I'm really excited about my upcoming trip to Cuba so here's a post on how to be a responsible traveller in 6 easy steps:
Choose wisely and ask questions of the company you are looking to book through. Let them know you are a responsible consumer. Is the company certified and has it won any awards? What policies have they implemented in-house and within the countries they visit? Ask them how they educate their employees and potential customers like yourself, and whether the tours they offer use local guides, family run hotels and guesthouses, and locally source transport. A lot of tour operators today have the basics of an RT policy, so make sure you do your research and support those companies that are making the effort to educate and promote a better quality travel experience.
Are you taking a flight?
One of the easiest things you can do even before you have left your house is to offset your carbon omissions either through the company you have booked with or independently online. The Climate Care website (www.climatecare.org/) will take you through calculating your emissions and buying your offsets, but more importantly, it will explain why this is such a positive step for travelling responsibly. Ultimately, your offsets are helping fund some great projects such as creating efficient cooking stoves in Uganda and Cambodia, introducing the human powered treadle pump to parts of India where diesel pumps were once used for irrigation farming, and the creation of the Mulan wind farm in China to generate electricity.
Contributing to local communities by using local produce or services is another easy way to promote RT. A responsible beach holiday is not out of the question! If the hotel sources local produce and towels and bedding, even furniture from the market down the road, sells local wares in its shop and organises trips and excursions in the immediate area – these are all the makings of an RT worthy trip. You have a wonderful opportunity to give something back simply by staying at this one hotel. After all, travel is a two way experience – you have a great holiday, see some amazing sights and meet some great people - and all the while you’re helping to support the town or village you’re staying in. What could be better than that!
However, be aware of tourist traps!
Dancing bears, dancing monkeys, riding ostriches for fun – whatever it may be – this is exploitation and should be avoided at all costs. Obviously there are touristy hotspots in every major city you pass through which are an essential part of your holiday or tour – and to not visit them would be criminal – but being aware of local people attempting to make a quick buck with mass produced souvenirs, and recognising the difference between a genuine performance and a performance simply to make money, are all ways to ensure you are not being taken for a ride. Search out the local markets or registered cooperatives where you can see the souvenirs being crafted right in front of your eyes. And then barter for a fair price with the person who made it. It makes all the difference in the world.
Respect and observe local customs at all times.
Did you know you could be unknowingly exploiting a person, a tribe or a village if you take a photo of them without asking permission? Sometimes we may feel it is our right to get that perfect snap for our holiday album back home, but these are people who are just like you and me – and we have to respect that. For example; if it is customary to ask the local chief of the village beforehand whether you can take photos, you should do this so as not to offend. Guide books such as Lonely Planet and Rough Guides are essential reading if you want to get a quick precise of local protocol before you travel. Licking your fingers after a meal or touching your mouth in Ethiopia is considered to be very rude, so don’t make that mistake and swot up before you leave!
And finally, feedback is essential especially if you have been travelling with a tour operator. If RT really is at the core of their company, they will appreciate and act on any suggestions you may have. So make sure you have your say and fill in a customer questionnaire. If the product reflects the hype, tell them, and if you feel it doesn’t, it’s probably even more important to tell them so they can get it right next time.
Blogging is an amazing concept so here I am giving it a whirl. You'll get words. You'll get pics. Sometimes a vid or two. You'll get tongue in cheek, the odd humble opinion and an honest insight into my travels and writing life. Maybe even a few gems along the way. I'll be musing on home turf as I see more and more of the UK and sharing my experiences further afield on holidays and adventurous trips across the globe.