Top 5 Ways to Travel Responsibly

What is Responsible Travel? (definition by UPSIDE)

Responsible travel is being socially and culturally aware when you travel, understanding your affect on the places you visit and trying to make that affect a positive one.

How do you practice responsible travel? Post your practices and ideas below. If you’re new to responsible travel take a look at the list of ideas and simple practices listed below.

1. ETHICAL ANIMAL TOURISM – It’s an amazing experience to see and interact with wildlife while traveling but it’s important to know the difference between what is and isn’t ethical and being sure you are not handing any money over to companies practicing unethical animal tourism. Why? because if no one supports them they will change their practices, it’s only because tourists go and pay money to these businesses that they are up and running in the first place (I can assure you the locals aren’t going to these attractions).

Some common examples are elephant riding, “tiger temples”, street stops for photos with animals (monkeys, iguanas, parrots etc.) and swimming with whale sharks. You can easily read up on why these practices are damaging online so I won’t get into all the details but there are plenty of other options: instead of elephant riding- go to a strictly no ride elephant sanctuary, Tiger temples and other big cat attractions are notorious for drugging the cats and keeping them under heavy sedation so people can sit and take photos, where street animals are captured from the wild and kept in poor conditions for tourists to take pictures with. Instead consider taking a rain-forest hike to see animal in nature (I took a hike in Costa Rica to see the sloths and monkeys!) or visit a sanctuary where you can see the animals that have been rescued. Swimming with whale sharks is another example where some countries (such as the Philippines) have zero regulation- people will grab them and even climb on top of them for photos. Instead go to Mexico (from Cabo, Cancun and Isla Mujeres you can witness the whale shark migration) and here you can swim with them in a regulated environment (no touching aloud- only 2 people + guide in the water with a whale shark at a time etc.) This doesn’t just apply to these specific experiences but it’s worth keeping in mind when booking.

2. Support the locals – To me this is one of the most important aspects of responsible travel and it also contributes to you having a more authentic experience in the country you are visiting. Here are some of the easiest ways you can support the locals on your next trip: Take tours that use local guides and visits local spots (not just the big tourist spots), my favorite company to use Urban Adventures. Not only do the hire locals for all their guides but many explore off the beaten path locations giving further business to local markets, shops and restaurants and giving you the opportunity to see some hidden gems. Another key is to stay in locally owned hotels or at least country based chains (so instead of going to England and staying in a Hilton, stay in a Grange which is a London based chain, visiting other areas of the UK or Ireland? Stay at a Jury’s Inn).

These hotels ensure that your money is going back to the country you are visiting instead of funneling through a US corporation. Some more examples of some of my favorite locally run hotels are Mahekal in Playa del Carmen, The Dream Catcher in Puerto Rico and The Rock House in Jamaica. Lastly aim to shop at local market places and eat at local restaurants- not only will you be supporting the locals but you will be getting better prices, more unique souvenirs and tastier food.

3. Be environmentally conscious – Many other countries don’t have recycling programs or litter laws in place, especially in 3rd world countries. Don’t contribute to the problem. Bringing a reusable bag for market shopping, a reusable straw and a reusable water bottle to use during your stay. If you are traveling to a country where tap is not drinkable you can usually still get filtered water at your hotel or you can bring a water bottle with a built in filtration system. This will also save you money.

A lot of countries suffer from water shortages as well so being careful not to leave the shower or sink running at your hotel is another thing to think of. Being environmentally conscious also extends to your purchases and actions- don’t take sands and corals from the beach, don’t buy products made from endangered animals or woods etc.

4. Be respectful of the local culture – Do your research before your travels. Some countries are conservative and it’s respectful to pack and dress accordingly. For example traveling to the middle east requires keeping knees and shoulders covered and visiting temples or other religious sights requires the same. Although we may be accustomed to crop tops and short shorts at home- regardless of the heat it’s no appropriate in some destinations and we simply need to be aware and respectful.

5. No Airbnb – This may come as a surprise to some as you may think that staying in a local home would fall under supporting the locals but in fact it does not. Why? Airbnb properties are usually more often run by business owners like landlords trying to turn a higher profit or expats that have relocated and want to earn a relatively passive income off other tourists (you can clearly see when someone runs 10 properties that they are not simply someone renting their home out). This is causing locals to actually be pushed out- in countries with little residential protection landlords can kick out renters paying a monthly rate and turn the apartments and homes into Airbnb at nightly rates to make a higher income. This not only leaves previous renters homeless but also takes homes off the market for locals.

In some cities with the rise of Airbnb locally owned hotels are also struggling to compete. While hotels employ many individuals Airbnb usually only has 1 or 2 “hosts”, when that mom and pop hotel can’t make it work any longer they are forced to close down not only causing the loss of a locally run business to the owners but causing many locals to lose their jobs as well – managers, cooks, maids, bell boys etc. Below I copy/pasted some info from articles and links for further info:

Huffington Post: “Homes bought for the sole purpose of generating income have restricted local inventory and inflated real estate markets in major cities” .. “The fastest growing category of Airbnb rentals are managed by “super hosts”, accounting for almost 40% of its revenues. Locals claim they are being squeezed out of their own neighborhoods by commercial landlords. They argue that lodging taxes and regulations in cities are often ignored by Airbnb hosts and Airbnb can no longer stick its head in the sand and say it’s the responsibility of the host to navigate the tax code. Some states have found ways to work with Airbnb, while other have had more difficulty coming to terms.” .. “Airbnb faces taxes issues in almost all countries as a result of lack of transparency and compliance of hosts, and because municipalities depend on the taxes placed on hotels which often fund infrastructure in high tourism zones. Airbnb’s exponential growth has also prompted cries of foul around issues of safety, trust, discrimination and regulation. It’s difficult to determine if specific crises are isolated occurrences sensationalized by the media, but there is no disputing confirmed reports that travelers having been harassed or even attacked and murdered by their Airbnb hosts, and guests have both destroyed property and been harmed on properties that weren’t safe. Regardless of their frequency, these incidents have stirred an international debate about Airbnb’s responsibilities as a company and whether the government should increase its role in ensuring public safety during stays at private homes.”

Soul Travel: “The effect on communities: speaking to a friends and while looking at renting out my own apartment in Amsterdam while I travel, I discovered two things. First: that the number of property listings on Airbnb had skyrocketed from 3,000 to over 11,000 in the course of the last year, with 2,000 of them having been created in the last month. Secondly, that the sentiment held by many true locals, who’ve been living in the city for many years, was far from positive about short term apartment lets. The criticism being that in the city centre, so many apartments were being rented out short term via sites such as Airbnb that the local community was effectively being destroyed. There was no local community anymore, only tourists. This is compounded in cities with exceptionally high tourist volumes (which Amsterdam is one). So far from experiencing being surrounded by locals, Airbnb’ers were in all likelihood surrounded by: other Airbnb’ers. There’s also the discussion about the effect of short term rental opportunities on property prices in key cities, with locals being priced even further out of the market as investors snap up property for rental potential—such has been the complaint of cities like Berlin. The effect on hotels, guesthouses, bed and breakfasts and the rest of the accommodation industry: Not surprisingly, the more traditional side of the accommodation industry has been up in arms at the increase of short term apartment rental supply. A number of studies have attempted to quantify the impact of Airbnb on the accommodation industry, however findings are as yet changing. One report, by Hospitality Net estimates that between September 2014 and August 2015, 480,000 hotel nights were reserved versus 2,8 million nights on Airbnb. During the same period 2,800 hotel jobs were lost as a direct result. So the impact on the accommodation industry is clear. Why this matters is because of the number of resources already invested into the more traditional accommodation industry (hotels, guesthouses, etc), the amount of jobs that the accommodation industry is responsible for, and the number of accommodation options already available. If hotel occupancies continue to fall at the expense of airbnb bookings then not only will we see an increased emptiness and under-use of existing accommodation options, but we will also see a loss of employment opportunities— which hold significant impact in developing countries where tourism plays a vital role in the local economy. Hotels and guest houses require a number of roles to be filled from housekeeping, to chefs to restaurant staff, receptionists and sales people; airbnb’s require only simple cleaning and are therefore much cheaper to run, and offer far fewer employment opportunities for locals. In short: when looking for sustainable accommodation, we should take into consideration what is going to benefit the place we are visiting most.

Read more from Cassandra on her blog here! Happy responsible #wildbumming!

Cassandra Londono

Cassandra Londono