How to see the world without leaving a footprint. This week, Intrepid Travel's
Chief Purpose Officer Leigh Barnes gives his advice on how to travel consciously.
Choose the right elephant experience
An elephant encounter is a highlight on many trips to Asia and Africa. While awareness is growing around the cruelty of elephant rides, there is a long way to go in both education and eradication of the tourist attraction. Travellers are the most powerful advocates in this sense — if tourist dollars are directed away from these attractions and toward elephant friendly sanctuaries, the industry will change.
According to Intrepid's Adventure Travel Index, the average lifespan of an Asian elephant held in captivity is cut down to 19 years as opposed to 42 years in the wild. So how do you do the right thing if you want to experience these majestic creatures? In Asia I recommend Elephant Nature Park, Happy Elephant Home, Elephant Valley and Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand. Tiger Tops Elephant Camp in Nepal is a tented camp allowing visitors to live and walk amongst the elephants.
Volunteer the right way
Orphanage tourism was once a popular way for travellers to feel they were helping disadvantaged children in third world countries. Nowadays, we know orphanages can be a business built on child exploitation. ReThink Orphanages state that more than eight million children live in institutions around the globe despite more than 80 per cent having a family.
There are other ways to give back when overseas, and directing your money toward local communities is a tangible way of supporting and empowering locals. Intrepid visits social enterprises such as Seven Women in Nepal, which employs and trains disabled women in handicraft making, providing a stable income that did not exist before. Another example is in India, where a social enterprise cafe supports the female victims of acid attacks.
Eating there is a powerful way to learn, engage and support the community.
Support local businesses
When it comes to choosing where to sleep, eat and buy souvenirs, try testing out some community owned venues, market stalls and street vendors. By staying at places such as family run guest homes and supporting local artisans, you're helping put money straight into the economies of the country you're visiting. When it comes to negotiating prices, remember it's not a competition to see how low you can snag a bargain. Find out the story of the purchase, the lineage and the handcraft behind the product. It adds more value to your travel experiences. Local artisans are often delighted to show the prodigy of their craft.
Say no to plastic
In most developing countries, waste management is a major issue, so say no to plastic bags and bottles. It's engaging overcoming the language barrier to explain to local shop owners and baristas that plastic is a no-go all over the world. You have to be a little creative when travelling to avoid the scourge of straws and carrier bags. Try placing goods in eco-friendly bags or your backpack and eat-in to avoid takeaway containers and single use cups. I always make sure I travel with a reusable water bottle and fill up at filtered water stations. And, always say no to plastic straws. Instead of driving to each and every location when travelling abroad, try exploring on foot, using public transport, cycling, or embark on a tour that takes you on low-impact adventures.