In the excitement of trip planning and anticipation of visiting a new destination, it’s easy to overlook the ethical implications of travel. In order to preserve the world they love exploring, travelers must be conscious of the ways in which their tourism impacts the environment and local communities.
While what it means to travel ethically changes from destination to destination, there are several key points you can follow to travel the world responsibly and mindfully. Ethical travel requires some effort and forethought, but if you’ve been fortunate enough to experience the joys of travel, you’re likely to find respecting local culture and the environment worthwhile.
Even though awareness about ethical travel is on the rise, travelers’ efforts must be continuous in order to preserve the world for future generations of adventure seekers. Because the travel trend shows no signs of slowing down, ethical travel must be a priority for anyone booking a ticket to anywhere.
Why is ethical travel important?
The first step to traveling ethically is recognizing the consequences of your actions as a tourist on the environment, local people and local economy. Even places in the world where the tourism industry is the primary source of income and jobs can suffer the negative effects of travel.
As a destination increasingly caters to tourists, the negative effects of travel become more evident. For example, chain restaurants and stores have forced local shops out of business. Voluntourism (or volunteer travel) has taken physical labor jobs away from locals. Increased air travel has added to pollution. Wildlife tourist attractions frequently involve the harm and exploitation of animals.
With all the potential for negative repercussions as travel currently stands, ethical travel is more important than ever. From understanding your impact on the environment to being culturally competent in a new place, ethical travel benefits Mother Earth, the tourism industry, locals, and travelers themselves.
How ethical travel benefits travelers
That’s right: traveling ethically will benefit you as a traveler.
In fact, without ethical travel, you might as well forget about your dream of “experiencing a different culture.” In destinations plagued by over-tourism, cultural travel is often just a tourism-based spectacle. On the other hand, in places where ethical travel is prioritized, locals have a chance to share meaningful versions of themselves and their history. This type of genuine cultural immersion through travel increases tolerance and respect for diversity.
Like getting the chance to have an authentic cultural experience, traveling ethically helps maintain pristine places to visit. The blog Green Global Travel says the growing demand for everything from tour operators that protect wildlife to eco-friendly hotels and restaurants is helping to shape a more ethical tourism industry. These types of sustainable tourism efforts are necessary in order to preserve destinations for both today and tomorrow’s travelers.
Practicing ethical travel
Now that you understand what ethical travel is, why it is important, and how ethical travel benefits you as a traveler, here are some ways you can practice ethical travel.
To minimize your negative impacts on the environment, travel website Jet Set Times suggests you should opt for land travel and public transportation whenever possible, avoid single-use plastics, pick up litter and seek ethical animal encounters — just because you saw a picture on Instagram of someone riding an elephant doesn’t mean you should. Similarly, the Young Scot organization suggests avoiding purchasing products made from endangered or wild animals.
Instead of a souvenir starfish, buy locally-sourced products from locally-owned businesses. Other ways to minimize your negative impacts on local communities include searching for family-owned accommodation or trying Couchsurfing, properly researching voluntourism organizations, learning some key phrases in the local language, and knowing cultural norms before you arrive.
Traveling ethically starts before you even leave home with what travel essentials you decide to pack. Utilizing resources like books when planning your trip can help you feel more prepared for your travel experience in a new place.
In addition to packing, your trip planning process should include learning about the cultural landscape of the place you’re visiting.
Ethical travel simplified
Whether you’re planning a trip to a nearby city or the other side of the world, it’s important to be conscious of your impact on the environment and local communities. Understanding the negative impacts of travel is the critical first step on your journey to traveling ethically. Some travelers might find the concept of ethical travel daunting, but it doesn’t need to be.
At its heart, ethical travel is simply a way to describe how you should act when you’re traveling — which, according to Jetset Times, is with curiosity, compassion and understanding.