Some handy tips for having an ethical gap year by:Bruce Haxton
You might not consider yourself an eco-warrior, but with a little careful planning and the right mindset, it is possible to have an ethically responsible gap year. Be warned though: being an ethical traveller is not just about taking the right sort of holiday or wearing the right sort of T-shirt, it's a whole outlook - and one which will make you a much more considerate traveller.
The most obvious ethical considerations are where to go and what to do, but how you interact with people while you're abroad is just as important. This article kicks off with some tips on planning an ethical trip, then moves onto some things to keep in mind when you're abroad.
Choosing the most ethical airline sometimes feels a bit like choosing the best sort of inner-ear infection. While airlines like easyJet claim to be improving fuel economy at a huge rate, there's no getting away from the fact that flying does contribute to climate change. Figures vary, but aviation's contribution to annual CO2 emissions is generally put at around 5%.
But the decision to give up flying or not is a tough one. While it may damage the environment, the tourist industry brings valuable income to developing countries and employs around 1 in 8 of the world's people. Tourism can't be exported - the only way it can exist is if we travel. So, if you do decide to fly, consider offsetting the carbon emissions of your flight at climatecare or by reducing your personal carbon footprint.
Where to go
Picking a country based on ethical grounds is one of the most powerful tools you have at your disposal. Many countries rely heavily on income from tourists and if this steady flow of money drops off, they sit up and take notice. Some countries should be avoided outright because of human rights abuses or environmental concerns, but there are grey areas out there. The best option is to check the relevant political/historical sections of your travel guide for a good grounding. Or, if you want more in-depth information, you can check the FCO's country-specific advice or use this introduction on how to use the UN's Human Rights Index.
Choosing to volunteer on a sustainable project is one of the most obvious ways of having an ethical gap year. As long as you make sure that the volunteer travel provider is responsible and that the projects are of real benefit, you can really make a positive difference to people's lives. You don't even have to spend a whole year volunteering - you can always join a project and then explore the country afterwards. Gapadvice.org offers an excellent checklist with which to assess companies and projects on ethical grounds. Oh and in case you hadn't heard, being generous with your time and money is actually good for you....and that's a scientific fact!
How to act ethically when you're away
Even after you've planned your trip, there are plenty of ethical considerations to keep in mind every step of the way. Here are a few tips to make sure you're having the best impact possible while you're abroad:
-Know where your money is going. Spend it locally and avoid international companies as money spent with them will leave the country.
-Avoid products or companies that hamper the conservation effort. For example, by buying coral and ivory products, you'll be increasing their profitability and so encouraging their harvest.
-Learn the cultural norms of the country. Disrespecting them will cause great offence and breed mistrust. For example, never touch a child's head in a Buddhist country or open an umbrella in a Nepalese house!
-Learn some common phrases. It will help you communicate and create a real feeling of connection with the place and its people.
-Find out about the environmental issues a country faces and act accordingly. For example, Ghana faces a daily struggle for water, so don't expect any long, luxurious baths!
About the author
I'm totally passionate about travel, it's been my life and work for a good few years! My travel adventures haven't really been about seeing monuments etc but far more about people and getting off the beaten track. Even in a country that has large numbers of tourists you can still find hidden places if you look hard enough, living and working in country gives you such a different perception of it and more of a chance to absorb the local culture. I would like to share my many experiences and offer a little advice if I can to fellow travellers or anyone who is just about to set off on a life changing trip!