Travel is back and it’s time we changed our wicked ways

Travel has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I love exploring new places, delving into new cultures and trying new foods. It pains me to think that we, as tourists, are ruining the planet with our irresponsible behaviours. We haven’t learned how to be responsible tourists. That needs to change.

A prime example of our terrible travel manners would be the movie The Beach with Leonardo DiCaprio. The resounding popularity of the film resulted in its beautiful and untouched beach becoming so popular that it was ultimately destroyed. Swarms of tourists flocked to witness its beauty, leaving behind mounds of garbage. Instead of enjoying its beauty from afar, or respecting it, we trashed it.

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I recently had the pleasure of attending a film screening of The Last Tourist. It is a documentary about how travel has lost its way. The film explores important issues surrounding travel and tourism including the exploitation of animals for entertainment and the strain of chain hotels on developing economies.

I even learned that some orphanages were using children to turn a profit. Throughout the film, we see a multitude of examples of how irresponsible and unethical tourism has had a negative effect on Mother Earth. Riding elephants and destroying beaches are just the tip of the iceberg.

Written and directed by Tyson Sadler, and produced by Bruce Poon Tip, founder of G Adventures, The Last Tourist features leading travel and tourism visionaries including Dr. Jane Goodall (Jane Goodall Institute, United Nations Messenger of Peace), Lek Chailert (Save Elephant Foundation), Gary Knell (National Geographic), Meenu Vadera (Sakha Cabs For Women) and Melissa Matlow (World Animal Protection).

During filming, the team travelled to 14 different countries. Director Tyson Sadler tells us, “We interviewed dozens of leading travel experts, tour operators and academics, as well as travellers and tourism service providers in host communities that are leveraging travel to improve their quality of life. We amassed nearly 400 hours of footage that was edited into a 90-minute film pulling back the curtain on one of the world’s largest industries to illustrate the true cost of travel on the environment, wildlife, and host communities.”

Fun fact, I went to high school with Tyson, so seeing his work on the big screen was pretty awesome!

the last tourist is a film abou how to be a responsible tourist

The Last Tourist showcases the negative impact of over-tourism on the environment, wildlife, and vulnerable communities around the globe pre-pandemic. You can watch The Last Tourist official trailer if you haven’t seen it yet. For more information, you can also check out their profile on Instagram.

While the film is meant to inspire change, I feel like it didn’t provide a lot of examples of how we can be responsible tourists. I, for one, want to be able to travel for the rest of my life.

The Last Tourist has opened my eyes to how much we as tourists need to change. It’s time to become more responsible and ethical, especially when visiting other countries.

Being a responsible tourist means leaving no trace at the beach

15 tips for how to be a responsible tourist

  • Leave no trace and definitely never litter. Bringing a reusable water bottle with you when you travel helps reduce having to purchase single-use bottled water. You’ll save money and the environment, it’s a win-win!
  • Assimilate and try to act like a local instead of a tourist, including how you act and dress.
  • Avoid tourist trap excursions that harm the environment or exploit animals. Places offer these attractions because they think it’s what tourists want. Let’s show them that it’s not. If nobody is riding elephants, they won’t offer it anymore.
  • Use reef-friendly sunscreen when swimming at beaches or in cenotes in Mexico. The chemicals in standard sunscreen are very damaging to their sensitive and fragile ecosystems.
  • Don’t harm local wildlife by trying to touch or hold them for a photo. And never feed the wildlife.

Take only memories, leave only footprints

Chief seattle
  • Support the locals and the local economy by shopping at local markets and roadside stands. Purchase a handmade souvenir instead of one in a souvenir shop that was mass made in another country.
  • Stay multiple nights in the same hotel and say no to daily housekeeping. Lightening the load on the environment is a great way to be a responsible tourist. Pun intended, but in all seriousness, saying no to housekeeping and reusing towels saves water by avoiding unnecessary laundry. This does make a big difference, especially in developing countries.
  • Walk, bike or take public transit whenever possible. While renting a car might be a little more convenient, it causes a lot more pollution. Joining a tour bus is another great alternative, plus it lets someone else do the driving for you.
  • Avoid chain stores and restaurants that you have at home. While locals may work at these establishments, your tourist dollars go much further in supporting the local economy when you eat at the beachside cafe instead of a fast food chain.
  • Educate yourself on the location’s culture, customs and language. Being a responsible tourist means doing some research before you embark on your journey. Respect the people and customs in every place you visit.
A crowded city full of tourists

5 more tips on how to be a responsible tourist

  • Don’t take ‘natural’ souvenirs like a piece of a Mayan ruin or a shell from the beach. Doing so is not only stealing, but it could disturb the ecosystem both in the place you take it from and at home when you introduce it to a foreign environment.
  • Travel during shoulder seasons when places are less busy. You’ll not only get a better experience but also wait in fewer lines and enjoy more space to yourself.
  • Look but don’t touch. To get the best photo, don’t hug that statue or touch the artwork. And don’t pick wildflowers or disturb any of the natural environment.
  • Research what is customary and tip accordingly. In many developing countries, the workers rely on these tips. This is especially true at all-inclusive resorts. If you’d tip the server or bartender at home, please do the same when you travel.
  • Discover new, untapped places instead of visiting popular locations. Overtourism is becoming a problem in a lot of popular destinations. While The Eiffel Tower or Venice may be on your bucket list, why not think outside the box and explore a new town or city? It will be less crowded and you just might be the first person to discover a great new vacation spot.

Bonus tip – talk about responsible tourism. The more we engage in meaningful conversations, the more change we can initiate. Make ethical tourism the norm.

Travel can, and should, be a catalyst for change. A change for the better. As tourists, we should always aim to leave a place better than we found it. I hope this has helped to inspire you to become a more responsible and ethical traveller who practises sustainable tourism.

Prefer to stay close to home? Check out these ways to be a tourist in your own hometown.