‘Traveller, not a tourist’ is a badge we all like to carry and flaunt today. But what does it mean to be a traveler? It’s more than jet-setting to places anew and checking off our bucket-list. It’s more inclusive than just ‘you’. It’s interactive, experiential, sustainable and responsible. And this is exactly what eco-travel or responsible tourism is all about.
Eco-friendly travel, according to the International Ecotourism Society, is ‘responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being and involves interpretation and education’.
Even as this is the age of travel, it is also when there is a greater precision in data monitoring, with each day bringing in worrying reports on the changing environment – of the lakes in Pushkar and Bharatpur drying up, the ice melting faster than ever beyond the poles, of seasons changing, life cycles altering and more species being listed as endangered.
This gorgeous planet we love to explore and travel in is slowly dying in front of us, while leaders like he-who-must-not-be-named sit tight with eyes shut like the pigeon does on seeing a cat, signaling doomsday!
For most of us, it isn’t feasible to dedicate all our time and energies to saving the planet; unlike some incredible people across the world. Yet, what we surely can do is be conscious of the little bits in our power as we travel.
Imbibe the simple mantra: ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’. Research before you depart and have a broad idea of more than just a list of places-to-see. Once there, head to the neighborhood market, buy fresh fruits and try the region’s specialties. Not only is this a treat to the taste buds but also helps the local community.
Move focus away from the glitzy shops and malls; and get curious about the traditional forms of art the place might have – its crafts, music, fairs, and festivals. This invaluable interaction with the residents of a place often fetches treasures off-the-tourist-track. And along with the knowledge and experiences you gather, it makes you the guest locals like to remember!
On a leisure trip, most often than not, we pick places far-from-the-madding-crowd and decently equipped to enjoy the outdoors in (be it hills, beaches, countryside, small towns or even cities abroad). Ditch your four-wheel ride and find ways of commute that’ll go a long way in helping both you and the environment – be it walking, cycling, or using local transport.
You could go an extra mile and sign up for volunteering programs as you holiday. They are a-plenty, both in India and abroad. Find one that suits your interest – it could be teaching kids, engaging in craft promotion, looking after farm animals, or giving some hours to cultivation – and you’ll come back richer for it.
Even if none of the above suits your fancy, an easier way to travel consciously is to book yourself at an eco-friendly stay – where the atmosphere created is in harmony with nature, offering activities in sync with the local community, an informed guide can take you around, and meals are prepared from organically-grown ingredients. There you go! All you have to do in this case is lift your finger and google options ;) And just like that you’d have saved a little piece of the earth. Easy peasy!
As Jane Goodall says, ‘You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make’.
A last reminder: No matter where you are in the world, leave just your footprints. And not empty bottles, banana peels, picnic leftovers, et al. Yes the banana peel or your fruit seed is biodegradable, but the weeks it takes to decompose and disappear, it is garbage, spoiling the same beautiful scenery you had first fallen in love with.
Take pride in living on this planet. Think of ways to give back as you gain. Listen carefully, and you shall hear the earth whisper – ‘tread softly for you tread on my dreams’.
Contributed by Nidhi a travel researcher and writer, with a knack for finding treasures wherever she goes. She likes littering Instagram with her illustrations, posting as @travel.illustrator.