Confession: We try to make this whole travel gig look easy, but the reality is that it is a TON of work. Deciding on a location and then forming an itinerary to make the most out of your time in country is extremely time consuming. That’s the whole reason we decided to make this blog. Besides the cost, we are convinced this is the primary reason why so many people say “just forget it” and decide to stay at home. It’s hard enough to decide where to go, but throw in currency exchange rates, layovers, time changes, transport in between locations, and foreign languages – suddenly you are in the middle of an almost overwhelming task. With all of those worries, why on earth would you further complicate things by considering if what you want to do is actually causing harm to the local culture, economy, or environment?
Up until a few months ago, the term “responsible tourism” had never crossed our minds. However, the more we are able to get out and explore the world, the more we realize that tourism can equally be a godsend or an absolute curse. Whether you are visiting another state or another country, it’s essential to take a moment to pause and consider the implications your journey will have on the places you go. Here’s why:
That experience or picture you are after might look amazing, but keep in mind that it may lead to negative consequences.
Everyone wants that picture riding high on the back of an elephant lumbering through the jungle. What’s the big deal, right? However, in reality carrying tourists on their back all day long is likely causing the animal emotional and/or physical harm. There are other ways to experience these amazing creatures that not only are harmless, but actually IMPROVE the animals life (check out our Thailand destination post for details on the company we ended up choosing to tour with, Elephant Nature Park).
Similarly , we were recently looking into swimming with whale sharks in the Philippines. However, we realized that when the guides constantly chum the waters it actually alters the migratory patterns of the animals, affecting their ability to reproduce. This concept applies not only to animals, but people as well! During our recent trip to Cambodia, we had initially planned on volunteering at an orphanage in an attempt to teach the kids the importance of giving back. However, with a little research we soon realized that short-term volunteering can actually lead to abandonment issues for the orphaned children. Despite our good intentions, we decided it wasn’t the best idea after all.
When done well, tourism can bring in much needed money and resources to an area in need, creating jobs, and strengthening the local economy. When done wrong it can completely tear places apart.
Part of the reason we travel is to learn about how other people around the world live, and give our kids an appreciation for those who are different than they are. Travel is all about seeing new things, but even more so it’s about interacting with local people and trying to immerse yourself in the local culture. It’s these experiences that make a lasting impression on you. During our trip to Cambodia, we wanted to visit the floating villages on Tonle Sap lake outside Siem Reap. However, many of the tours we looked into had reviews chronicling experiences that led us to feel that they were solely for profit and were harmful for the actual communities that we were hoping to experience.
Armed with this knowledge, we dug deeper and discovered a smaller company in which 100% of the profits went back to the community. That money was used to strengthen the economy and to create a school so kids could learn English and life skills even during the rainy season (check out our Cambodia blog for details on Community First’s Kompong Khleang Floating Village Tours).
Along those same lines, it’s important to respect the local customs or religion. If you know you are supposed to have your shoulders and knees covered before visiting a temple, please make sure you do so! It may not seem like it to you, but your indifference can come across as disrespect.
The whole point of this blog is to enjoy traveling with your kids, that means you need to help make sure they will be able to do the same with their own kids one day.
Simply put, if you are not taking care of the places you go, then they may not be there for your children to enjoy one day. We make a point to leave every place we go a little cleaner than we found it. We try to go on tours or pick activities with an ecological focus. When possible, we try to stay in local hotels vs big chains to support the local economy. This also has the benefit of teaching Miles and Penny that they should be responsible when they are in the position to travel by themselves one day. We hope they continue to pay this forward so generations to come have the opportunity to see and experience the world like we have.
In 2007, the World Summit on Sustainable Development said that responsible tourism “is about making better places for people to live in and better places for people to go.” A year ago, we never would have imagined that one of our main goals in traveling would be to make the places we decide to visit a little better. It’s extremely gratifying to know that in some small way we are helping the local population, teaching our kids to be responsible human beings, and doing our part to ensure that they too will have the opportunity to adventure one day like we do. We hope you keep this info in mind, and have a similar outlook on your next adventure.