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. Truly experience local culture
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. Plan ahead for a welcome in remote 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 wary of your intentions, especially if they’ve had bad experiences previously with camera-toting tourists. It’s quite another experience to visit that same remote area as part of a responsible tour that has a long relationship with the village and contributes to the community. With the right introduction, 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. Expand the diversity of your experiences
When you spend your travel money consciously across a spectrum of local restaurants, shops, and vendors, you will 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 unique aspects of a destination and its community.
4. Avoid the crowds
When you choose to travel with a responsible tourism provider, it often limits the number of people on the tour. It may also restrict 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. You get to experience more serenity and space to better connect to the place and the people around you.
5. Pick up your trash and enjoy the scenery
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 harms the destination. Responsible tour operators educate their travelers about leaving trash behind. In fact, many of them proactively clean up natural areas so that customers and the local community can enjoy them clean and protected. An environment unencumbered by the trash of previous visitors also makes it easier for you to get lost in the incredible nature around you.
If you are traveling independently, be sure to act responsibly. If you are so inclined, pick up any trash you see or consider reporting it to the park authorities so they are aware.
6. Taste locally sourced food
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 provides the culinary context of the dish and helps you learn about the farmers and artisans behind the locally sourced products.
7. Helping local communities 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, it’s gratifying to know that the money we paid for that responsible tour remains with the people we’ve met or to a community-sponsored project. It helps us 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 tried this already, you’ll likely find that the benefits of being respectful and mindful of local people, their culture, and their environment really are reciprocal. That is, everyone wins.