The 8 Duties of a Responsible Traveler
08 August 2016 | Mri Grout - A Lifelong Vagabond
It's easy to forget that our holiday destinations are made up of actual people and an environment trying to survive, especially since we rarely see it outside of a tourist's rose-coloured spectacles. We don't visit the struggling communities nor the reefs that have already died and been forgotten. We simply oooh and aaah over the bright colours and vibrant areas that are advertised in all of the travel magazines and then head home from our fairytale vacation, blissfully forgetting or just not wanting to realize that the paradise we left has its own hardships too. But since you're here reading this blog post, I can only happily assume that you've come to realize how strongly we, as travelers, can impact the world around us. Already irresponsible tourists have been known to disrupt entire ecosystems, aid in tourist animal abuse, and close down or heavily restrict access to tourist attractions. So let's not add to this ridiculous, thoughtless, and selfish list; rather let us impact our holiday destinations positively by following these 8 duties of a responsible traveler.
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1. Save the Reefs - Wear the Right Sunscreen
The Great Barrier Reef has been struggling to survive our onslaught of ignorance and insensitivity for years, but it is far from being the only marine ecosystem that desperately needs us to finally pay attention before they disappear forever. Luckily, one doesn't have to be a scientist or a government to be able to help save the reefs; simply being aware of the harmful effects most sunscreens have on reefs will be a huge benefit to their survival. Many sunblockers use a chemical filter called oxybenzone and it is this harmful product, as well as some others, that has been found to have a massive negative influence on corals in a sad variety of ways. A single drop of oxybenzone can effect all of the coral in an Olympic swimming pool sized area by increasing the rate of bleaching, disrupting their endocrine system, damaging their very DNA structures, and eventually killing them. Now imagine what 5,000 tons (the estimated amount that polutes the oceans each year) of sunsceen made with oxybenzone will do. Buying a reef friendly sunscreen like SPF 30 Natural Sunscreen might be a bit more expensive, but a few dollars more is not going to bankrupt your vacation. However, not spending that extra bit will ruin your future holidays to the reefs the world over. Other ways to save the reefs as a responsible traveler is by applying sunscreen at least 15 minutes before swimming so that it has time to absorb into your skin and not leak into the water, wearing a rash guard or other swimwear that covers more of you so that you don't need as much sunscreen, and educating others about the harmful effects of sunscreen on the reefs.
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2. Stop Animal Abuse - Visit Ethical Animal Attractions
Elephants mourn their dead. Tigers feel love. Monkeys are able to communicate with us - in our OWN language. Wild animals aren't a second-class species to our own. They fear, they play, they hate, and they shouldn't be subjected to torture even for our twisted entertainment. Tiger temples shouldn't be allowed to drug and beat tiger cubs before killing them at the young age of two because they aren't 'cute enough' anymore. Elephant rides shouldn't be allowed when they're only made possible by severe physical, emotional, and mental abuse that starts when they're born and continues to the present day. The caring parents of monkeys, tigers, and other animals shouldn't be mercilessly killed just so we can snap a ruthless selfie with a wild animal. So let's all do our part as responsible travelers and stop supporting places that practice animal abuse. Instead, support ethical animal attractions that take the welfare of their animals as the main consideration. For example, open range zoos, businesses with real conservation efforts other than just captive breeding, and tours that explain to you the dangers of human impact on wildlife's environment (like how sunscreen kills the very reefs you've just paid hundreds of dollars to come see). For a wonderful list of such attractions worldwide that you can visit as a responsible traveler, check out 10 Ethical Animal Attractions Around the World.
3. Support Local Families - Spend Where You Can
To you all the money you spend on a trip is simply counted as expenses. To those you shop from, it's counted as a livelihood - funds to go into keeping them fed, housed, and their children in school. You don't need to spend a fortune to help support local families when traveling; you just need to indulge yourself in a few treats every once and a while. After all, by doing so not only will you be helping local families, but you'll also be enjoying your trip that much more. Another simple way you can support local families is by realizing that bartering on every item that you get charged more for due to being a foreigner saves you a miniscule amount of money by the trip's end. Whereas to those living in impoverished areas, that sum could be a week's worth of food. Everyone is just trying to survive and since we have the good fortune of being able to travel, why not do so with a bit of responsibility?
4. Support Local Communities - Don't Shop at Big Chains
It's easy to realize the benefits of shopping local in your home town. More money goes back into it (an estimated three times more per dollar of sales). More competition and thus better service, will be derived from it. More jobs are then created due to the boost in the economy. This is the same for every community around the world. So your decision to shop at a small, local store instead of a giant, international chain will go just as far as it will back home.
5. Keep Park Wildlife Healthy - Don't Feed Them Bread!
Bread is not something most animals can actually have in large quanities. You might only feed a flock of ducks a single slice of bread, but so will the next person and the next and the next and the next until the animals get sick one way or another. Fish will catch a yeast infection, making them unable to swim correctly and thus, easy prey to their predators. Birds will develop the horrible condition called Angel Wings (as seen above), which despite its cute name will destroy their wings to the point that they're unable to fly. So if you're going to feed park wildlife, please make sure its only something from their natural diet, like, unsalted nuts for squirrels. If you're not sure what's safe to feed them, then don't feed them at all. And if they don't reside in an actual park within a city (as in if you come across a squirrel on a trail in the mountains) they are NOT park wildlife and you should refer to the next duty of a responsible travler instead.
6. Save Wild Animals - Don't Feed Them At All!
Even if you feed feral wildlife something natural and healthy for them, you're running the risk of killing them later because they'll become dependant on and/or unafraid of humans, as well as run a higher risk of catching diseases due to unnaturally flocking around you. If they become dependant, like with the squirrels on the Temple of Sinawava trail in Zion National Park, then when that path is snowed in or otherwise roped off, those squirrels will die because they haven't buried any nuts to help them through the winter. If animals become unafraid of humans, like say with predators we fear (lions, tigers, and bears!) or just one we think of as a nuisuance, then they're also going to die by getting shot either by protecting law enforcement officers or mere opportunistic hunters. And if they catch a disease due to being in such close proximity to others, well an entire colony can be wiped out and in some cases, the disease can even learn to jump to humans.
7. Protect Historical Monuments - Travel Green
I know it's not easy recycling when you're on the road; my biggest annoyance when traveling the USA is its ridiculous lack of recycling bins. However, if you're somewhere you're able to, please do as the benefits of recycling are numerous, even to a traveler. Not only does recycling help the environment and save us resources, but it also helps to protect national monuments and historical icons like the Taj Mahal. For unfortunately, this famous building in India has been losing the war against air and water pollution caused by massive trash burning, trash dumping, deforestation, and excessive car emissions. So recycle plastics, glasses, tins, paper, clothes, and everything else when you can. Walk or bike instead of drive. Carshare with blablacar or hop on a bus if possible. Do not idle your car. Keep traveling green and help protect the historical monuments in India and elsewhere around the world.
8. Let Others Visit Too - Don't Abuse The Sites
Pick up your trash. Stay off delicate terrain. Don't touch or climb where you shouldn't. Bury your poop in the correct manner. The signs and rules are all in place for a reason and that reason should be respected. Unfortunately, all too often there are tourists that come to places like Yellowstone and do irresponsible, stupid crap like pick up a baby bison, which was later killed as a consequence due to the rejection of its mother, or go off the trails and then burn to death because they're walking on a freaking active volcano. Poor actions like these is what gets sites shut down or heavily restricted, especially when it comes to free campsites as we all frustratingly know. So let's all do our duty as a responsible traveler and respect the sites we visit.
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