As an afterthought of seeing some pictures of my previous travels the other day, and pondering over the experiences, it occurred to me , how much we can enrich our experiences in trips if we can consciously travel responsibly.
My family, mainly budget travelers, take-a-ticket-and-go kind of people 😀 , have taught me to stick to certain principles while travelling. In the past years, sometimes, the mountains and the monasteries in Ladakh called me, sometimes the ravishingly beautiful Andaman beckoned, I went to both, with my wanderlust. Though not an over the top responsible human being in real life, I have stuck to these principles ,and I have had wonderful trips so far.
Now the Question: What is responsible travel all about?
Short and simple: It is about commonsense, and a bit of respect. 🙂 We should try to make our trips beneficial to the natives of the places and it should not affect anyone.
Tourism is one of the top most industry in the world. A lot of people depend on it for their livelihoods. At the same time, it has had an adverse impact in many cases. We need to play our part to protect and not damage the places we visit.
- Note that the places you go to, the so called, tourist destinations, are HOME to some people. They have their own livelihoods, local knowledge that comes up from the very soil they live in and a living culture. Please respect them.
In Ladakh, I had the trip of a lifetime, the beauty and serenity made me appreciate it, but it made that last leg to become one of THE most memorable trips, when I had a simple, yet nice conversation with Dolzan, our chauffeur throughout the tour, over a cup of tea, on a roadside shop. I got a peek into the heart of a caring father with two daughters and a wife at home. I came to know that he has a few acres of land in the village, where he grows vegetables and mustard seeds during the short summer and how he plans for the winter and what he does during those long winters. I even got a tour through a typical village. All it took was a smile and “Juley!” 🙂 At times, all we need is a bit of compassion and an open heart.
- When you go out, only travel rules. Try to play by their rules if not exceedingly offending.
I abide by this one. As a rule, I do not expect home like comfort while on road. The hotels, no matter how comfortable and expensive, can only offer you a bed, but it cannot offer you the comfort that you get just by walking into your home, by seeing the face of your loved ones. So I choose nice hotels, that have clean rooms and clean bathrooms or better try finding out a home stay if possible. 😀 In general, the people who help us arrange our travels, the staff, helpers, even the room service try to provide us with the best possible comfort (read how great they were here). We need to be kind to them and thank them.
- Use local public transportation: add that local touch to your trip : Reduce your carbon footprint
While travelling, I prefer public transportation in place of a private car unless absolutely required or those targeted specifically towards tourists. I could have reached the destinations earlier while island hopping in Andaman with the tourist ferries. But I chose the government ones. Read here, how great the experience was interacting with the locals during our time. Want to know what goes on in a place? Try the local buses. Ever tried the city buses from Puri to Konark temple? Do it the next time 🙂
- Keep the place you visit as you would expect to find it your self
Do not pollute the places you visit, even if unknowingly. We should appreciate the beauty of the places, and try our best to protect it from any harm by us. We go to the sea shores, while we watch the sunset, we have tea and snacks. We need to be check where the empty cups and packets find their place after. The sea looks nice swallowing the sun, not our empty snack packets. Similar is true for trekking. We need to be able to consciously reduce pollution in the trail. I keep an extra bag to carry the plastic , non bio degradable waste that does not belong rightfully to the beautiful place, we can throw it in a bin when we reach the base. 🙂
I carry our water in a food grade plastic bottle, and refill the bottle in place of disposing off the empty plastic bottles in middle of the road, that causes pollution.
At many places, there is restriction to bring anything back, like here. We need to make sure we bring nothing back except memories and great pictures from those places.
And , for the love of God, if Raju loved Neelam, chances are that people who need to know that know already and those who dont, probably do not care, why waste the feeling by writing on the monuments? 😀 I try my bit to stop both Raju and Neelam from doing this, and did not get bitten up trying to do it till date… 😛
- Behave responsibly, as many of the places of beauty may not be used to your culture..
Damage is not only due to pollution of environment, but also the local culture. We travel, but not everyone travels with the same intention, or feels happy the same way. Due to influx of money and people from different cultures, a tourist destination goes through a socio-economic change. Change should be for better, but it has adverse reactions as well.
A striking example is the Jarawa s of Andaman. They are one of the indigenous natives of Andaman. The great Andaman Trunk Road (ATR) passes through some of their territory. On one hand, this has provided
easy connectivity to local people, on the other hand, it has given rise to the much despised tribal tours being conducted by some shady tour operators. If you read through some of the related material elsewhere in the internet (including here) and speak to the locals, you can understand the actual misery of these people. Tourism here is a double edged sword.
In West Bengal, we have a popular beach destination called Digha. It used to be a small fishing village previously. Influx of tourists of all kinds, along with the pressure to cater to all these types of tourists have changed the characteristic of this place in both positive and negative ways. On one hand, the locals now have great connectivity, that helps them reach the city of Kolkata in a matter of hours in place of almost half a day, on the other hand, the cultural degradation, along with the change of attitude of the town folks leaves us thinking about the actual positive impact.
We need to be a bit sensitive and a tiny bit more adaptable. The best way is to observe the locals. Generally, people are good, and welcoming in most of the tourist spots, and most of the time, they are happy to share their thoughts with you, because you also bring the experiences of your home along to share. You act as ambassador of the place you belong to.
If open display of affection is not acceptable by the locals, find a bit of discretion. If shoes are not allowed in a temple, and shouting is deemed inappropriate, leave them out with a vendor outside. Open consumption of alcohol or certain types of food items might not be usual at some places. Just make sure you do not end up hurting the better part of the local culture by trying to enjoy your vacation, after-all, it is not just about you, but about others as well.
- While you spend money, think if it benefits the local people.
Responsible travel is not only about staying at a posh organic five star hotel, that claims to be socially responsible. It could easily be about trying to find a cheaper alternate to a hotel as a home stay, or buying from the smaller shops or individuals who are also the artisans of their artwork. At times, a simple appreciation makes their day. If we do not plan to spend big on souvenirs, buying a smaller piece even if it is a key-ring contributes to the overall benefit. To finish off my Ladakh trip, I had the most authentic delicious organic Ladakhi dinner in a farm house, maintained by its owner in typical ladakhi style. I knew that my money was going to the locals. In a small way, it felt great! 🙂
Responsible travel is the need of the hour and we need to do our bit in this. As a person, who loves authenticity and simplicity in life, I would like you, my friend to take a moment to ponder on this. Let me know in the comments section below how you do your part in travelling responsibly also let me know what more I can do, to be a bit more responsible traveler.