10 WAYS TO BE A RESPONSIBLE TRAVELERS

BY ESTELLE EILISH S GEORGE, 13 SEPTEMBER 2018

Great things are often done when man meets the mountain

If you are looking for ways to reduce your impact during your travels look no further, we’ve put together 10 ways to be a responsible traveller. A common misconception concerning responsible travel is that it limits the excitement and narrows down the options for things to do when you travel. The true essence of responsible travel is not to place a boundary around your itinerary but to minimize your impact as you indulge in your overseas adventure. To put it simply, when you travel responsibly, you are contributing to sustainable tourism and leaving a positive impact on the local environment and communities you visit.

Being a responsible traveler can range from booking your trips with your responsible tour operators to giving back to local community based tourism or conservation efforts in places you are visiting. To get you started on your journey, we have listed several contributions you can take part in.

1. Travel with environmentally and socially sustainable tour operators

Sticky Rice Travel aims to deliver the best experience to our guests reducing the negative impact on the environment

First and foremost, spare some time to research tour operators available in your hometown or in the country you are traveling to that actively support local communities and conservation or sustainability initiatives. These are the kind of tour operators that are committed to provide job opportunities through tourism for the local community along with training and support. Moreover, no one knows the ins and outs of a place better than the locals do.

Another quality to look for is the type of package offered. Tour operators that are dedicated to reducing their impact design their itineraries to ensure environmental and social integrity is maintained. Although usually more expensive than a generic tour operator, the experience and the memories that you will make during your journey along with them good feels for supporting a worthy cause are priceless.

2. Respect and support the locals

Local youths donning a stunning traditional attire preparing to start the Mangunatip dance

A rule of thumb when you’re traveling to a different country is to learn some local lingos. Inhabitants may only have little or no understanding of the English language so your comprehension of their mother tongue, even if it’s basic, will help you get around with ease and will go a long way to impress the locals. Do keep a mental note to respect the customs and keep a lookout on the sensitivities to avoid raising unwanted issues. Be cautious when buying souvenirs to avoid buying goods made from animals, especially endangered wildlife – products such as combs or hairpins use sea turtle shell or ivory to make it. Book your excursions with a local tour operator because no one knows place better than the locals do. Not only are you helping their community to generate income, you get to engross in a genuine cultural experience you can’t get from anywhere else.

Pack for A Purpose is another great way to lend your support. This non-profit organization was established in 2009 simply to assist travelers wishing to create a positive impact in a community by making significant contributions. You can choose the destination listed on the website and pack the items requested by the community in the allocated space of your luggage. Schools often request for board games, stationeries, and English learning equipment and as for clinics, iodine solution, antiseptics, bandages and other basic medical essentials. They are very specific with the needs; that way you will be well informed of where your investment is going. They provide more in-depth information on their website, so hop over for a better understanding.

3. Avoid partaking in wildlife entertainment

Aunty Yawah splitting coconuts on her property with the neighbours

Although seemingly innocent, including wildlife entertainment in your itinerary could be doing more harm than good and is something you might want to reconsider. People are under the notion that animals are trained in a safe premise and are well taken care of. Often, that is not the case. Entertainment such as elephant rides, tiger petting, dancing monkeys, and other poor animals are trained inhumanely for the entertainment industry either by drugging them to be used as photo props or shackled in tight chains.

Search for wildlife friendly excursions if you’re truly interested to see remarkable creatures in its truest form. Instead of going to the zoo or circus where animals are exploited for money, opt to visit a Wildlife Sanctuary or national park to see wildlife. These impressive destination provide great local alternatives to catch some spectacular species of wildlife in plain sight without intruding the natural behaviour of wild animals. Places like the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary in Sabah provides the opportunity to encounter 10 species of primate – only two regions in the world are known to have that amount and The Kinabatangan is one of it.

4. “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time.”- Chief Seattle

Capture the beauty of a destination through photography or memory

Whether you’re exploring the ancient rainforest or diving in the underwater playground, remember to leave the natural environment as it is. It can be tempting to take something for remembrance, but a more responsible choice is to take only photos for your memories. Photos are long-lasting commemoration of the wonderful time you had. Just a reminder, be mindful of your surrounding when you take pictures and …

Cultural heritage sites bear a significant more than we can ever imagine. Vandalizing it in any way will not only potentially damage it permanently, but will dishonour the piece of history it holds. So when you’re visiting these sites, admire from afar and then leave nothing but only your footprints. Also when you enter natural areas like national parks and jungles with limited disposable bins available, avoid littering. Before embarking on your journey, keep a mental note of bringing a reusable water bottle and plastic bags to keep your rubbish.

If you do need to buy water in plastic bottle at a local mart, make sure to dispose it at the proper recycle bin. Another alternative for this is to pack a water purification tablet that functions to treat contaminated water. It doesn’t consume much space and convenient to bring it around.

5. Equip yourself with extensive knowledge

To enhance your overall cultural experience, best to do some research beforehand

Before you embark on a journey to a different destination other than your own, take some time to do your research of the place you are visiting. Prepping yourself with information of the culture, laws, and ground rules with give you a basic understanding of how the locals live; if not fully. What might be acceptable to do at home may not carry the same level of acceptance in the place you are travelling. Meanings differ with everyone which is why it’s safer to gain an understanding of it and avoid unnecessary confrontation.

There may be times, especially when visiting a religious or culturally significant site, where you may be required to wear clothing that is appropriate for the  occasion or location. In some religious countries, covering yourself is an obligation. Keep in mind to pack several clothing options that cover the arms and legs and also a shawl just in case. If you’re a budding photographer or interested in shooting aesthetic photos, always make sure to ask for permission when you’re taking pictures of the locals. Generally, people feel uncomfortable being the subject of photography. There’s no harm in asking!

6. Go for eco-friendly accommodation

kinabatangan-wetlands-resort©SRT
Planning to head over to Borneo? Consider Kinabatangan Wetlands Resort (left) or Sepilok Nature Lodge (top) for accommodation

Accommodation always comes next after settling transportation needs. Perhaps opt to stay in an eco-friendly lodging or off-grid accommodation. These type of properties rely on renewable energy sources instead of generators or grid supply. Some properties may opt for solar electricity and water recycling whilst others grow their own vegetables and fruits or source from local suppliers. A friendly reminder the effort works both ways; you can do your part to reduce your consumption by turning off air-conditioning and being conscious about how much water is being used. It’s the little things that can all make a difference when we are making a collective effort.

7. Continue the deed even when you’re back home

The end of your exhilarating trip to the other side of the world doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be able to maintain what you have done abroad. Start doing something as simple as commuting using public transportation or recycling. In other words, incorporating sustainable practices in your daily life. You can still thrive to help the local communities once you’re back from your travels by organizing events like fundraising. Projects such as this will naturally build awareness among your community and help connect people with a cause.

Share your stories on digital platforms to get your message viral in the virtual world. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and more  are powerful tools at hand and convenient, especially when you’re trying to reach to broader audiences. These digital platforms offer you the opportunity to encourage everyone to start adopting a lifestyle of responsible travel and look for sustainable alternatives. Of course, one of the best and traditional approach to amplify your advocacy is through word of mouth. Encourage friends if they are visiting somewhere you have been to engage with responsible tour operators and sustainable destination.

8. Indulge in energy-saving travel options

Whether it’s climbing Mount Kinabalu or exploring caves in Borneo, both offers a thrilling experience

Get involved in activities that require minimal usage of power which will help lessen your carbon footprint on the environment. Instead of quad biking tour to trek the countryside, rent a bicycle! Not only is it energy saving, you get to cycle at your own pace and thoroughly enjoy the surroundings. Bus tour is convenient to go around the city, but walking allows you to cover more areas. You might discover some hole in the wall place that would otherwise go unnoticed!

Also, fly wisely as air travel is often the most energy consuming aspect of your travel. It is estimated that air traffic accounts for 10% of greenhouse gases worldwide. Plan your trip so that you minimize air travel, and choose, whenever possible, to stay longer in a destination instead of making many short trips. Otherwise choose greener ways to get around by utilizing public transportation (bus, train, city car, etc.). It’s a more sustainable way to get around, and also a healthier and more enjoyable way to get to know the place you are visiting.