Wanderlusters might dream of lazing on pearly white sands beneath the great karst peaks of the Thai Andaman. They might think of trekking through primeval Malay jungles to unearth hidden volcanos shrouded in mist. They might plan jaunts to Peruvian desert towns where oases spring up like mirages in the heat haze. They might hop to the rain-doused hills of Vietnam to encounter local rice pickers who live in rickety longhouses on their farms. They might shake hands with Karon tribespeople amidst the rising ridges of the Burmese borderlands.
They might do all of those things, and we'd salute them for it! We'd only ask that people realize those awesome travel dreams come with an important responsibility: A responsibility to globetrot ethically or not at all.
We live in a world where global temperatures are creeping upwards with every ounce of fossil fuel burned. We live as animal habitats diminish with the encroachment of cityscapes. We live with huge divides between rich and poor, and startling levels of poverty in even fast-developing nations.
Long ago, explorers would simply stand, stare, witness and be almost powerless to help. Others simply didn't notice that their own travel habits made direct contributions to maintaining the status quo. Others knew there were things that should be done but didn't know where to begin.
Thankfully, the scene is changing. Booms in ecotourism from Cameroon to Costa Rica have brought the realities of life on the frontline of environmental conservation to bear on backpackers. The rise in carbon-offsetting is starting to help reduce the impact of flying from airport to airport on oil-chugging jet planes. And that's not even mentioning the sheer wealth of grassroots ethical travel projects now working all over the planet – we've been proud to add LBW to the roster!
That's great news and it's a really good sign of things to come. It's also something that makes us smile because we're totally dedicated to following positive globetrotting standards across all of our itineraries and trips. We believe it not only helps the environment and the people around you, but also adds value to the experiences our travellers might have along the way.
The Climactic Side Of Things
The climate is one of the real victims of the modern travel industry – nay, the modern age. Since the boom in use of fossil fuels around the Industrial Revolution, carbon and combustible gases and all sorts of ozone-destroying nasties have been flung out into the atmosphere.
It's gotten to the point where climate scientists are now pretty much certain that raises in global temperature can be measured in real time. Yep, if you're reading this anytime close to the date it was posted, it's virtually certain that you're going to witness hikes in the world's average heat level in your lifetime. That's pretty startling.
It's startling because just a couple of degrees change will see whole cities and colossal swathes of Arctic habitats totally disappear as the polar ice caps melt into oblivion – you can kiss goodbye to the Maldives and Venice and oodles more places for sure!
So why should this matter to travelers? Well it's not just about having to bid farewell to famous destinations but also about just how much globetrotters are contributing to rising mercury levels. It's estimated that we all take a whopping 32 million flights combined each year. That releases nearly 800 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere. And that's not even adding in the extra emissions that come from trains, electrical use, cars – the list goes on.
But things are changing…slowly. Thanks to the rise in awareness surrounding ethical travel, many industry sectors are now committed to reducing their carbon dumping. There's a conscious effort among airlines to offset their emissions with extra payments that fund sustainability projects across the globe. And there are new apps that are encouraging travellers to walk, cycle or hitch around a town their looking to explore. Watch this space.
Cut Out The Rubbish
Following neatly on from the last tit bit…rubbish. Did you know that it takes a plastic bottle nearly a whole millennium to properly degrade? It does. Did you know we chuck away more than 30 billion of them each year? Well, we do.
That's not great news for the environment, both on a micro and a macro scale, and that goes for all sorts of waste. Not only do these things clog up the oceans and cause animals to suffer, ruining habitats and killing over 100,000 marine mammals each year, but they are also damaging to wider ecosystems, destabilizing food chains and leaving chemicals in important natural sources.
That's where initiatives like our very own Blue Project come in. Starting small, we've decided to offer gratis water bottles to all travellers on our Thailand tours. That means no more throwaway vessels, and a constant supply of H20 to keep you nice and hydrated as you hop from Samui to Koh Phi Phi. Not bad, eh?
Conquering Poverty Through Travel
No that's not some charity gig organized by Bob Geldof and Bono. It's an actual possibility. In fact, the possibility of changing lives by alleviating poverty through travel has never been easier to see. Research has it that for every 30 new visitors per year to a particular place, there's one job created in the local community. That could be anything from hotel work to tour organizing, but the upshot is it’s a regular wage for someone who was otherwise unemployed.
The real point here is that the benefits of your travel budgets go far beyond just feeding someone's family for a day. They contribute to the stream of income that works to create better lives for people in a given place.
Of course, that doesn’t happen automatically. You'll need to check that you're visiting destinations and staying in digs and eating at restaurants that really are run by the locals who live there. If you manage that then you can munch on those soy-scented noodles in the knowledge that at least your pennies are filling the coffers of people, not big businesses that prefer to trickle profits down to shareholders.
That's not to say that all corporations in the travel sector are bad news. Far from it. So long as companies looking to get involved in the industry also adhere to principles of ethical travel, we should all be okay going forward.
Examples of precisely that are alive and kicking in destinations like Ethiopia, where safari lodges are being built in remote tribal areas. They might be run by multinational companies but the people who get the jobs have to be local, the people who guide the game runs have to be local, and the people who reap the front-line rewards end up being the locals. Again, watch this space.
Creating Attractions To Drive Ethical Travel
It's important to be realistic about ethical travel. It's unlikely that we'll manage to change parts of the planet using the power of visitors if no one wants to go to a place. But if we've learned anything over a whole decade of backpacking and nomad living, it's that EVERYWHERE has a draw – the trick is finding it.
In order to magnetize travellers, raise their awareness and channel their cash into ethical projects, there has to be something to pique that wanderlust in the first place. Just think: Thailand's boomed thanks to its paradisiacal beaches; Mexico has thousands of jobs sustained by travel thanks to its wild Spring Break getaways and Pacific sands; Nepal offers snow-topped mountains and pulls in trekkers who support whole communities.
The point is that it's important to discover the aspects of a place that are going to create waves on the global scene. It's those sorts of attractions – a canyon, a cave, gorgeous beaches, rich culture – that are set to pull people in, especially with a millennial love for all things "authentic" and "real". Once that's been pinpointed, it's all a matter of getting it out there and watching the explorers book their trips.
Grassroots Projects Are Changing Things Right Now!
It's not only the wider travel industry that's changing the way we do things. It's also a myriad of grassroots projects across the globe. From saving baby turtles in Costa Rica to protecting coral reefs in the Caribbean, rubbish picking in India to elephant sanctuaries in Thailand, there are thousands of individual folk and organizations offering ways to jump on the ethical travel bandwagon as you go.
Take our own Life Projects in Nicaragua. In a country where the people regularly earn less than a dollar a day, you can just imagine how tough things can get. That's why we've offered to build houses for families using the profits of travel and the labor of volunteer globetrotters. Just a few new buildings can really change the life of adults and children alike, taking them out of dusty shacks and into new, brick-built structures that have sufficient shelter and protection.
The great news? That's just one example of grassroots efforts. There are thousands, thousands more.
An Eye For Animals
The ecotourist gap year has long been a staple of the industry. Offering jaunts to exotic places to get right on the coal face of conservation, these are packages that saw travelers raising sloths in the Central American jungles, or protecting endangered turtle eggs on beaches somewhere in the tropics. They have achieved some serious gains in the wildlife world, too.
But there's more to it than that. These sorts of projects are also about raising awareness generally. How long ago was it that hardly anyone knew about the plight of the uber-cute giant panda in China? Whoever talked about Panama's three-toed sloths over the dinner table? Not many, eh?
That's slowly changing. The more people who get out there and get stuck into these sorts of projects, the more people will discuss them and pass on knowledge. The effect is a snowball of ethical travel that will eventually permeate all sorts of holidays and trips, not matter how small. We hope.
How can you help? Well, by dodging any obviously unethical animal attractions for a start. They are pretty easy to pick out in most places – elephant rides with metal-wielding mahouts; so-called "tiger temples" where the great beasts are chained (and allegedly sometimes drugged). Always go for tour organizers like LBW, who are dedicated to only using bona fide animal sanctuaries and welfare centres in their trips.
If you're concerned about ethical travel and want more information about what LBW is doing to help, be sure to get in touch or check out our website HERE. We love to chat about our sustainable work and giving back to the environment, whether that means community projects in Nica or animal welfare in Southeast Asia. Alternatively, if you have any thoughts or additions to this piece, we'd love to hear them in the comments below…
"Rich is a traveler, writer and filmmaker who's always after somewhere new to go. He's been hopping around the globe since 2011, from Poland to Paris, Mumbai to Ho Chi Minh. He runs several travel sites of his own, from Ski Eastern to Live Krakow to Crabs Move Sideways. When he's not planning his next trip, he's usually listening to 50s jazz, surfing in Wales, skiing in the Alps, or just swigging (too much) great craft beer."
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