How To Travel More Responsibly In This Digital Age

Global warming, ridiculous amounts of plastic in the oceans, more wildlife at real risk, and of course the awful bush fires in Australia – you know the situation the planet is in. We all do, and it doesn’t just stop at the environment. Travel is more accessible than ever, and with this alongside the increase in social media usage comes the responsibility of being conscious how we travel, how we portray travel, and the impact this has on the places we go to. This is true of everyone, whether you’re a travel blogger, travel for work, travel for pleasure or go away once a year on a week long holiday.

tulum mexico

My intention here isn’t to preach or judge anyone for how they live their life, but it is just to put out there some suggestions for how to travel and how to show travel more responsibly in 2020. The state of the world is a topic that is really important and also one that’s difficult to talk about – not just because of how sad it is to see, but because of how judgy people can get. It seems no matter what you do do, however big or small, you get criticised for not doing enough, or for being a hypocrite. But what good is that going to do for anyone? In my opinion anything is better than nothing,

I’ll be totally honest, I’m not vegan and I don’t plan to be, I travel a lot and dread to think of the damage those emissions do, and I’m not always the most resourceful. I’m certainly not the most sustainable and could do better. I share a lot on social media too. Despite being far from perfect, I’m sure in the eyes of the saints that do so much more than me, there are changes that even I can and am making that play a small, tiny even, but still necessary impact in a positive way.

And for that, I don’t need anyone’s criticism. If everyone made the smallest changes they all add up, and if people stopped criticising any small effort made for not being good enough, more people would speak up about what they are doing. By speaking up and putting some thoughts in people’s mind, more people will consider making similar changes, and that’s all I’m hoping for by sharing this.

Tulum cenotes

Here I’m going to cover some of the things relating to travel that can be improved, and suggestions for how to go about tackling some of the issues around travel that are harming the world and those that are vulnerable in it. This absolutely includes how we view and share travel content online.

As a travel blogger people come here to read about travel. So if these considerations are put in the mind of even just a handful of people then great. I bet nearly everyone who reads this has also shared their travel pics online in some way or another, nobody is exempt.

Responsible social media, photography and content creation when traveling

This is all about understanding the right way to behave when you’re traveling and particularly taking photos – for everything and everyone that might be affected. It might seem like nothing that would cause an effect but it really does.

In todays world people look to photos, instagram, blogs, vlogs and digital content more than ever to help them plan travel. After all a picture tells a thousand words and I am the first to want to take photos of the places I go, I’m not discouraging that at all.

Amsterdam sign at Rijksmuseum
The Iamsterdam sign was moved due to too many tourists

It’s crucial if you are a source of inspiration, but also as a visitor to understand where you are and the impact your photos may have, not to mention the local laws around photography, and also just basic respect.

One of the worst examples of this last one are those that take photos of and selfies at places like Auschwitz, or those that climbed all over the Trevi fountain. Be conscious of landmarks, especially memorials and disaster areas, what they stand for and what has happened there when you visit – not everything needs a selfie or even a photo in general.

Consider why you are taking the photo, and what value it brings or what purpose you’re taking it for. What behaviour are you encouraging by taking this photo or by sharing it? If you do take photos, make sure they’re respectful.

Trevi fountain
Respect landmarks, religious sites and places where important events happened

It’s not just travel bloggers who need to be aware this, it applies to anyone sharing photos on social media. The content you share should of course be inspirational, but if you’re sharing somewhere controversial, sensitive or that may have a big impact then make sure you balance it with being educational.

Share what you learn in these places particularly around how to behave. Educate your audiences, even if thats just friends and family, to encourage travel in the right way. And if it doesn’t fit into this category of education, then it absolutely should fit into the category of doing no harm. Taking photos should have no impact on your surroundings, especially wildlife or people. I took photos of the donkeys in Santorini, but harped on to anyone who would listen not to ever pay for a donkey ride.

Dont encourage or contribute to mistreatment of animals

Human & Child Welfare 

There are varying levels of extremes of this, and it goes without saying that regardless of if you’re traveling or not anything that appears harmful or exploitive of children, and vulnerable people should be reported as soon as possible. But many photographers particularly when traveling love to take photos of natives, to show different ways of life.

Consider if you would take a photo of someone else’s child in the UK without permission. Actions that are either well meaning or that may appear to not be harmful can actually have a negative impact. I’ve seen mothers in foreign countries begging with children, or using their children to sell things, and they would happily pass their child over to be photographed in exchange for money.

What may even seem like a positive thing you are doing, actually isn’t always the case. Parents will take their children out of school to beg on the street, seeing them as a valuable asset as who can refuse a cute little child begging for money or food. They will lose any boundaries around stranger danger, and become less sensitive to the potential harmful affects and risks that this could pose.

If you take photos and geo tag the location, you’re essentially advertising freely where vulnerable people and children are, and you don’t need me to tell you the internet is full of dangerous people who could take advantage.

In some of the most poor areas of the world there are even opportunities to visit schools and orphanages. This only interrupts their education, with many having multiple group visits a day entering the classroom, and many of the orphanages again are just highlighting where vulnerable children are.

I’m by no means discouraging people of raising awareness of the poverty and disadvantages that so many are suffering with, I’m just saying to do your research thoroughly, and only support organisations and programs that work in the best way to help rather than hinder.

This doesn’t stop with children. Don’t photograph the sex workers in Amsterdam – it could cause you in a predicament with some dodgy men, not to mention cause problems for the workers themselves. They aren’t tourist attractions, and neither are locals anywhere for that matter. If you do take photos of people, as many do in the name of art always ask permission.

fruit stall mexico
Shop local

Where possible put your money into locals in constructive ways. Shop local rather than in chain supermarkets, take local cooking or skill classes, research into activities run by locals rather than large scale tourist boards or operators. Chances are they will be a lot cheaper, and a lot better anyway.

And finally if you do get permission, take and share photos of people, explain in your caption what you have done and the reasons behind it. Behaviour breeds behaviour and at least attempting to address some of these issues can only help others to consider the same.

Bloemenmarkt, Amsterdam
Amsterdam has some beautiful photo opportunities…just not in the Red Light District

Plastic use

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or haven’t seen any of Attenborough’s latest series (would really recommend you do if not), then one of the most harmful things to our planet currently is the use of plastic.

I’m not going to go into huge detail on this, as I think we are all aware, and waking up to it. The levels of plastic in our oceans are horrendous, and although I think I’d find it so difficult to cut plastic altogether, there are some things you can do, especially when traveling.

Reusable water bottles is the obvious one, and the easiest, and this can extend to coffee cups too. Cutting out plastic straws is another, replacing them with paper or metal.

Buy products with sustainable packaging. This is a lot easier than it first seems and I genuinely have started to favour products and brands that do this, everything from make up to alcohol brands. A quick bit of research really helps.

Avoiding plastic bags. This was such a pain when it was first introduced but once you make a conscious effort to reuse bags and take your own it becomes second nature. 

Washable make up pads instead of cotton pads, and a lot of cosmetics can be bought using bamboo rather than plastic.

Monica of The Travel Hack made some real changes when she went plastic free for a month. Read about how she did it and other things you can do here.

Akumal beach
Oceans and marine life are at serious risk due to plastic

Animal tourism 

I’ve made mistakes in the past with this, I’ve swam with dolphins in captivity as a child and been to Sea World, long before I watched Black Fish or knew of any facts behind it. I’d definitely never do it again now, and would encourage everyone to really avoid anything like this, those vile tiger temples, and elephant riding, to name a couple more when it comes to animal tourism.

It’s awful, and just like people animals shouldn’t be exploited. Wild animals have a right to be wild. More and more elephant riding companies in Asia are dying out due to the huge increase in education around this, which is brilliant to see. A lot of good work has been done, particularly on social media to highlight the issue with animal tourism, but there is still plenty to be done.

As travellers, tourists and humans, we need to keep going with this and avoid throwing money into anything to do with animals for our entertainment.

turtle nest tulum
Protected sea turtle nest in Tulum

Over the last couple of years I’ve seen more hotels doing their bit too. Many will no longer clean your room, or change towels daily to reduce water waste. I’ve even seen some leave paper bags for any clothes you might want to disregard, with the promise to give them to the homeless or charities. How often do you buy clothes to wear once on holiday that you never wear again? Many have stopped all plastic toiletries too.

Cities are trying to combat over tourism and the consequences of this too. Amsterdam have removed the IAmsterdam sign from the Rijksmuseum due to so many people crowding around it for photos, taking away from the museum itself. Authorities in Rome have banned people sitting on the Spanish Steps and fine people who do, due to clogging up of the famous landmark and the increase in litter this caused.

In the grand scheme of things it might not seem like individuals like me and you making these minor changes will have a big impact, but surely it must. Take trains where you can, choose airlines who offset their emissions – two more ways you can help.

recycle bag in hotel

With the constant sharing on social media, camera phones in everyones hands daily, and over tourism being a real problem in many parts of the world, we need to consider as much as possible the impact our behaviours have, even minor ones. Photographs, social sharing and travel blogging doesn’t have to be negative.

We should all use what platforms we have however big or small to make a difference, as even one thing that resonates with someone can lead to changed behaviours for the better. Influence isn’t all teeth whitening products and discount codes, it can be as simple as putting a thought in someones mind that sticks with them the next time they’re in a position to make a change.

The fundamental message I want to leave here is one of respect – for people, places, animals and the world around us as much as we can when we travel. There are many more things I could list here, but hopefully this is just a starting point for you to go off and research and find your own ways of more responsible travel in 2020. Nobody is perfect, but anything is better than nothing.

spanish steps rome
Tourists will be fined for sitting on the Spanish Steps

The majority of photos in this post are from Tulum, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited, a few years ago before it’s real surge in popularity. I find it really upsetting to read here the way it is going.

Other posts you might like:

Swimming with wild sea turtles in Akumal, Mexico

What you need to know before visiting Santorini

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