Small steps to becoming a more sustainable and responsible tourist 

The travel bug that persuades many of us to don rucksacks, pack suitcases and head off to explore the four corners of the world, leaves us with unique experiences, memories to last a lifetime, and Instagram feeds to rival National Geographic. Yet our desire to travel also puts increased pressure on the countries we visit in terms of environmental issues and management. 

The good news is that it's easier than ever to be a responsible tourist and to reduce your impact on the planet. After all, if we want to keep on travelling, holidaying and experiencing these wonderful places, it's also our responsibly to ensure they remain beautiful and sustainable for the future. Here's some simple actions we can all take to become more responsible tourists.

Plastic water bottles
A difficult one to avoid in countries that have unsafe tap water, but there are ways around this. Firstly, take a reusable sports bottle away with you. My partner and I have four between us on our current backpacking trip and they have saved us so much plastic it's unbelievable. When in transit, most airports have water fountains and filters (the best of which was in Medan airport in Indonesia – the filter tallied up how many plastic bottles had been saved by using it and it was at over 15,700 when I used it). Little positive reinforcements like this are wonderful! In Australia and New Zealand, the tap water is safe to drink nad we found water filling stations everywhere, great for when you are out exploring and need a refill. Your water bottles will come in extremely handy.

In addition, try to seek out accommodation that offers water refills; some state this on their website or accommodation overview on booking sites. This saves a crazy amount of plastic. The hostels and home stays I stayed in throughout Asia were notably better at this than the hotels. Many hotels still leave new plastic bottles in your room each day, which there is still demand for from some travellers, but it's also something that you can politely decline. One such hotel wouldn't refill our water bottles for us and I wanted to see how much impact this had on our plastic consumption during our stay. I stacked up our empty water bottles purchased throughout the week (we still tried to find places to refill, but couldn't always) and left a note. I hope it encouraged the hotel to be more flexible. Another tip for when your accommodation doesn’t have water dispensers is to head out to a local store and buy the huge water containers, the bigger the better. Something we learnt to do as we travelled and at least then you have one big bottle which you can take your refills from, rather than buying a vast number of small bottles.
In restaurants ask for drinking water not bottled – some venues are more obliging than others. We found the organic and more openly responsible cafes provided a free glass of drinking water anyway. Some restaurants will refill your water bottles for a small fee, which is fine by me. They have to pay for water services, or buy the water in bulk at the end of the day. Better to be charged a little for a refill than needlessly buying more plastic. 

Tiny yes, insignificant no. Single-use plastic straws have one of the shortest product lifespans around, we use them for all of 5-10 minutes before they become waste and sadly they are among the top 10 marine debris items. What can you do to help? Simply say "no straw" when ordering a drink, or if you're feeling in a challenging mood ask the manager why they use plastic straws. Since my last visit to Asia, there appears to have been a positive increase in restaurants and cafes ditching the plastic and using reusable straws, whether they be metal, bamboo or other, or simply not using straws at all to reduce their environmental impact. After all, do you drink your tea from a straw at home? In Indonesia and Singapore particularly increasing numbers of shops and stalls sell bamboo straws, a good move towards encouraging consumers to make small changes. 

Beach clean projects
Across the globe, but in Asia in particular, a plastic-strewn beach appears to be common place these days. When you arrive at your lovely beachside accommodation do some investigating. Are there local beach clean projects, and can you join one? I found a couple of beach clean projects when travelling, although at current there are simply not enough to conquer the continued onslaught of plastic washing up onto the beaches. Alternatively take matters into your own hands, literally, and just pick up some trash. On Klong Dao beach on Koh Lanta, I collected two bags of rubbish each day. It's so quick to do and much better than simply ignoring the problem. I've watched parents with their kids playing ball games on top of plastic and wonder "would it be so difficult to pick up that rubbish and put it in a bin?" Let's set good examples to our children, and stop them becoming indifferent to the waste around them.
Eat for a cause
Eating at social enterprise and charitable cafes and restaurants is a wonderful way to make your tight travel budget go further. Use your bellies for good and seek out such eateries in the destinations you visit. In doing so you will directly support local causes whether they are providing free healthcare, giving valuable employment to disadvantaged young adults, or protecting the local wildlife. I've created a delicious directory of such cafes and restaurants.

Responsible tours are becoming more common place as tour operators realise the importance of protecting local environments. Such tours may be slightly more expensive than others, but having recently chosen such a company for an overnight trek into the Sumatran jungle, I can hand on heart say it was worth every penny and more. The guides understood the jungle and the environment, they made sure that not one single piece of waste (including fruit peel as traces of insect repellent and sunscreen from humans is harmful for wildlife) was left in the jungle. They also undertake clean-up operations to clean the trash left by less eco-conscious tour guides and they really really care about the wildlife. Eco tours are worth the peace of mind in knowing that you left an area exactly as you found it. As the saying goes ‘Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints.’
Eco resorts over mega resorts 
Short-sighted governments have allowed / are allowing big developers to blight previously stunning shorelines and hilltops with mega resorts, complete with casinos, zoos and god knows what else. On small islands, these are nothing but destructive and plain ugly. Instead of staying in these environmentally-damaging resorts, you can limit your impact by staying in smaller scale eco-friendly responsible accommodation. I can recommend stays at Heritance Kandalama Sri Lanka, EcoTravel Cottages Sumatra and Mango Bay Resort. Tourism doesn’t have to be destructive. With the correct thought and planning, new developments can be sympathetic to the natural environment and actually create positive impacts.

It's easy to be a little bit better. Small changes like the ones noted above can and will make a big difference to a place over time as responsible and sustainable behaviour becomes the norm. So for all of those bitten by the travel bug, let's make sure the destinations we adore today are still around for future generations to enjoy as we do.


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