There has been a lot of discussions lately about how the time of the pandemic and confinement has made us more sensitive to other people’s problems, re-evaluated our lives, turned our eyes and minds to things we did not have time for in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
But what about travelling? Has the period of slowdown caused you to think about what kind of trace you leave behind when you go on a trip, whether for business or pleasure, in your own country or abroad?
Do you prepare for your trip taking into account local customs and traditions, environment and the needs of the local community?
Do you do an extensive research or just simply go, driven by the need to move, change the place and relax?
Here’s a few tips and reflections from me, which may be useful in preparing for your trip and make it more responsible.
1. Prepare, read about local customs, find out what people do for a living
Do your research, find out if there are any major problems. What are the rules of behaviour, customs and traditions? This will allow you to understand the local phenomena and situations, get people to like you, avoid unpleasant incidents and – worst case scenario – humiliation of the natives. This is a strong statement, but unfortunately supported by examples from the life of local people.
2. Can only a rich tourist help?
When planning your travel expenses, it is worth to allocate and set aside a certain amount in your wallet to support the chosen goal. For example, $30 in the cost of your entire trip may not make much difference for you but spent on a charity can work wonders.
It could be a local community, an employee providing us with a service or a historical site for which donations are being collected for restoration. One can say that there is always a cause worth supporting when you travel.
Right at the beginning of your journey, at the airport, train station or on the plane, various foundations and social organisations announce their initiatives and you can easily support them.
3. Shopping and bargaining
Markets, souvenir stalls and shopping are inseparable and often one of the most interesting points of our trips. In many cultures bargaining and long conversations between the seller and the customer is part of the tradition. This is combined with stories, refreshments and sometimes a visit to a shop lasting several hours. In this way we also learn about the local culture, customs and traditions. We can sometimes learn this way more than from tourist guides.
Haggling should not, however, mean till the last cent, whether in a larger shop or at a roadside stall.
Please remember that these people don’t work there for our pleasure. They work to support their families, to give work to their suppliers and co-workers and to make a decent living. They work hard and long hours, and often spend the nights in a shop.
A few dollars do not make much difference for you, but for a seller, especially in the least developed countries, it can mean buying food for a whole day for several people.
When buying souvenirs and travel gifts, favour local craftsmen, those who make products locally from reeds, clay, wool, or other materials. You will know exactly who you are supporting and who the money goes to.
In many countries tipping is the only remuneration of the people who serve us. They are grateful for this opportunity to earn money. They sleep in makeshift tents in places we cannot see from our elegant all-inclusive hotels. The season when the tourists arrive is a great happiness for workers and often a chance for survival or a decent life for their whole family.
They carry our luggage, clean, do the washing up, drive the vehicles, take care of our safety. Leaving a tip means not only financial support but also respect for what they do to make our trip comfortable.
5. Respect for people, acceptance, tolerance.
Showing respect is the responsibility of every visitor.
Remember that we are guests. Just because we could afford to come, it does not mean that we are better than the local people. Let us look at it in such a way that we are curious and aware, and we have opportunities that we take.
Please show respect and admiration; for customs, religion, dress (perhaps sometimes funny to us), appearance or behaviour. Show respect for diversity.
And here is the important issue of photographs. It is not always welcome. I advise you to ask if the photographed person accepts it. And if so, it is an opportunity to have a chat and it will be a super nice gesture for the person if you send them the picture in a frame with dedication up on your return home.
6. Respect the environment
Rule #1 Please respect environment, always and everywhere! Take your rubbish with you and avoid plastic which takes hundreds of years to decompose.
Rule #2 Save water (and money)! In many countries you can drink water from the tap or it is prepared for you in the hotel lobby. You can take a reusable bottle with you and fill it up wherever you can. Does this seem small and insignificant? Well if you count it, you’ll see that the expense of bottled water is app. 20-25 USD during your stay. Of course, there are places where it is not recommended to drink water other than bottled and this idea would not work, but when preparing for a trip you can check this aspect.
Rule #3 More efficient cleaning and laundry services! Hotels are also looking for different ways to encourage guests to consciously use their services. A few years ago, Marriott Hotels in USA introduced an innovative solution – guests who decided to reduce the frequency of cleaning were offered a drink voucher. This is now a trend all over the world, also in Poland.
Hotels often communicate with their guests in this aspect in the language of benefits and this is an effective way to build awareness. Hoteliers save money and protect the environment at the same time.
Rule #4 Don’t support animals` suffering! We love exotic animals, we want to touch them, to get close. But why is this wild animal so calm that you can take pictures with it? It is often the case that it is “drugged” with tranquillisers and its life is merely a vegetation. Unfortunately, this is still happening in many countries around the world. Do you really want a photo like that? If we don’t support it, this dubious attraction will hopefully disappear.
7. Appreciate, smile, greet and help!
Small gestures, but they have a wonderful effect on the local community and other travellers we meet along the way as well as our travelling companions.
A smile, a wave of the hand to those working in the fields, a word of thanks or wishing someone a good day cost nothing.
Helping is our responsibility and sometimes even a small gesture and sacrificing only 10 minutes of your time may be a lot for another human being. In June, at the Athens airport, a woman with a small child approached me. She seemed to be very confused and concerned, unfortunately didn’t speak English. Showed me her boarding pass and one thing I could understand and read on her face was fear and panic. Based on the boarding pass she was supposed to be on a Ryanair flight to Berlin departing in the next 20 minutes. The only information missing was the gate. And so I left my coffee, found out what the gate number was and we ran to catch that flight (she was carrying her son while I was dragging her cabin luggage). We made it just on time! I waved them goodbye and received a beautiful smile from this young mom and her son. Needless to say, it brought me a lot of joy and satisfaction!
I have the impression that I could write a very long essays about this subject, discussing every aspect of travelling.
In this short article I’m just highlighting a few points and I certainly haven’t covered the topic in its entirety. If I manage to inspire someone to look at their trip in terms of responsible travelling, it’s already a big success!
I invite you to discuss this topic and examples of how you travelled responsibly and realized your personal CSR