There is a Traveller and then there is a Tourist
I love travelling!! Whenever I am not travelling, I am Instagramming! It’s hard not to drool over the jaw-dropping shots taken by travel bloggers from around the world and not want to be magically transported there. The travel industry has undoubtedly exploded with new colours since the social media age has taken over and now, I see myself planning to explore more offbeat, remote, and runaway places over the ones I am sure should have a throng of people to dim my enthusiasm.
Cheaper flights, rising trend of weekend getaways and a singular want for Instagram worthy images has not only set the Gen Z but all age groups to desire a fast-paced travel experience. Notably, this has changed our consumption patterns erratically and is adding to the carbon footprints we take around the world. The gap between the traveller and the tourist widens.
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The Journey is More Important!!
The time that we dedicate to vacation nowadays is so small that we have no choice but to rush through cities and take multiple plane rides to cover all those destinations in as less amount of time as possible.
Someone has rightly said, “The journey is more important than the destination“. Well, if you genuinely want to gain something valuable from your travels, it can be done by finding more profound connections with the places you visit. Take gradual steps and indulge in Slow and Responsible Travel.
By slow travelling, I mean taking trips at a leisurely pace, giving more importance to quality over quantity. Prefer immersing yourself in the culture, flora and fauna of an exotic place over a stay period of a fortnight than rush through the chaotic hotspots in the blink of an eye.
Yes, take a step slower!
What is Sustainable Tourism?
On the road, we face many choices, and it is up to our better judgement of what we choose. Sometimes taking a cab may seem like a more practical option than taking a train or booking a high-end hotel and rather than opting for a local stay. We make these choices based on our budgets and comforts, agreed, but how many times have we as a traveller ever been conscious about how our actions affect the ecosystem on the whole?
In this era of over-tourism, exploitation of our planet has taken an ugly turn. Sustainable and Responsible tourism are not just the buzzwords going around, but much-valued terms that could be our drivers towards a promising future.
Being sustainable as an individual is about working upon goals to protect the ecosystem, the animals, reduce waste, plastic and carbon footprints while at the same time promoting a recycling culture to combat the human impact on the earth.
Responsible and Sustainable Ways to Travel
Trotting around the globe for any traveller is a sentiment to connect back with nature. The mighty nature gives, and the taker takes. So, it is not a surprise that even the most sentient, informed and nature-loving travellers might be making the same mistakes unintentionally and overstepping the boundaries of Responsible travelling.
Sustainability in travelling does not mean you become responsible for drastic global changes overnight; it’s about taking small steps in the right direction. Little efforts made each day by you, me, and every traveller out there.
Here, I am listing some fundamental sustainable alternatives that you can adopt and work towards becoming a more responsible traveller.
Opt for Rail and Road Journeys, and When You Can’t, Fly Sustainably!
As global travel becomes cheaper and more accessible, the usage of aeroplanes, cruise ships, trains and buses is increasing and leading to tremendous amounts of carbon and other harmful substances. Airline travel alone is credited for the most carbon emissions globally.
I know skipping air-travel for the majority can be a ludicrous and an impractical option. So while flying go for direct flights, a more sustainable airline. Opt for economy class over business class. Also, you know what? There is always an option to hit the roads when you don’t have to travel internationally. For example, when you are making an interstate trip that can be switched from airways to railways.
Also, a single fare of these transports is much cheaper than taking the same trip by car or by plane. If you wish to make sustainable choices in your travels, various websites can help you to calculate the carbon footprints of your travels or operations and offset your emissions to reduce your environmental impact.
I feel that public transport gives you a fantastic opportunity to mingle with the locals. I have met and connected with the chattiest people on my local commutes through buses and tuk-tuks. Also, understanding the domestic living situations through these kinds of travels makes for a complete and insightful traveller.
Let’s Run a “Say No to Plastic” Campaign
I know it’s easier said than done when it comes to addressing the century-old behemoth lurking in the waters of our oceans. Gazillion amounts of plastic waste still swirl endlessly in the oceans that will take years and years to degrade.
Saying no to plastic won’t reduce the damage that has already been done, but it can slow down the destruction of the marine ecosystem and buy us some more time.
So, avoid using backpacks, bottles, and travel gears made of plastic. Several companies are selling eco-friendly travel necessities that stand as a much greener option. Women travellers can make the shift from using sanitary napkins to menstrual cups. Also, do not take carry bags made of plastic from anyone. In fact, educate the locals who make daily use of plastic bags by telling them its harmful effects on the environment.
How About Carrying Your Water-Bottles?
Indians believe in the safety of bottled Bisleri water more than they would ever choose to believe in their Government. This behaviour can be well reflected whenever we dine at a restaurant; we’ll always be provided with an option to get packaged mineral water next to regular tap water.
It’s so easy to buy a packaged water bottle when we are on the road.
We drink the water and either pocket the bottle for later use or throw it in a trash can. No matter how we choose to dispose of it, the moment we buy that bottle is when we have added one more bottle to the sea of trash already collected. Now, these are the decisions that we need to pay attention to. Although, by using the trash cans, we might believe that we are being responsible, but looking at the bigger picture, it does not seem like the best solution for a sustainable future.
A better option is to carry one plastic-free bottle and refill the bottle at every stop. Invest in some water filtration for your bottle, so you don’t have to worry about the quality of the water.
Genuinely Care for Animals and Say NO to Unethical Behavior towards Them
Once while backpacking in the greenest state of South India, I met a Marine biologist whose wife was ecstatic about finally getting to ride an elephant. “A lifelong dream fulfilled,” she said. The man vehemently refused, though, questioning her “How would you feel if the elephant sat on you?” This statement makes me giggle even today!
Animals everywhere are abused for tourism. We see the pretty picture of animals interacting with humans, but we fail to see the rough backend treatment these animals receive where they aren’t fed or cared for enough. Stay away from animal rides and any place that uses animals for shows. Feeding fishes, riding horses and elephants, swimming with dolphins and using seals for entertainment, etc. are the experiences I strongly discourage.
How Does Volunteering + Travelling Sound?
What is travelling if it doesn’t hold the secrets to transform you? To singularly alter you, so you have the power to contribute meaningfully to the society?
“Voluntourism” is a merging of terms for Volunteering and Tourism. It is one of the most effective ways in which we can give back to society while backpacking across nations. It is something I have been looking forward to indulging in for a very long time now.
Teaching young kids, working on local farms, taking care of animals, etc. are some of the volunteering works that you can take up when you travel.
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Isn’t that what Mahatma Gandhi has said. If you wish to associate in long term travels, this is something that can add as a unique experience to your bucket list, and that will give you extensive exposure to different strata of the society, a sense of relief and belonging to the local community.
Be Mindful to be Vocal for Local
If hygiene is the only reason you’d prefer to dine at high-end restaurants, then you must know that most local restaurants are pretty hygienic. Not only that, but you would be spending far less at a local restaurant while at the same time helping the locals who aim to give quality food from their little businesses.
Not to mention the exquisite personal attention, love and hospitality you will be showered with alongside the tasty homemade food. So, make an informed decision the next time you grab something from a fast-food chain. You could be missing out on a goldmine of local cuisine!
If you happen to go to travel to cultural places such as Rajasthan or Madhya Pradesh, buying the handmade trinkets, bags, scarves, and chunky silver jewellery from the local markets will help the craftsmen financially. A beautiful souvenir and indeed a considerable contribution to the state economy!
Supporting local tourism will be a positive and enriching experience for your travel journal and will help you understand the real culture of the place.
Be More Empathetic
In a desert state like Rajasthan, where people don’t get enough water to drink, it is absurd and morally wrong to spend heaps of money on staying in hotels with large sprawling pools. Won’t you agree?
Our footprints we take around the world mustn’t become a burden for those who live locally. Be mindful and empathetic of how your decisions alone crack the ecosystem in substantial amounts. Don’t worry about the millions of oblivious humans, who aren’t helpful, just focus on how you are.
Make Your Travels as Clean as You Can
As clean as I aim to make my travels, there will always be some bare minimum trash generated. Every packaged product I buy comes with an encasing, and it is not at every place that I am sure to spot a trash can. So, it is always safe to carry a small bag that I can empty later once I get to the central city or a town.
We are nothing if it isn’t for the ecosystem that we live in. Isn’t that true? I believe it’s not only our own country but every destination we visit that is our responsibility to care about. Hence, I urge you to practice Ecotourism whenever you get the opportunity to. Let your presence be meaningful and useful to someone at every step of your journey.
Take Home Sustainable Tourism Checklist!
Travelling is about enjoying life and not just living it. If you want to be a responsible traveller and not a lousy tourist, take a step slower. Visit the more offbeat places, the marketplaces, study some local art, take a cooking class or read a new book. By accepting these slow and sustainable steps, it does not have to mean that you have less fun. Absolutely not! Having a more positive perspective and a responsible approach towards the betterment of our planet’s ecosystem will only add value to your adventures.
Do tell me in the comments below the little measures that you adopt on your journeys and the ones you plan to in the future! I would love to be a part of the impact you wish to have on our planet.
Disclaimer: This insightful piece of writing is by Mugdha Dumbre, a Sustainable Traveller and a Blogger from Mumbai who wishes to spread awareness on the topic of Green Tourism and continuously strives to make this planet a better place to stay for you and me!! To get in touch, feel free to email her @firstname.lastname@example.org or dm her on Instagram.
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