Socially Responsible Travel – How Your Downtime Can Be As Impactful As Your Uptime

Most of us have heard of the term work-life balance. It’s a concept that gained popularity during the 1990’s before becoming very much embedded in the practice of today’s professional. It is commonplace for organisations to advise their workers to take their time-off-in-lieu, to ensure they have happy and healthy lifestyles outside the office, and of course to take their four weeks leave every year. 

These aspects of balance are backed by research that says those who take their leave are healthier, happier and more peaceful. “Personal benefits have been found to include: rest and recuperation from work; provision of new experiences leading to a broadening of horizons and the opportunity for learning and intercultural communication; promotion of peace and understanding; personal and social development; visiting friends and relatives; religious pilgrimage and health; and, subjective wellbeing [1].” 

The less subjective aspects of wellbeing include benefits to blood pressure, cardiovascular health and mental health among others [2].

As health practitioners and advocates, many of us are familiar with these benefits. Our daily work sees us give our best to our patients in terms of treatment, compassion and wellness advice. Hence, downtime may take on another consideration – how do we make our travel time as socially responsible as our lifestyles at home?

The idea of socially responsible travel has gained popularity in recent times with travellers seeking to leave as little negative impact as possible. They are thinking about environments and ecosystems, as well as economies and people groups. It’s a fascinating concept rooted in the idea that we are citizens of the globe, and not just citizens of our home country. Thus, our footprint abroad should be as responsible as possible.

What does this mean in practicality? Here are the top 5 considerations for the socially responsible traveller.

  1. Be environmentally aware. Considerations like biodegradable shampoos and conditioners matter in countries where the plumbing isn’t quite Australian standard. So too, is the manner in which things like batteries are disposed. Paying a little heed to the environmental differences between home and abroad can minimise your negative impact whilst overseas.  Ecotourism, where travellers discover the environmental highlights of a country rather than just the tourist route, can be incredible travel experiences. When you go the ecotourist route though, remember the rule: ‘take only photographs, leave only footprints.’
  2. Buy environmentally responsible souvenirs. Perhaps this pitfall is a little more difficult for Australians for get caught in, given the strict customs laws of our home turf. However, common souvenirs may often include products derived from endangered animals, coral or plant life. It’s best to ask the question “Is this environmentally responsible?” before purchasing. Yes, you can use this as an excuse to buy the tacky t-shirt exclaiming “My friend went to insert exotic location here and I’ll I got was this lousy t-shirt.” You’re welcome.
  3. Study up on the destination’s laws, culture and customs before you go overseas. Little things can easily cause awkward situations whilst overseas. For example, bare shoulders or knees will mean you can’t enter the Vatican. When hailing taxis in Thailand, keep your hand horizontal and fingers facing down. Reverse this, and you’ll be signaling something rude. Don’t use your left hand to touch or give in Bali, and also avoid using your index finger to beckon someone. Tipping standards will differ greatly from country to country so it’s best to study up! These are just a few examples of how a little Google-time goes a long way in avoiding awkward situations abroad.
  4. Give wisely. In many countries, the donation dollar is highly sought after. However tempting it may be to respond to beggar’s pleas, it may be more beneficial to the local area if you find a not-for-profit or charity to give to instead. This way, you can maximise your impact.  Wise giving may also include asking your tour guide about customs, as it may be considered rude not to give gifts to your hosts.
  5. Ask before taking photographs. In some countries, the emergence of a camera from a handbag will see you swamped with adorable local children asking you to take their picture. In other countries it can be a taboo. As much as travel photography can be colourful, insightful and fascinating, it’s also good to proceed with caution. As your subject for permission to shoot where possible.

Socially responsible travel means that you leave a positive impact on your travel destination, and it leaves a positive impact on you! Enjoy your next trip abroad, knowing you are doing the right thing for your health and for your destination.





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