Responsible travel is a simple choice. According to Michelle Della Giovanna, the founder of the travel blog, Full Time Explorer, it is a way of life. I couldn’t agree more. Could you implement responsible travel into your small daily escapes as well as in your longer travel adventures? The way most people talk about responsible travel today is as if it’s something special that some people get out of their way to do because they care about the planet and its inhabitants. It definitely shouldn’t be that way. It should be mainstream.
In today’s interview, I talk with Michelle about her experience with responsible travel and what she thinks you can implement in your next adventure, near or far. Get ready to meet this awesome adventurer!
Meet Michelle Della Giovanna
Michelle is a New York girl. She started traveling about three years ago. Her first big trip was to South Asia and Southeast Asia and she fell completely in love with that part of the world (I don’t blame her!). When she ended up in Nepal, it felt like a second home to her. Now, she’s based in Kathmandu and writes about all the things to do and see in the country from trekking to meditation retreats on her blog.
Now, let’s see what Michelle has to say about responsible travel!
What does travel mean to you?
Traveling has opened my eyes to different ways of life and different ways of thinking. I grew up in upstate New York, and as a kid, I went on family vacations to Maine. It was beautiful, but I had no idea what the world looked like or how other people lived in it.
I knew there were differences in foods and languages and holidays, but it really never hit me how so many countries do things differently. I always assumed our way was the best, but travel has shown me that there are a million different ways to live in this world. Each one is unique and interesting. Some are wonderful, some are weird, some challenge the way you think or see things. It’s given me so much perspective and has really taught me to keep an open mind.
What does responsible tourism mean to you?
Responsible tourism is a way of life. It’s the ability to make a choice and say, “I’m a visitor here, and I respect this place enough to treat it right.” It’s not a hard choice. I feel like a lot of people think responsible tourism is difficult, but it’s not.
For me, it means supporting the local economy. I try to book with local companies over foreign ones. This has always led to a better experience for me because you are more in touch with what local life is like. I choose hotels and guesthouses that are owned by locals. I eat at local restaurants rather than chains.
Environmentally, I try to choose things that don’t add garbage to the places I visit. A reusable water bottle is better than a plastic one. Not taking a straw at a restaurant is a simple choice. Avoiding animal tourism is easy. I promise you, a photo sitting on an elephant really isn’t worth it.
When did you first start to be conscious about the way you travel and the effects your travels have on your destination?
Sustainability honestly never crossed my mind when I was younger. I knew to recycle, but I grew up in a world where I put garbage in a garbage pail and recycling in the recycling and then it disappeared. Landfills were out of sight, so I never thought about them.
When I began to travel around Asia, I started seeing garbage everywhere. My western mindset was, “How could people let this place get so dirty. Don’t they care?” I realized that there was no system to remove the garbage as we had back home.
Garbage has to go somewhere. It made me rethink where our garbage goes. What would I do if I had to get rid of every single piece of garbage I used? Since then, I’ve been more conscious about my choices. I’m by no means perfect, but I’ve really tried to lessen my impact on the earth.
I had another experience regarding my bucket list. I put “ride an elephant” on it. I Googled where to do it and a mass of negative articles came onto my screen. It took about 2 seconds for me to realize it wasn’t ethical and I decided to go to a sanctuary that didn’t allow elephant riding instead. Now, I’m hyper-aware of what animal tourism is and I try to help educate people the way others taught me.
Have you traveled to a specific destination that you found especially sustainable that you would like to recommend to other travelers?
I really loved my time in Singapore. I felt like I’d taken on a trip to the future. A lot of the buildings were new and had been built with a “green” mindset. I loved that the cost of building wasn’t the bottom line.
In places like New York, it seems cheaper is always better and making the biggest profit is the most important. Singapore seems to really think about its impact on the earth. Even its tourist attractions in Gardens by the Bay teach about being eco-friendly.
It was a surreal experience for me to see such an emphasis put on sustainability and the environment.
What do you do to travel responsibly?
Traveling responsibly is such a big mix of things. I say no to animal tourism. I try to eat less meat. I take public transportation a lot. But really, it comes down to a lot of small choices I make every day and one of the big ones I’m working on is not buying things that are cheap. I have a habit of buying the cheapest version of things because I want to save money.
Now, I’m really trying to think about where things come from, how they’re made, and how much the person making them gets paid. I’m trying to shop in local stores that treat their artisans well and try to look up sustainable enterprises. I also look for places that support women and help them gain financial independence.
What are your top 3 advice to travelers that want to travel more responsibly?
Traveling more responsibly is really about doing research and asking yourself questions. Start with a Google search. Look up water filtration systems to avoid buying bottled water. Look up why people are against animal tourism. Think about where your garbage will go (especially in developing countries that might not have garbage trucks and landfills).
Look for local companies and give them a chance. Doing a little research prior to your trip will go a really long way and always question things as you go.
Is your guide being paid a fair wage? Are you helping preserve a culture or is it being exploited and put on show for you? Is your activity in a place making it better or worse?
See more from Michelle
I hope you got just as inspired by Michelle as I did! Make sure you check out her blog, Full Time Explorer, for inspiring travel tales and tips.
What are your biggest takeaways? Let us know in the comments!
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