We often think about responsible or sustainable travel in terms of what we can’t do instead of all the opportunities that this approach to travel can open up for us. Rather than constraining or limiting one’s travel experiences, traveling responsibly actually expands them by offering better connection to a place, its people and one’s self.
Here are seven ways responsible travel serves to enhance one’s experience.
1. Engage with local people naturally, not as a tourist show.
When the local community is heavily involved in developing tourism this means that the local people are invested in and benefit from travelers’ visits. The resulting experience in this context for the traveler is one of a deep personal connection with locals – with a long-term interest — who are proud to share their culture and knowledge. This is a very different experience than having an ethnic group perform a “show” for tourists just so tourists can take photos of them without any interaction.
2. A welcome in remote communities and places.
Show up randomly in a remote place — especially one defined as a community of ethnic minorities — without a local connection and the people may rightfully be skeptical of your intentions, especially if they’ve had bad experiences previously with camera-toting tourists. It’s quite another experience to be taken to that same remote area because you are part of a responsible tour that has a long relationship with the village that contributes to the community. Then you are welcomed, often with an invitation to go inside a home, talk with the help of a translator and learn about one another.
3. Meet more local people & expand the diversity of your experiences.
When you spend your travel money consciously across a spectrum of local restaurants, shops and vendors, you are naturally going to engage with more local people and have a wider variety of experiences. Often, it’s in these everyday local interactions that we find ourselves learning the most about the culture, cuisine and details of a destination and its community.
4. Avoid the crowds.
When you choose to travel with a responsible tourism provider, this often limits the number of people on the tour or restricts entry into natural areas in order to reduce the negative impacts on the destination. What this means for you as a traveler is that you can enjoy the experience without being inundated by large groups of people, thereby providing more serenity and space to better connect to the place and the people around you.
5. Clean environments, better connection to nature. Trash, no matter where, is bad. But when it’s in the middle of what ought to be a stunning natural environment, it feels especially tragic. This is because it is not only an eyesore, but it also does harm to the destination. Responsible tour operators not only educate their travelers regarding leaving trash behind, but many of them will proactively clean up natural areas so that its customers and the community are both able to enjoy them clean and protected. An environment unencumbered by the trash of previous visitors also enables you as the traveler to more easily become enveloped and get lost in the incredible nature around you.
If you are traveling independently, be sure to act responsibly and if you are so inclined, pick up any trash you see or consider reporting it to the park authorities so they are aware.
6. Locally sourced food tastes better. Eat at a restaurant with locally sourced food, perhaps from the garden just outside, and you’ll literally taste the difference. Additionally, you’ll often receive a great story to go along with your meal – a story that encompasses and describes the culinary context of the dish, as well as the farmers and artisans behind the locally sourced products.
7. Knowing that your money remains in and contributes to the community feels good. Travelers often wish to give back to the places and people they visit. What better way to do this than to spend tourist dollars that remain right with the people in the destination you’ve visited? When we enjoy an exceptional travel experience and we know that the money we paid for that responsible tour remains with the people we’ve met or to a community-sponsored project, we feel more invested and more deeply connected on an emotional level to both the place and its people.
So as you consider your next vacation and how you wish to travel, think of “responsible travel” not as a constraining approach to exploring the world. Instead, think of it as traveling in a manner that opens you up to exciting new opportunities to engage and connect. If you haven’t already, you’ll likely find that the benefits of being respectful and mindful of local people, their culture and their environment really are two-way. That is: everyone wins.