Support local businesses – and six other ways to be a responsible tourist

Posted by on August 03, 2019
Learn a bit of the local language and try it out when shopping - it’s a great way to show courtesy.
Photograph: Javier Pardina/Stocksy United

More and more of us are faced with a dilemma: how do we explore the world without contributing to the destruction of the places and communities we’re visiting?

The answer? Responsible tourism – a movement that encourages us to travel in a more conscious, sustainable way. From how you reach your destination to how you treat the people and environment once you arrive, there are dozens of ways to make your trip more mindful. And the good news is, being a responsible tourist comes with its perks, and can make for a much more meaningful and enjoyable trip.

Here’s your rough guide to responsible tourism ...

Before collecting shells from a beach or packing a picnic with single-use plastic, think about how your actions will affect the places you visit.
Photograph: Vicente Soler Marmaneu Vicenfoto/Alamy

Skip the tourist hotspots
You’ve been to Paris five times before and it’s teeming with tourists – so why not head to Nantes, set on the banks of the Loire, instead? Smaller, less well-known cities are often packed with just as much charm, history and culture, and are keen to welcome visitors. Barcelona is another famous city that’s suffering from overtourism – so much so that there have been protests by locals. So if you’re looking for a stylish Spanish getaway, head to Santander. The belle époque capital of verdant Cantabria is a real foodie hub, and a world away from other Spanish coastal spots.

Support the local economy
One of the best ways to help the places you love is by supporting them financially. There are dozens of ways you can do this, from frequenting family-run shops and restaurants to using local tour guides and services. Another great way to support the local economy is to seek out independently owned places to stay. Brittany Ferries Holidays, for example, offers lots of locally run accommodation options – from boutique hotels and charming B&Bs to coastal campsites and self-catering villas.

Leave no trace
It’s a message we hear again and again, but somehow when we are abroad it slips to the back of our minds. Whether it’s the temptation to collect shells from the beach, to pack a picnic filled with single-use plastic, or to seal a romantic moment by fixing a love lock on a bridge – it’s vital that you think about the effect your actions will have on that place once you’ve left. The best thing you can do for the landscapes you love is leave them exactly as you found them.

Have a little respect
Much as you might want to take that arty shot of the little old lady buying her apples in the market, she may not appreciate becoming the star of your social media post. Just as you probably don’t like to be photographed going about your daily life, chances are neither do the people living in the places you visit. Maybe zoom out a bit and take a general shot or, if you want to snap a market display, buy a few things from the stallholder first. A little modesty when entering a place of worship goes a long way, as does a “good morning” as you pass someone in the street, if that’s what the locals do. Become part of the community and you’ll enjoy a much more authentic experience.

Learn a bit of the local language
None of us wants to be that tourist, so it’s worth swotting up on a few words of the local language before you depart. Often a simple “hola” or a “merci” will put a smile on someone’s face and show that you are at least trying. If your language skills take a nosedive after that first introduction, all will be forgiven because you showed a little courtesy. Feeling ambitious? Attempt to learn a few simple phrases and test them out in shops and restaurants. Who knows, you might even end up making some memorable connections with locals.

Eat in local restaurants for fresh, seasonal produce and to support the local economy. Photograph: fizkes/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Eat local, eat seasonal
This is undoubtedly one of the most pleasurable ways to be a responsible tourist. After all, what could be better than dining on truffle-infused dishes in France in January, or the freshest of seafood paellas on the sunny Spanish coast? Make your food choices count; don’t just hit the supermarket, shop at the local market to support farmers in the region, and dine in restaurants where they serve seasonal produce and the catch of the day fresh off the local fishermen’s boats. It keeps the local economy going, cuts down on food miles, and often involves ingredients that are exposed to far fewer chemicals and pesticides.

Keep it green
Even the smallest things can have a positive impact on the environment. Take a reusable water bottle with you instead of buying endless plastic ones. Choose environmentally friendly sun cream, so you cause less damage when you swim in the sea. And if you’re looking to make a more significant difference, explore alternative ways of reaching your destination. Ferries, trains and even driving all result in fewer carbon emissions than travelling by plane, and can result in a far more exciting and memorable journey. And if you want to go even further, consider offsetting your carbon emissions once you return.

With Brittany Ferries holidays, you can book your ferry crossing and locally owned accommodation all in one go. What’s more, book now and save up to 20%. Find out more at brittanyferries.com/guardian

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