Travel

What Is Responsible Travel?

The problem is, a lot of travelers don't understand what responsible travel means. There are a lot of misconceptions out there that make responsible travel seem like an extreme or unrealistic effort. 
04/20/2016 03:15pm ET | Updated December 6, 2017

It has been predicted that by 2020 an estimated 1.5 billion people will travel each year. Now more than ever, we should be taking a closer look at responsible travel. It starts with understanding what responsible travel is and how we can be a more responsible travelers.

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What is Responsible Travel?

Responsible travel (aka responsible tourism) is simply this:

Being socially and culturally aware when you travel (i.e. use more common sense people!), understanding your affect on the places you visit and trying to make that affect a positive one.

That's it! Not so complicated right? Imagine if even just a fraction of those 1.5 billion travelers made a few small changes to the way they view their travels and how they interact with the cultures they visit. It could change the world it such an amazingly positive way.

The problem is, a lot of travelers don't understand what responsible travel means. There are a lot of misconceptions out there that make responsible travel seem like an extreme or unrealistic effort.

Do I Have to Give Up Things in Order to be a Responsible Traveler?

I've met more than a few people who believe that responsible travel requires never flying on a jumbo jet because of the carbon emissions. While the idea is admirable, it's just not realistic for most travelers. There are many brilliant minds out there right now pioneering new, low emission forms of travel. Until then let's focus on what we can realistically achieve right now.

There are also misconceptions that being a responsible traveler means you have to travel backpacker style. Low budget, cut corners where possible, and as basic as possible. While that can make for an uniquely adventurous trip, it's not always necessary.

When we recently traveled to Morocco and a little bit of pre-travel research uncovered an incredible program at Richard Branson's Kasbah Tamadot run by Eve Branson. We ended up staying there and getting involved with The Eve Branson Foundation which supports local women, children and communities in numerous wonderful ways. Proof that luxury travel and responsible travel don't have to be mutually exclusive.

Responsible travel doesn't have to be an unattainable extreme. It can be as simple as small changes to the way we view our journey to new places and how we interact with different cultures.

What is the Difference Between Responsible Travel and Responsible Tourism?

To answer this question you have to first understand the differences between being a traveler and a tourist.

A traveler is one who immerses themselves in the places they visit.

A tourist is one who scratches the surface of the places they visit.

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To be a responsible traveler, you are making an effort to go deeper than a surface, guide book understanding of the places you visit. For example, learning some of the native language in an effort to speak to the locals in a foreign country.

A tourist, on the other hand, even though they may not be as immersed in the culture, can make decisions which have a positive impact on the places they visit. For example, choosing a hotel with a sustainability program over one that does not.

Often times, responsible tourism is a phrase associated with the tourism industry, not the individual traveler. Does the hotel have a sustainability program? Does the tour operator adhere to wildlife preservation policies? Etc.

How to Be a More Responsible Traveler

The list is infinite! The possibilities are as endless as the amount of places to visit in the world. But if you're ready to be a more responsible traveler (I hope you are!) then this list should help get you started.

  • Before you take a photo or selfie, take a minute to enjoy and appreciate the view.
  • Talk to locals, learn at least a small amount of their language. There are so many amazing people you will meet along the way.
  • Spend a few extra minutes finding a hotel that gives back or has a sustainability program, there are a lot more than you might think.
  • Respect the people, culture and environment of the places you visit.
  • When you book a tour, ask the operator or company if they are environmentally responsible.

If you make some of these small efforts on your next adventure, I promise you, it will enhance and enrich your travels in so many ways and improve the world around you at the same time.

I love hearing travel stories. Share your experiences with responsible travel below.

Lonely Planet

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Veronica Morrison is an intrepid traveler and founder of From the Upside a Top 15 International Travel Blog. She is passionate about responsible travel and aims to help others get out and explore the world while improving themselves and the world around them.

You can follow her adventures on her website From the Upside or on Instagram.

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