Conscious travel is about giving something back.
It is the way you immerse yourself in a new place or country. It is about seeing things through a new perspective as well as being mindful of how we interact with others while we are there.
It is about ensuring we do not just take from the places we visit, but always making sure in some way that we are giving back to the communities that call these places home.
As travellers, we have a responsibility to respect and educate ourselves about the places we visit and to learn more about the communities, cultures, habitats and wildlife.
We must travel for ourselves and not just travel how we have been told to. Searching for the reality of a destination and how we can use our travel to benefit those who need it most. We should not travel to places just to snap a picture or tick a country off our bucket list.
We should travel to immerse ourselves in a culture and to have a transformational experience.
As my favourite quote from Anthony Bourdain says:
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”
11 Ways to be a More Conscious Traveller
1 – Tour with locals
When booking tours ensure you find someone local, using a local-conscious agency will ensure that the money you spend goes back into the economy you are visiting.
Try to avoid big international travel companies and agencies as these are not usually locally based and the profits often do not benefit the local communities.
Using local companies will often mean you are taken off the heavily visited tourist path, not only will you be able to see the places you visit from a local perspective they will also be able to show you some real hidden gems that you might have otherwise missed.
2 – Eat local
When you are travelling you are often eating out for 2 or 3 meals a day, as a conscious traveller you will want to ensure the money you are spending on food is going back into the economy.
Eating local is a great way to do this, try and find small locally run restaurants, coffee shops and markets, here they will often have locally sourced produce. Avoid big chains such as McDonald’s and Starbucks.
3 – Respect the culture
When visiting any new country or place it is always best to do your research before arriving to ensure you are knowledgeable about that destinations culture.
You want to ensure you are respectful of any traditions or religious beliefs as you do not want to do something that locals may find rude or disrespectful.
💡 For example, did you know that in Brazil it can be seen as unlucky if you wear the colour purple when you are not attending a funeral? It is seen as a sacred colour and has devotional meaning.
In Thailand you should always avoid showing the bottom of your foot, it is seen to be extremely dirty and you should never put your feet up on tables or chairs.
So always ensure you are aware of these cultural differences before visiting countries, remember you are the visitor and you must always be respectful. Be patient and understanding of others and see things from their perspective.
Also ensure you are paying fairly, of course haggling in some cultures is expected but do not push for a deal when it’s not needed. A small change to some may be a week’s worth of food to others.
4 – Respect the wildlife
As a conscious traveller, you will want to ensure that you only partake in ethical animal tourism.
Ethical animal tourism should be the only way that tourists interact with any animals or wildlife throughout the world, however, finding ethical animal encounters is not always as easy as you think.
It is our responsibility as a paying tourists to ensure that we are putting the livelihood of the animals we interact with first over our enthusiasm to get close to a wild animal.
Animal tourism when done correctly is hugely beneficial to the local economy and the animals that live in it, it can bring funding to support conservation and veterinary care and can be used to spread awareness of unethical practices.
Ethical animal encounters ensure that the animal’s well-being comes first above everything else, meaning you can either just observe them or interact with them in a way that doesn’t affect or impact their welfare.
Some examples of unethical animal practices are:
- Visiting Tiger temples
- Riding elephants
- Circuses or shows where animals perform
- Luwak Coffee
- Swimming with whale sharks that are being fed
- Choose wisely when on any Safari
- Encouraging snake charmers
- Do not take selfies with any form of wildlife – they often didn’t get there in an ethical way
So make sure to always do your research and keep your animal encounters as they should be, wild!
Check out my Top 5 Ethical Elephant Sanctuaries in Chiang Mai to help ensure any elephant encounter you have in Thailand is an ethical one.
5 – Stay local
When finding accommodation always look for eco-friendly or family-run options.
Where you can avoid staying at big chains and all-inclusive resorts, these accommodations often take more from the local area than they give back.
Some good questions to ask yourself when booking your accommodation are:
- Is this accommodation run by a local family/company?
- Do they contribute to the local economy?
- If any food or drink is included – is it locally sourced?
- Do they employ locals?
- Are they exploiting the natural landscape, people or animals for income?
6 – Learn the language
Of course, you do not have to be fluent in the language of every country you visit but make sure you learn not only the basics but a little more.
I know that you may not always get it right but at least give it a go! Remember that you are a tourist in someone else’s country and not everyone will always understand English.
So make sure to research all the most commonly used words and phrases, you can also use great apps such as Duolingo, to teach you useful phrases which are easy to pick up in a short amount of time.
7 – Be mindful of what you are eating & buying
Whilst travelling throughout the world you will see all sorts of dishes on menus.
Do not purchase dishes that serve endangered animals such as:
- Bluefin Tuna
- Sea turtle
The killing of these animals is often inhumane and illegal, partaking in the purchasing of these items encourages the killing of endangered and vulnerable animals.
In addition to eating endangered animals, as a conscious traveller always ensure the souvenirs and items you purchase are made sustainably.
Always look for items that are locally made not imported, but be aware of anything that could be made from an endangered animal or locally protected produce – such as ivory, furs, sharks’ teeth or anything made from corals, starfish and seashells.
8 – Travel smarter
Of course, air travel cannot always be avoided however where it can be done, use alternative ways of transport.
Not only will it probably save you money it will also lower your carbon footprint.
Sleeper trains, buses and coaches are great for long distances and short distances can you lift share, cycle or walk?
9 – Respect the trails
If you are big on hiking I’m sure you would have seen signs warning of path erosion.
Be mindful of the routes you take, if you are climbing a popular trail is there an alternative option?
💡This could help reduce path erosion and can be the better option as these alternative routes are often more scenic and a lot quieter!
If there isn’t an alternative path is there an organisation or charity you can support? Such as Fix the Fells based in the Lake District,
“Fix the Fells tackles this erosion problem by repairing and maintaining 344 upland paths, covering 410 miles (661 km), helping to keep the Lake District a special place for us and future generations.”
10 – Ethical Volunteering
Can you personally give something back with your time? Volunteering is a great option to help with local economies.
Be sure to do your research into the organisation or charity you choose to work with.
You want to find an experience that is beneficial to you and the community you will be working in, as a volunteer, you may have the best intentions but you want to ensure that either your work or money is going back into the economy you are in, as not everyone has the same honourable intentions.
Ethical volunteering is about volunteering with truly good intentions, you want to do something for a community without aiming for personal gain.
11 – Spread awareness
This is so important.
Share what you have learnt, experienced, seen or heard whilst on your travels and try to encourage people to do the same.
Did you do something that you now look back on and feel shameful about? Speak about it, share your experience and share why you regret it.
Conscious travel is all about education, the more we can learn and educate ourselves and each other the better we can guarantee the future will be.
If you see someone going to book an all-inclusive resort or an unethical animal experience speak up, if everyone can make small changes our chances of creating a better place for all of the earth’s inhabitants will be much greater.
To be a conscious traveller you must be a more mindful traveller, not allowing yourself to get swept up in the whirlwind of an adventure but to think about the decisions you make.
Arrive wherever you are with an open heart and an open mind, be forgiving and understanding and enjoy the new cultural experiences around you.
Whether you are visiting a new country for the first time or going back to a destination you have visited many times, slow down.
Immerse yourself in your adventures and ensure you are present enough to create beautiful travel memories.
Together we can do our best to spread awareness and ensure we leave this earth and the communities we visit in the best possible way we can.
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