Simon Reeve: how to be a responsible traveller
Simon Reeve has travelled to more than 110 countries around the world and presented award-winning BBC series including Indian Ocean. British TV’s most adventurous traveller tells us what responsible travel means to him.
The tall soldier cradled his empty Kalashnikov and looked at me with embarrassment. “We have been trained to fight poachers who come for the elephants,” he said in a low voice, “but until we get some of the visitor money from the national park next month we have no bullets.”
I was chatting to a soldier who runs anti-poaching patrols in one of the most famous African parks, hearing a story that highlights the crucial role tourists can now play in protecting iconic endangered creatures.
Across the planet, from the wildlife reserves of Borneo, to marine protected areas off Madagascar, to the national parks of South America, rangers and gamekeepers depend on money from travellers who pay an entrance fee or buy a dive permit. Tourist money funds wildlife sanctuaries and pays for staff, kit and petrol for boat patrols.
A wildlife reserve in Borneo is home to this orang-utan.
Without that money from our visits, there would also be little economic incentive to protect and preserve huge tracts of land and vast expanses of water. Parks could be ravaged by poachers, the reserves of Borneo might be logged and turned into palm oil plantations, and protected coral reefs could be fished to extinction.
I always knew that travel was a magnificent experience for the individual, but in the past I had concerns about the wider impact of our journeys on the planet and the environment. There are certainly environmental costs to travel, but your tourist money can now be an enormous force for good. Travel responsibly, and you can do something positive for the planet that will also enhance your adventure and gift you a more memorable experience.
There are a thousand things you can do to be a responsible traveller, ranging from simply not wearing sunglasses while talking to locals (bad Karma in much of the world), to planning your entire trip around the location of eco-resorts.
Eco-friendly Kuramathi Island Resort in the Maldives.
The best travel operators want to ensure that destinations we all love survive and flourish in the future. So if you see something you’re not happy or sure about on your holiday, tell your travel company about it. But also do your bit: give-up having 10 new towels every day in a resort and ask hotels you stay in how you can recycle.
One way to reduce the mountain of plastic water bottles most people get through when they’re somewhere hot is to take a steel water filter bottle that you can happily fill from any freshwater tap. Mine has saved me a fortune in bottled water, and I feel much happier sucking on that as opposed to drinking water that’s been sitting in hot plastic for months.
Doing your bit to protect the environment and reduce your footprint is one obvious way you can be a responsible traveller, but we also need to make sure that entire communities benefit from tourism, rather than just hotel owners.
Try to explore the area beyond your hotel, chat with local people, and put some money into the community by eating in local restaurants and downing a few drinks in local bars. You’ll have a memorable experience, and you’ll be helping the wider economy. Any decent hotel will be delighted to guide you towards lovely eateries, because they want you to enjoy the best the country has to offer.
Local ladies at market in the Cook Islands.
What you buy with your money is also critical. Avoid handicrafts made from hardwoods, just as you would endangered species. When you’re wandering around local markets, look for souvenirs from the country or the region, rather than a mass-produced trinket churned-out in a Chinese factory. Even African masks are now being made in China.
The main reason to travel responsibly is because it makes for a more interesting experience, and a more rounded adventure. Plan your trip carefully, learn a little bit more about where you’re going, and spend your money wisely. You worked hard for it. Enjoy your travels.