As the world slowly emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, travel is finally seeing an uptick. Leave a less negative or even a positive footprint on the destinations you chose to journey to by being conscious of the economic and cultural implications travelers have on a destination.
Here are seven steps to be mindful of the environment and aware of the local culture you might be effecting when traveling.
1. Be conscious of the resources you use.
Many U.S. travelers said they turned off lights in their hotel room when absent from the room while 72% of U.S. travelers said they turned off their air conditioning before they left their rooms according to the Statistics and Facts on Green Tourism. By turning off lights and air conditioning, you will conserve the hotel’s resources and the city or country’s resources.
Many hotels, hostels, and rental units recommend towel and linen reuse which is a simple way to conserve water and energy use. By using recycling facilities within the hotel, you can help the destination in its initiative to be more “green.”
2. Choose a hotel that focuses on sustainability.
Many large hotel chains promote conservation by hiring a senior management position in sustainability. Some hotels with this position include Marriot, Hilton, Fairmont, Wyndham, InterContinental Hotels Group, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, and Vail Resorts.
Marriot is in the works on constructing a “green” hotel prototype that is LEED certified (a certification by the US Green Building Council that awards projects this certification for bettering environments and communities) and saves 25% of energy and water consumption. InterContinental Hotels Group is encouraging some 4,800 of its hotels around the world to get EarthCheck certified (a certification for travel businesses that promote clean, safe, and prosperous business).
3. Think small-scale.
Smaller businesses mean less consumption. Greenhotels.com can direct you to member hotels in the U.S., Canada, Caribbean, Brazil, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Namibia, India, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines known for small-scale “green” initiatives (however not specifically certified). For more options, browse eco-friendly lodges from all around the world at ecohotelsoftheworld.com.
By thinking small-scale you are both conserving less resources while also contributing to the local economy. Small-scale means locally owned hotels and lodges that will directly benefit the community from your stay.
4. If volunteering, choose programs responsibly.
Research volunteer programs that work with the local population rather than dominate over the local population. This means not taking opportunities from locals but instead bringing skills that the local people might not have. Browse volunteerforver.com to match programs with your skills. Whether you have a medical background or a community development background, it is important to choose a program that needs your specific skills.
Don’t benefit more from the volunteer opportunity than the community you are supposedly helping. In a study from Michigan State by Gwo-Bao Liou, surveys of volunteers found that often volunteers resonate with the community so much so that they have increased perceived positive effects they made on the community. Just because you have pride in your project, doesn’t mean you’re making the most positive impact; it’s important to put the local needs above your own when volunteering.
5. Travel like a local.
Use responsible travel guides that highlight country specific, local initiatives like guidebooks from respobsiblevacation.com. Traditional guidebooks will tell you what to do and when to go to these destinations. Responsible travel guides will tell you this information as well as provide important direction on how to be a responsible tourist from a local perspective.
Spottedbylocals.com provides city specific guides that can be viewed on desktop or mobile through the app. Locals provide suggestions on restaurants, cultural activities, and scenic views along with personal photos that will give you an accurate look at the destination.
6. Choose the destination wisely.
Go to places that are valued for environmental protection plans, social welfare programs and human rights agendas. These beautiful destinations create programs that are mutually beneficial for both local populations and travelers. The list from Ethical Traveler includes Cabo Verde, Chile, Dominica, Lithuania, and Mauritius as its top locations. Global Green Travel includes Barbados, Northeast Kingdom, Vermont, and Tortuguero, Costa Rica on its list for responsible and sustainable destinations due to the environmental protection programs, women’s rights efforts, and local farming opportunities.
7. Don’t be culturally insensitive when you travel.
Research what the cultural norms are of the specific region you are traveling to. Not everywhere will let you make cultural mistakes therefore it is critical that you know what the locals expect out of a traveler. If you are an American, Canadian, European or Australian, the further you venture from western culture, the more your inherent cultural cues won’t help.
National Geographic provides a list of countries organized by continent that allows you to click on each country and explore photos, fast facts, maps, and histories of countries. This is merely a starting point to research specific communities and the customs within the country.