Raise your hand if your new year’s resolution list – whether recorded on paper, keyboard or screenshot in your mind’s eye – includes an entry that reads something like:
- Visit (insert dreamy destination)
- Climb (insert daunting mountain)
- Experience (insert long-aspired-to adventure)
Or simply, travel more.
The annual ritual of poring over annual must-visit lists inspires our imagination and stokes dreams of adventure. This process, inherently hopeful, encourages setting intentions and working toward goals. It’s in that spirit that I share this list of new year’s resolutions aimed to nudge each of us towards, myself included, towards more meaningful and sustainable travel.
Because if 2017 revealed anything, it’s that sustainability rests on each of our shoulders. We understand, now more than ever, that a commitment to protecting our planet and its inhabitants isn’t fueled by a government, world leader or corporation – it’s catalyzed by us all. Let’s harness this awareness into shifting the way we interact and move through this beautiful world.
So, how can we engage in more mindful travel, for ourselves and those we encounter? Here are a few ideas to get started:
18. Treat water as a finite resource
Because it is. The looming water crisis in Cape Town should serve as a wake-up call for each of us to evaluate habits both on and off the road. This doesn’t mean giving up bathing (please don’t!), but it does entail considerate water usage. Opt for shorter showers and turn off water while lathering.
Easy tip: Turn off tap when brushing teeth.
17. Speaking of water, let’s end our toxic love affair
A million plastic water bottles are purchased globally every minute. Let that sink in.
Curb the habit with a reusable water bottle, clipped onto luggage for easy access, and replenish at fountains, kettles, and facets, where appropriate. Invest in a light-weight purifier and pack purification tablets, even for non-remote adventures. Always remember the benefits of boiling water.
Easy tip: When bottled water is the only option, opt for large containers.
16. Say bye to personal use plastics
A few years ago, I received the best birthday present: a collapsible, recycled-plastic shopping bag that clips onto my backpack and running belt thanks to a handy carabiner. The bag has traveled the world, serving as grocery tote, flight carry-on, and recycling basket.
Up your game by foregoing straws and plastic utensils, too.
Fun tip: Purchase a reusable straw with built-in water filtration. Ah, technology.
15. Embrace public and alternative transit
Buses and trains provide cultural immersion while saving precious resources like money and fuel. They also support local transit infrastructure.
Fun tip: Bike and ride-sharing services are now available in even unexpected places. For instance, did you know you could cycle-share in Marrakech?
Easy tip: Walking is a worthy journey in itself, your own personal pilgrimage.
14. Reduce carbon footprint
While there’s no doubt air travel produces enormous emissions, we can minimize and offset the problem. Choose airlines committed to low-emission technology, minimize flight connections, and donate to renewable energy projects. Check out Intrepid’s tips on offsetting impact here.
Did you know? Intrepid Travel is one of the biggest carbon neutral travel companies in the world! The main sources of carbon emission from trips (transport, accommodation and waste) are assessed and offset into renewable energy projects.
13. Value customs
We’ve all heard horror stories – like the travelers recently arrested in Thailand for dropping their pants in a sacred temple. But even more common behavior like baring shoulders or legs, public kissing or engaging in loud conversation can cause offense in many places. Show appreciation by becoming familiar with and respecting cultural values.
Easy tip: Every traveler knows the transformative power of a sarong – it’s great for covering shoulders, legs or as head scarf.
12. Avoid unsafe levels of intoxication
No one loves a bottomless glass of wine more than this writer – but seeing drunken tourists causing chaos in city after city inspires moderation. Not only is public intoxication unattractive, it’s rarely safe.
Easy tip: Employ the buddy system to ensure accountability and safety.
11. Consider lens and framing
Rare is the traveler who can resist a great photo opp. Documentation can be part of travel’s joy, yet always be mindful of how you engage locals. Ask permission and avoid making every scene about you. Don’t forget to put the camera down and fully embrace the moment.
10. Learn basic local lingo
Knowledge of local language enhances experiences, deepens connections and conveys respect. Focus on learning barrier-busters: key words and phrases like hello, thank you, please, nice to meet you. Once immersed, you will be amazed how quickly progress happens.
Fun tip: Take a class in your community back home to meet people with similar interests and stoke trip anticipation.
Easy tip: Layer learning apps like Duolingo with old-school flash cards and post-it notes on your fridge!
9. Spend locally
When traveling, your wallet is your voice. Support locally-owned restaurants, guesthouses, shops, and activities in order to spread support to many sources. This takes research, but the rewards positively impact communities you visit.
Fun tip: Local guides provide access to the heart of a place, (that’s why Intrepid works exclusively with local trip leaders).
Easy tip: Advocate for positive change by supporting minority or disenfranchised entrepreneurs.
8. Re-think souvenirs
We all have trip trinkets – once irresistible, now dust-collectors. Support the community while scoring a meaningful memento by seeking local art and handcrafted goods. Or, opt for an experience or donation to local project instead.
Fun tip: Participate in locally-led craft activities to create your own unique memento.
7. Give wisely
Many of us return from travel with a passion for giving back, but aren’t sure where to begin. Seek organizations with a track record of accountability and success, then ask questions about methods and goals. Consider how each organization chooses support-worthy projects. With the Intrepid Foundation, the philosophy is to fund only established local projects as opposed to initiatives created outside the community.
Did you know? 100% goes to projects, because the Foundation covers all administrative costs. Donations are matched up to $400,000 per year and up to $1,000 per individual donor.
6. Consider animal welfare
Intrepid banned elephant riding from their trips over five years ago after a study, commissioned with World Animal Protection, revealed the horrifying reality of captivity. This landmark decision inspired other tour operators and travelers around the world to reconsider wildlife tourism.
With any activity involving animals, ask and evaluate, “How does this interaction benefit the animal?” and “Is this tour/company/system truly supporting animal welfare?”
5. Disengage to engage
Confession: I’m a smartphone addict. Yet, I realize it’s impossible to engage appropriately while enamored by a glowing screen. I aim to be better, beginning with banning phone usage during meals.
But it’s not just about mealtimes. If travel’s purpose is to experience new places, engage with new cultures – that requires disengaging, at least sometimes, from the virtual world.
Fun tip: Create a contest. First companion to reach for his/her phone buys a round of drinks or snacks.
4. Cultivate gratitude
When we exit our comfort zone, everything can, and much will, go wrong. Resist fixating on annoyances or unfulfilled expectations and actively focus on what’s right.
Easy tip: Let your gratitude shine by telling locals how thankful you are to be a visitor their country.
3. Rethink your attitude towards volunteering
We consider volunteering because we want to help, yet sometimes good intentions don’t translate to good results. When local needs are approached from an outsider framework, solutions can often be unsustainable and cause harm. Ask questions to determine if volunteer projects are truly helping a community or cause.
Intrepid has banned orphanage tours and discourages volunteering in orphanages as the system often works against children’s welfare.
2. Realize YOU are impactful
We impact the places we visit and people we encounter, maybe more than we realize. Let’s always resolve to be mindful of what we leave behind. To travel is to be a guest in someone’s country, and that is a privilege with immense responsibility.
1. Be intrepid
To travel mindfully goes beyond checking destinations off some list, right? We’ve witnessed the eroding effects of overtourism to “bucket list” places, and we know our behavior must change. Let’s aim to spread the positive impacts of tourism, near and far, by exploring more off-beat destinations around the world and in our home country, as well as traveling in off-peak times.
Every place has something unique and special to offer. Now is the time to get out there and discover it.
Ready to experience our big, beautiful world – and do so ethically? Check out Intrepid Travel’s range of top trips.
(Image credits from top to bottom: Ryan Bolton for Intrepid Travel, Ryan Bolton for Intrepid Travel, Mirae Campbell for Intrepid Travel, Ryan Bolton for Intrepid Travel, April Wong for Intrepid Travel, April Wong for Intrepid Travel, Ryan Bolton for Intrepid Travel, Mirae Campbell for Intrepid Travel.)