Making an impact abroad
It’s that time of year again where you start thinking about where to go next. You might be mulling over new places to visit, exciting things to see and do, how much to save…the list goes on. But have you thought about whether your holiday will do something good too? After all, travelling shouldn’t be all take and no give, right?
We’re firm believers that tourism can be a force for good and that there a plenty of things we can all do to make good things happen when we travel. If you’re a conscious traveller looking for ways to make an impact, here are a few ideas to think about when planning your next holiday:
Think carefully about your destination
In the wake of natural disasters, political unrest and terrorist threats, it can be all too easy to write off a destination. But don’t be too hasty. Many places – particularly in less-developed countries – rely heavily on tourism to put food on tables and roofs over heads. That means, if tourists stop coming, people go hungry, parents can no longer afford school fees and it can take a long time for communities to recover. Puerto Rico is still recovering after a hurricane in 2017, Nepal is struggling after the 2015 earthquake and Sri Lanka is still rebuilding from the Easter attacks in 2019. But as time goes on and the healing process begins, it’s important that these places aren’t forgotten. Of course, it’s important to feel safe too. That’s why we work closely with our local partners on the ground and follow the latest FCO advice.
On the flip-side, sometimes destinations can have too many visitors. In some places, tourism is having a pretty negative impact on local people and fragile eco-systems. For instance, destinations like Maya Bay in Thailand – which gained popularity after the release of the film, The Beach – were forced to close as a result of over-tourism and crowding. Likewise, in 2017, we made the decision to no longer offer trips to Vietnam’s Halong Bay due to crowding and the impact on the environment. Instead, we offer a really similar experience in neighbouring Bai Tu Long Bay – equally beautiful views, far fewer crowds.
Be open to new encounters
We think travel should be about way more than ticking places off a list. Seeing the real people behind the experiences, learning new things, getting different perspectives – these are what stay in your memory long after you’re home. A great tip is to learn a few phrases in the local language. You’ll be amazed at how it opens doors, offers up friendly encounters and makes people smile. If you have internet access there are lots of apps that translate almost simultaneously these days. It’s easy to feel a little scared in a new country and it’s no bad idea to be on your guard in the first couple of days. But let it down as you become more confident. You’ll find the majority of local people that approach you are just curious. And yes, they can learn from you too. It’s a shared exchange. And in many ways, you are an ambassador for your country, so why not share your own experiences with those who are curious enough to ask?
Be an eco-tourist
The term eco-tourism has been around a long time. It’s usually applied to the places we visit, but how about the mindsets we have as travellers? Many less-developed countries really struggle with plastic pollution. Don’t drop your good habits from home when you’re away. Refuse single-use bags – carry a reusable one for your shopping. Many places offer schemes where you buy a reusable bottle and free refills are widely available to avoid plastic. Just one example is Refill, not Landfill. Water itself is a scarce resource in many places, so try to limit your water use.
Climate change news is everywhere these days, and we all know that flying is a big contributor to greenhouse gases. For shorter journeys or overland travel, taking the train is a good option. And for longer international flights, you might want to offset your carbon emissions.
Think about where your money goes
When you spend whilst you’re away, who gets the money? Choosing not just what you buy, but who you buy it from is another way to make good things happen. We’re huge fans of homestays because they offer such an amazing opportunity to experience life from a local’s perspective. But they’re also great because your spend stays right there in the community. If homestays aren’t your cup of tea, you can also choose to eat at restaurants run by local people and shop for souvenirs at cooperatives run by local craftsmen and women. But it’s also worth thinking about what not to buy. In some parts of the world, it’s worryingly easy to buy souvenirs made from animal parts like terrapin shells and coral. Our advice? Be mindful when perusing the market stalls and try to stick to sustainable gifts. For more information, have a look at CITES.
Make a stand
Sometimes – whether you’re on holiday or back home – you might feel the need to call something out – particularly if it goes against your values. With the rise in Netflix-style exposé documentaries, more and more people in the West are becoming privy to animal welfare issues. And, arguably, consumers now have more power than ever before to affect change. Just a couple of examples of where western tourists making noise has made the industry take action are elephant riding and orca whale captivity. If you do witness the inhumane treatment of animals during your travels, you can report it via the Travellers’ Animal Alert.
It’s not just animals that fall victim to abuse, of course. Often, it’s people that are exploited too. There’s a lot of discussion about slum tourism and whether it’s a way to provide income for needy people or if it’s just plain voyeurism. This totally depends on the way these tours are organised, and who is organising them. At Rickshaw, we think it’s really important that travellers see and understand different ways of life within a destination, rather than skimming the surface. This doesn’t mean visiting a slum and whipping your camera out. It’s about meeting people, showing an interest and engaging with them.
Don’t forget, your choices can have a big impact. You can influence other travellers to think about these things by talking about them and using social media to share far and wide.
Lend a helping hand
A great way to give something back is to support local initiatives within the destinations you visit – either while you’re there, or when you return home. With every booking, we donate to a range of local projects that support people and organisations across the world. This includes marine conservation projects, soup kitchens, and anti-people-trafficking programmes. Sometimes you can roll up your sleeves and help out too. Lots of beach destinations now run beach clean ups and you can take part. Trash Hero is one example. You meet like-minded people – both locals and other travellers – and it’s a real (and slightly sobering) eye-opener. Giving a little back can be the most rewarding of experiences. And often you end up making friends for life in the process.