Remember when the average adventure-trip advert was aimed solely at an under 30 adrenaline junkie who wanted to yahoo around like a seven-year-old who’s had one too many tubes of smarties?
Thankfully these days, adventure is marketed more widely than jumping off a bridge with a giant elastic band tied to your ankles. Now we’re encouraged to take a challenge, step outside our comfort zones, travel like a local, “engage and connect” – or – have a chat and make friends, as we used to say back in the day before TwitFace #AsICallIt
Whether you want to immerse yourself in the culture of a far-flung place or explore nature in your own backyard, people of all ages are seeking to get more from their annual leave. “Experiential travel” is the word on the street and more people are looking to get down that less-beaten path.
According to the 2013 Adventure Tourism Market Survey, the value of the global outbound adventure travel market in 2012 was $263 billion – excluding airfare – up from $89 billion in 2009. In the same period, average spending per trip by adventure travellers globally increased from $593 to $947, which sounds like good news for creating local economies in developing countries and remote regions…. or is it?
We’ve all heard the “take nothing but photos and leave nothing but footprints” or “no trace” travel policy. But in reality, trying to travel responsibly is a constant balance of climbing a steep learning curve on a trail full of eggshells. Our well-meaning travel currency has the power to help and to destroy. We have literally loved places to death. So how do we avoid breaking eggs to make the omelette of smashing memories?
Offsetting your carbon footprint
Flying is likely to be the largest contributor to your carbon footprint. Reducing it was all over the news when I returned from a round-the-word trip many years ago. I felt so guilty about all the flights I took that I walked and used public transport for six months. Now you can offset-as-you-go like lifestyle and travel writer Sarah Duncan does by paying a few extra dollars for her flights.
Also consider swapping a flight for an overland trip. Going by train, bus, bike, rickshaw, camel, or whatever works in the country you’re in – it will more likely make a bigger deposit in the memory bank and leave the local economy better off.
I’ll never forget a ranger on the Routeburn trek in New Zealand who chased a litter offender 10 kilometres up a trail to give them their trash back. MyTanFeet pick up other people’s trash on their travels and post photos of “trash in paradise” to remind all to do the same.
Keeping trails pristine and litter free for everyone’s enjoyment is as simple as carrying a small rubbish bag in your daypack/backpack. National Park Rangers will thank you for it too, instead of chasing you up the trail.
Leigh from HikeBikeTravel greened up by avoiding bottled water and uses a thermos bottle and water purification (if needed) instead. It’s not just about the trash with this one; for every litre of water you drink a quarter litre of oil is in the bottle itself. Now I never leave home without my Camelback reusable bottle.
The Rise of the Conscientious Traveller
A growing group of consumers – one in four of us according to latest reports – would like travel to be less invasive and more beneficial to local people, respecting their culture, the environment and resources. They want to understand the realities of the places they visit Ghandi syle – with open eyes and an uncluttered mind; my thoughts entirely… that’s until the questions butt in.
Questions such as: What are the difficulties people are facing? What are the political realities? How do I show my respect to local people and observe local customs? What is a fair price to pay? How do I avoid inadvertently supporting human rights abuses, like the exploitation of children?
For the time poor, the best way to overcome these challenges is by travelling with a responsible tour company that has developed strong bonds with the communities and will provide you with the latest information when you book on the tour.
Choose a company with a strong responsible travel policy and make sure they stick to it. I’ve had great experiences with Secret Compass and Redspokes who use local guides, family-owned accommodation and eateries. World Expeditions have a free Responsible Travel Guide you can download here. Among the subject matter, it has guidelines on wildlife, photo etiquette and explains why you should never give to children.
If you’re planning to head off independently you could start with TripSketch Green Traveller – an eco-friendly app with green activities and experiences in 80 cities across Canada, Europe, the US, Asia and Oceania.
Once you venture down the less-beaten track, you’re less likely to find a useful app or your smartphone working to help you, but with some forethought, you can make smart choices about where you stay and what you buy to benefit local people. And don’t forget to swot up on the customs – you wouldn’t want to give someone the “thumbs up” in Afghanistan where it means “up yours”.
Do you worry about the impact you make when you travel?
Have you got a good tip, useful resource or app to share?