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Winter Camping in Finland
February 10, 2021

10 ways to travel responsibly

How to travel more responsibly?

The travelling industry is facing a new era. Tourism has been increasing globally for the past fifty years and then the world got hit by Covid-19. It got us thinking about our safety, and the question: what will happen to tourism was on everyone’s lips. Or at least on our lips in the tourism industry. Well, when things are back to normal, people will be travelling again. Our curious minds will be browsing for new experiences and places to explore.

Photo by Visit Finland

Important topic

Responsible tourism has been an important topic for a while. I believe (and hope) that after Covid-19, responsibility will be an increasingly meaningful part of our travelling habits. At least many of us would be willing to travel more responsibly. But how does one do that? In this blog post, I will give you 10 simple and effective tips on what you can do for responsible travelling.

I would like to briefly introduce the three main pillars of sustainability.
One of them is ecological, which might be the first thing that comes to mind about sustainability. E.g. Recycle, protect nature, save water and energy.
The second part is socio-cultural. Support and protect local cultures by learning about local culture and choosing local services.
The third pillar of sustainability is economic. Choose local products and services where your money will stay locally, increasing their standard of living.
These three main pillars go hand-by-hand and our responsible choices can cover all of them.

Photo by Harri Tarvainen - Visit Finland
There is one more question I would like to address before I share tips on how to travel more responsibly. Responsible or sustainable tourism?
Well, there is not one without the other. I won’t open these terms in detail, and we can say that without responsible travel there won’t be sustainable tourism. Sustainable tourism will be achieved if every stakeholder (such as tour operators, hotels, other travel businesses) and political leaders are prioritizing responsible travel and tourism. Responsible tourism is what individuals and groups can do to meet sustainability challenges.

But the terms are not important now, most important is what can we do? What choices can we, as individuals, make? We have the power to take responsible actions and shift tourism into a more sustainable and responsible future.

The following 10 ways to travel more responsibly are easy choices of what you can do on your next trip abroad. Please feel free to try one or all of them, and share with your connections!

1. Choose your vehicle

You probably have heard about the negative impacts of airplanes and how they create carbon dioxide emissions. The best option to avoid unnecessary emissions is to catch a train/bus instead of a plane. It works well in Europe, where you can travel easily within the countries by train. Travelling by train won’t necessarily be any more time-consuming - especially when you think about all the time you have to spend at the airport. And you will see more of the countryside and have the opportunity to meet fascinating fellow passengers. (One of our best travels was by train across Russia!)

Still, quite often, we have to take an airplane to reach our destination. So, what to do if you can’t avoid flying? Try to choose direct flights and avoid flying within your destination. Choose airplane companies that are focusing on sustainability and green energy. If you would like to compensate for your flight emissions, choose a faithful program that will use your money accordingly. When you are at your destination, travel there by foot, by bike, by public transportation or rideshares.

Aku Pöllänen - Visit Finland

2. Choose local products and services

This is my favourite topic because we all have the power to decide where our money goes to and find out who is benefiting from it.

The common thought is that tourism helps locals and brings money but, unfortunately, it is not always the case or, it is not as effective as one might think. Big hotel chains can be owned by foreign investors so most of the money is “leaking” out of the country. (Leakage = your money spent in a destination leaves the country and ends up somewhere else).

When you are browsing for accommodation, try to find out who owns it and who benefits from the accommodation business. Do you need to sleep in big hotel chains? How about choosing a local small guesthouse/boutique-style hotel instead? You will also get more local and unique experiences in a destination. Of course, the local options might not always be available, but try to pick them whenever they are.

Photo by Harri Tarvainen - Visit Finland
Same with restaurants and other services. Choose locally-owned restaurants (avoid big foreign chains). Don’t we travel to experience new things and local cultures, including food? Choose local service providers - who else is a better guide than a local guide?

3. Learn and respect the local culture

Small words can have huge meanings. Learn basics like “Hello”, “Thank you”, “Goodbye” in a local language and you will make locals smile! Wouldn’t you like it if a foreign person has spent the extra time to learn to say thank you in your language? At least I am always happy to hear if someone says “Kiitos” (thank you in Finnish) or at least tries it (foreign languages can be hard sometimes!). Or if our guest asks me how do I say thank you in Finnish – I am always happy to tell.

Study beforehand your trip what is the local culture like. Find out briefly the history of the country, what are they proud of, what is holy and which topics should be avoided, is tipping mandatory, can you bargain in the market, what are the dressing guidelines etc.

Photo by Visit Finland
Respect locals, their culture and habits, food, and human rights. Be polite and avoid conflicts. Some manners can be outside of your comfort level, or even unethical, so you don’t have to absorb them. Remember to follow your ethical guidelines.

4. Safe water and energy

Basic actions help saving water and energy; don’t leave the lights on, don’t leave the water running etc.

Usually, we spend more water during holidays than at home by taking baths and longer showers. Before your trip, find out about the local water resources to see if the destination is short on water resources. If you are travelling in Finland, where we have an abundance of water resources, go ahead and enjoy your shower. But if you are travelling in a dry destination where locals are suffering from a lack of water, think twice if your long showers are necessary.
Don’t get your towels and bed sheets changed daily. You can also use more environmental-friendly soaps that make water cleaning easier.

Photo by Visit Finland
Try to find accommodation which is using green energy and does responsible acts. E.g. Avoid hotels located in sand deserts that are using enormous amounts of water to keep their front entrance grass green. There is no grass in deserts so the hotel won’t need grass either.

5. Recycle and reduce waste

Find out what’s the country’s recycling policy since it might change radically between destinations. Then recycle according to the rules.

And do not litter - ever! Avoid waste. Nothing makes me more frustrated than unnecessary waste that could be avoided. Sadly, many hotels and restaurants have large amounts of food waste. Ask yourself, could you pick a menu restaurant instead of a buffet? Buffet rule numero uno: take only that much food that you can eat. Do you need all-inclusive hotels where unlimited amounts of food are available in every way, or maybe less is more?

And then the plastic bags. Often you might get dozens of plastic bags from a grocery store even though you could fit all your items in a one (canvas)bag. Always carry an extra bag with you.

Photo by Visit Finland

6. Don’t buy bottled water

Whenever it’s possible – don’t buy plastic water bottles!

If you are travelling in Finland or in another country where you can drink water from almost any tap, bring your reusable water bottle with you. Find out beforehand if you can drink tap water because it might also be possible in countries where you wouldn’t think so first. Otherwise, you can use water filters to purify tap water. There are many different water filters available and using one would save plastic and your money! (Find out first how the water filter work for your destination’s water.) We always use water filters while camping and our drinking water come from lakes.

Photo by Aleksi Koskinen - Visit Finland

7. Avoid over-tourism destinations

Travel destinations are often picked based on recommendations and great picture spots. Usually, destinations have “must-see” places, like in Paris, where everyone wants to go. When a lot of people visit the same destination, it creates over-tourism, which creates other problems such as air and noise pollution, litter and waste, increased cost of living for the locals.

Over-tourism is also very harmful to nature destinations like Iceland, which is known for beautiful nature and its tourism has been increasing rapidly in the past few years. When one nature location gets all the visitors, the environment does not have time to recover and depletion of natural resources will happen. The same problem occurs with cities, like Venice, which is not supposed to hold as many visitors as it nowadays has.

Photo by Harri Tarvainen - Visit Finland
Many popular destinations and famous national parks are facing the same problem.
What can you do? There are many unknown places with fewer visitors, which are as good or even better than the must-see places! Wouldn’t it be nice to explore something new and unique in your peace without waiting in line for a great Instagram picture? Finding these unknown places requires some work and planning, and you can always ask local tour operators if they can recommend/take you to hidden gems. (For example, our nature tours have off-the-beaten-path destinations which are not filled by the masses!)

8. Travel off-season

One good way to avoid over-tourism is to travel off-season. It is better for the environment and the local businesses. It can also be cheaper for you since the “tourist prices” are not up and you can visit places without a huge crowd and get to know more locals and their culture.

Get to know your destination seasons and find out what you can do there off-season. Off-season travelling experience can be surprisingly good! For example, in Finland, our high seasons are summer (Helsinki) and winter (Lapland) but, if you would visit Finland (especially Lapland) during autumn, you will see the most beautiful autumn colours. Also, autumn is one of the best times to see the northern lights. Come springtime to Helsinki and see how nature awakens from its winter slumber, how the trees bloom green, days are getting longer and locals are friendly.

Photo by Toni Panula - Visit Finland

9. Protect nature and animals

Don’t leave any trace behind!
Avoid visiting endangered natural sites and follow the rules in protected nature areas. Leave flora and fauna alone, don’t pick anything if you are not sure it is allowed. E.g. in Finland, you are free to forage as many blueberries as you want but, you can’t touch moss.

Avoid traffic by motor vehicles in nature, hike or bike instead.
If you visit a zoo or another animal center, do a checkup beforehand! Check out how the animals are held, are they endangered and why they are in the zoo. If you would like to do animal-based activities, find out first is it normal for the nature of the animal and are they treated right. E.g. if you can pet a tiger, something is badly wrong but, petting animals in a sustainable petting zoo are fine. Or if you would like to ride an elephant, think first is it natural for the animal (it is not), so choose horses instead.
Always select a place that takes good care of their animals and is not just trying to make a buck.

Photo by Moose Major - Visit Finland

10. Use responsible tour operator

And then last but not least – use a sustainable tour operator.
Finding all sustainable options by yourself can be difficult and time-consuming. If you are travelling with a tour operator or using some of their services such a booking accommodation, choose the sustainable one. Sustainable tour operators have responsible options for you and can help you with sustainability issues.

Photo by Harri Tarvainen - Visit Finland

I hope this list was helpful and that you can make more responsible choices on your next trip abroad or in your own home country.

Remember that one of the most crucial things about responsible tourism is to talk about it. Share and educate. Many of us won’t probably even know what options we have towards sustainable tourism. So please spread the word, you can share this blog post and let’s make tourism sustainable together!

PS. I have mainly written about individual responsibility, but companies also have liability and have a giant impact on sustainable tourism. One of our values is sustainability and you can briefly read here what we do to achieve it. If you have any questions about this subject or you would like to discuss more, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
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