You may have heard of the term ‘conscious travel' but are unsure what it means. In this article, I cover conscious travel and 10 ways to be a conscious traveller
Conscious travel is a chance to make a positive impact, whether that’s travelling to an emerging destination that needs our tourism, becoming culturally and environmentally sensitive and ensuring that our Dollars, Pounds and Euros go back into the community of the country that we visit and benefits the local people.
In a nutshell, being a conscious traveller means rethinking the way that we travel and interact with the world. And becoming a better traveller. If you want to make more of an impact on your travels this year but are confused about how to do it or even what making an impact even really means, I've made it super easy with 10 ways to be a conscious traveller this year.
To learn more about each topic in-depth, just click on the link.
1. Volunteer Through an Ethical Company and Avoid Orphanages
Volunteering sounds like an altruistic action but you could be doing more harm than good, especially within orphanages. Having attended a talk on the impact of volunteering in an orphanage by Next Generation Nepal, I discovered that children can suffer from a psychological detachment disorder and struggle to form relationships later on. Having previously volunteered in an orphanage in Kenya, I later questioned the positive impact. Instead of volunteering this way, you can help support organisations that work with families of orphanages.
Some organisations use volunteering as a way of making money instead of helping the community. The link to the article below includes ethical volunteering agencies you can join.
2. Reducing Your Footprint
This is a tough one as some argue that we shouldn't be travelling at all but tourism is a billion-dollar industry and there are many that depend on us to travel for their livelihoods.
But some airlines such as Easyjet are working on new ways to help reduce their carbon footprint. As a consumer, we can offset our carbon footprint for any flights that we take. It can be hard to reduce travelling if it is as a means for work or business but we can make an impact by offsetting any journeys that we take, whether that’s on a plane, bus or car.
One way to reduce your footprint is to consider overland travel, using public transport such as buses or carpooling services instead of taxis or even cycling your way around a city.
Another way is to offset any journeys that we take, whether that’s on a plane, bus or car. The Carbon Footprint Calculator works out the impact of your journey, e.g. a flight from London to Barcelona is 0.36 metric tons. To offset it, I can then choose to plant trees to the cost, help reforestation in Kenya or help community projects. It’s really easy to use.
3. Taking Ethical Photos of People & Children
It can be challenging when you travel. When I used to travel with a camera, children would automatically be curious about it and want to pose to have their photos taken. If you are taking a photo of a local, then it’s common etiquette to ask their permission first. If you then show them the photo, you’ll often see their face light up as it may be the first time they have ever seen a photograph.
People are humans and happily snapping them when you are on a tour especially if it is a township tour is not an ethical way to act. Make sure you have the permission of a tribesman that you want to photograph.
On this subject, if you are approached by a child begging, try to refrain from giving them money or gifts. Sometimes these children are taken out of school and any money that you give them encourages them away from their education. Support community-led projects which help street kids instead.
4. Elephants & Wildlife
We all want to see an elephant when we travel especially if we’ve never seen one in the wild before. I’m ashamed to say that I rode an elephant in Thailand nearly 20 years ago when I was unaware of the impact and how the elephants were being treated to make them interact with humans.
Luckily, we now have so much more awareness and people are being discouraged from harmful elephant rides. As an alternative, you can visit an elephant sanctuary and see the elephants bathing and doing things that elephants should be doing. This also applies to staged animal and sea life shows. Avoid anything that an animal is doing which is not natural and watch them in their natural habitat instead.
5. Reducing Plastic
According to Greenpeace “It is estimated that up to 12 million metric tons of plastic—everything from plastic bottles and bags to microbeads—end up in our oceans each year. That’s a truckload of trash every minute.”
Reducing your plastic consumption can sometimes be easier to manage when you’re at home where you can drink the tap water and recycle any plastic. Travelling to a third world country where tap water is impossible to consume and they don’t recycle is more challenging.
Consider taking a water filter flask with you on your travels. There are some great portable ones out there (I use Water2Go) and you can also find filter straws to help clean the water and make it safe to drink, reducing the number of plastic bottles that you need to buy.
Take your own cutlery with you if you can too. I travel with a spork that doubles up as a spoon and a fork and a collapsible cup which helps reduce my plastic consumption.
6. Be Mindful of What You Buy
It’s easy to pick up a pretty souvenir as a memento of your trip and not to think twice about where it actually comes from. Try to avoid buying anything that looks as though it’s made from threatened or endangered species, including coral and other marine life. Don’t buy any fake goods such as imitation Gucci handbags and instead try and buy souvenirs direct from artisans.
7. Help The Local Community
One easy way to help the communities you visit is by finding social impact projects. There are many great organisations making a positive social impact on their local communities such as restaurants that help feed the homeless or accommodations that support their local schools. Not only do you get to support a local’s business but you help the vulnerable people in their community too. Search for social impact programs in the city that you’re going to or ‘cafes giving back.’
8. Report Anything Suspicious
It is an industry that is difficult to comprehend but for the 47 million people who are human trafficked every single year, this $150 billion business is their reality. That’s why human trafficking awareness is so important, especially when we travel.
When we travel alone, we’re more inclined to look around and be aware of our surroundings. Our senses can be heightened and our instinct so much greater than we notice things that just don’t feel right.
Apparently, 20-25% of people who have travelled have witnessed a potential situation where a child was at risk and only 4% reported it. If we are staying at a hotel and we see a young girl with an older man and it doesn’t feel right then it really is best to report it to the hotel. You could make such a difference to that girl’s life.
9. Not To Be Judgemental and Respect The People And The Culture
Sometimes travel can be frustrating, especially when things go wrong or we experience some cultural challenges. Being hassled, things not running on time, lack of professionalism and unnecessary bureaucracy are some of the cons of travelling.
When things don’t go your way, or when the locals have a laid-back attitude when you really need the answers yesterday, it can be hard to put it down to cultural differences when it’s affecting our trip. It’s times like these when we need to remember why we travel. To experience another country, another culture and its people.
Deep down, we are all the same and have the same human needs – shelter, food and love – no matter where we are in the world and it is just our societal norms or conditioning that moulds us.
Reading up about cultural norms before we go can help us to have a more comfortable trip. We travel the world to be a better person so aim not to judge how others choose to live their lives. Accepting things and being open to any experience whether we perceive it as good or bad will really impact your trip and the people that you meet along the way.
10. To Embrace Every Moment
Life slips by so quickly that it’s so important to be in the moment as much as we can. That’s what I love about solo travel. It forces you to live in the moment and be in the present as you become mindful of each action that you take, whether that’s looking for your accommodation, admiring architecture in a back street that you just stumbled across, or taking a long bus journey staring out at the landscape flashing past.
It’s a never-ending learning curve that teaches us something new about ourselves. Being conscious and mindful of each moment allows us to absorb the experience and fully immerse ourselves in where we are. Travelling alone can be life-changing. It allows us to grow as a person, increasing our self-confidence and self-esteem.
If we can embrace the transformation that solo travel brings in every moment, we can help to inspire and empower other women to travel solo too.
One person really can make a difference and create a ripple effect. If your resolution for 2023 was to make an impact and change the way that you travel, I hope this article has shown you how simple it can be.