Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
~ Robert Frost, poem titled The Road Not Taken, 1916
It is a real privilege to travel. Many people never have that luxury – to have the time and the resources to journey somewhere unfamiliar, and to smell, taste, listen, experience a world that is different from every day life.
For those of us lucky enough to travel, and to travel by choice for a vacation or adventure rather than out of necessity, there are some small choices that we can all be mindful of to minimise the environmental and maximise the social impact of the trip…
Thirsty? Think about your taking a reusable water bottle with you, and fill it up using a water filter or drinking water dispensed from large 20 litre or other reusable filtered water sources. That will help to reduce the amount of plastic water bottles that end up in landfill or in the oceans. Also pay attention to plastic straws, and be surprised by the number of times you will be offered a plastic straw in any one day (sometimes two may come with a cold drink that you order). Consider taking one at the beginning of your trip, and then reusing it many times over!
Hungry? You will be doing some research online, in a guide book or through friends to find places that are delicious and interesting to eat during your trip. Think about going to a restaurant that also has a social enterprise dimension – for example in sourcing its ingredients from local farmers and/or training disadvantaged members of the community in cooking and catering skills.
New experiences? Alongside the sites, museums and other landmarks you might seek out during your trip, consider also factoring in some time to volunteer with a local project for a different kind of experience. There are pros and cons to some of the different models of volunteering, so do some background research about the host organisation, how they operate and work in / with the local community, and how they spend the money they raise from volunteering to make sure it is ethical and having a positive impact.
Souvenirs? As you wander through the colourful markets and shopping streets, and are tempted to make a purchase…. check if the products you are interested in buying are made ethically (and not for example in a “sweat shop”). Consider looking for products that support local artists and collectives, or perhaps are made as income generating opportunities for local community groups. #BuySocial.
Shopping? Take a cloth bag with you to reuse, so you don’t need to use plastic bags for your fruit and vegetables.
Tired? Consider staying in a hotel that is locally managed and set up as a social enterprise, perhaps a training school for up and coming managers or one that minimises the environmental waste generated by the hotel itself (for example by not using individually packaged soaps, and reusing the towels). Avoid drinking the complimentary water in the plastic bottles if you can, and have remembered to fill up your own reusable water bottle….
There is an old saying “take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints.” In fact, through the small and simple choices we make about how we spend our time and money while travelling, we can in fact aim a little bit higher… and contribute towards leaving a social impact as a mark of gratitude for the privilege of travelling.