taste? Why have you chosen your particular destination? Whom would you love to meet? What would make this trip really memorable for you? Once you know that, you can create ways to get the most of those very special experiences out of your trip.
3. Go surfing – and read! Do some searching online for resources specializing in sustainable travel, or responsible travel, in your destination. You can seek out resources on ecotourism, too; just be aware of the pitfalls of “greenwashing.” (See Number 4, below.) Some guidebooks can be very helpful in your planning, as well. Rough Guides and Lonely Planet guidebooks (as well as others) are oriented toward sustainable travel, and they give you a great overview and starting point for your planning.
4. Reach out and ask key questions. Once you know where you’d like to stay and what you’d like to do, get in direct touch with the people providing the services. It’s ok to tell them sustainable travel is important to you, so you’d like to learn more about their service. Have they received any eco-awards? Do they have an eco-rating? What is their environmental policy? You can also ask if they’ve received any “green” certification. There are several certification programs such as Green Globe and the EcoGreen Award; many more have been created by communities and countries around the world. The standards of these programs vary, and as yet, there are no universal “eco” standards. However, just by seeking out a hotel, restaurant or tour operator who has taken some steps toward sustainability, you’ll be making a better choice. But watch out for “greenwashing,” the whitewashing of goods and services that are not environmentally sound to make them look as if they are. Remember: just because a tour operator may take you to see rain forests or sea tortoises doesn’t necessarily mean their practices are ecologically or socially sound. You can find out whether a business is environmentally and socially responsible by doing a little research — and asking questions.
5. Choose carefully! Your decisions are important. The collection of all the big and small choices you make before and during your trip will make or break you as a responsible traveler. Choose carefully. Some businesses are certified, and some are not. Even without certification, they can state their policy on responsibility and sustainability.
6. Plan with the environment in mind. As much as we travelers love the call of the open road, we also know our transportation, if powered by anything other than ourselves, is contributing to excessive CO2 in the environment, and thereby to global warming. Responsible travel is your priority. So think about offsetting the carbon emitted by your trip by purchasing carbon-offset credits. In fact, think about offsetting the energy you use in everyday living. You”ll be supporting programs that neutralize our use of fossil fuels, thus helping to reduce global warming. One such well-rated program is My Climate. Others include Native Energy and terrapass. Check them out and see which you prefer. For more information on carbon offsets and how they work, visit the FAQ page of Sustainable Travel International by clicking here. You can also give some thought to the local environment you’ll be visiting. For example, will you be hiking through natural areas? Of course, you’ll want water to drink. How about bringing just one water bottle and a supply of water purification tablets? They work just fine, and your thoughtfulness will be a significant help to a local area that may not have the infrastructure to take care of the thousands of plastic water bottles left by visitors.
7. Prepare yourself: Learn some lingo If you’re visiting another place, whether at home or abroad, you’re visiting someone else’s home. That’s the fact. And the more you remember that, the easier it’ll be for you to make friends and contacts. So learn some expressions in the local language. You don’t need to be fluent. But there’s no doubt that your trip will be far more exciting, and people you meet will be far more interested in you, if you speak some of their language. For tips on learning language for travel, check out my 5 Sure-Fire Tips for Learning a Foreign Language, available at www.peacethroughtravel.net.
8. Prepare yourself: Learn the basics of the local culture How do people prefer to be addressed in the country you’re visiting? Do they shake hands? Do they bow? Do they drink alcohol? How do women carry themselves? How are you expected to behave toward a woman? These are all questions that are worth taking the time to answer. Your understanding of how local people behave and interact will add fun, adventure, and plenty of social interaction to your travel experience. A note on clothing: We all like to be comfortable when we travel, and as Americans we’re particularly used to dressing as comfortably as we like. Abroad, however, responsible travelers keep local mores in mind. As a rule, particularly in developing countries, dress conservatively. If you dress like those around you, you’ll find local people more likely to approach you; they both scream “Tourist!” Wear lightweight shirts (not T-shirts), lightweight slacks, and comfortable walking shoes, instead. Women, for travel in rural developing areas, think long skirts and covered shoulders. At the very least, be sure to have a shawl. It’s important to balance comfort with respect – and avoid the blatant tourist tip-offs.
9. Prepare yourself: Rev up your sense of adventure! Use the web, use your books, contact professionals – and then tap into your own passions and creativity. Venture off the beaten path. Get yourself thinking the way local people think. Leave your usual routine at home. After all, that’s why you traveled, isn’t it? And always expect the unexpected! Yes, the a/c might break down. You may not like the meal you ordered. You might get lost. But if you’ve done your homework – you know the lay of the land, you know what safety precautions to take, you have your maps and books, and you know what to expect from the people you meet – you’ll be fine.