Earth Day, Everyday: A Guide To Responsible Travel

21 April 2019
Read Time: 7.4 mins

On March 15th 2019, the global school #climatestrike saw rallies take place in 2,200 cities worldwide as young people walked out of classrooms to give the world a wake-up call around climate change. Greta Thunberg just wanted to do something positive, and look how many people she inspired.

Thankfully, when it comes to looking after this planet and its people, there are many different ways to be part of the solution. Ensuring we tread lightly as we travel is one thing we can do to make a difference.

Kinyei Cafe is a social enterprise in Battambang, Cambodia. Image: Emma Russell

Earth Day, 22 April

Earth Day is another important global day of action. For 49 years, the Earth Day network has been striving to shout loud about protecting this beautiful planet we call home and this year, the theme is ‘Protect Our Species’.

Nothing in nature exists in isolation and the goal of Earth Day 2019 is to raise awareness about how the actions of human beings impact all species on Earth – ourselves included.

Awareness continues to grow around how we can do better for the world’s wildlife. Image: Getty

What You Can Do

While the task ahead may seem overwhelming, even the smallest behaviour changes, when adopted by a huge number of people, can have a positive effect.

Travel is certainly one area where a greater awareness of our footprint will support all that Earth Day is trying to achieve. When you have a real understanding of your repercussions as a traveller, you can make choices that not only look after the people and cultures you’re visiting, but help them thrive.

A little research and informed shopping when you travel can have positive ripple effects. Image: Getty

Responsible Travel

Awareness on what it means to travel responsibly will continue to evolve. Twenty years ago, the idea of travelling responsibly went about as far as learning a few local phrases and choosing to eat in the taverna on the corner instead of McDonalds. These days, we know a lot more about how our presence impacts the people and places we visit, and we’re learning all the time. Even the Earth Day Network is working to broaden the definition of the word ‘environment’ to include “...issues that affect our health and our communities, such as greening deteriorated schools, creating green jobs and investment, and promoting activism to stop air and water pollution.”

That said, there are some very simple things that every traveller can do right now to make positive change.

5 Responsible Travel Tips:

1. CONSERVE water – Much of the world suffers from a shortage of clean water so when we’re travelling, we can help by reusing hotel towels, taking short showers and turning off the tap.

2. REDUCE your waste – Always travel with a reusable shopping bag so that you can say a polite ‘No thanks’ every time someone offers you a plastic bag. Take a reusable coffee cup and straw wherever you go. Make an effort to refuse unnecessary packaging, dispose of your waste responsibly and pick up rubbish too! Recycle as much as possible.

We love the bamboo straws (and the coffee) at Sister Srey Cafe, Siem Reap. Image: Emma Russell

3. GO LOCAL – Enjoy and wholeheartedly support locally owned and operated restaurants and bars. Shop in the local markets and stores and utilise the expertise of local guides when booking tours or activities. You’ll find many social enterprise organisations exist if you take the time to seek them out. This includes tours, like Soksabike Tours in Cambodia, as well as cafes and restaurants. (See the latest from Cambodia, below.)

Funds go straight back to the artists at the Made In Cambodia Markets, Siem Reap. Image: Emma Russell

4. CARE ABOUT the wildlife – Take a ‘look but don’t touch’ approach to wildlife activities and avoid any attractions that involve ‘performance’, riding or closely engaging with wild animals. As a rule, any activity that an animal would not do in the wild is the result of exploitation.

5. RESPECT the local people and culture – Along with obeying local laws, this relates to dressing and behaving in a manner appropriate to the community. Learn about the people’s way of life, be polite and keep an open mind. Ensure that your interaction with locals, including children, is respectful and appropriate. Be especially considerate if you wish to take photographs of people. Where possible, it’s always best to ask permission first.

Social enterprise and inspiration in Cambodia

I was recently part of a group from Flight Centre Travel Group who journeyed to Cambodia to spend some time with our charity partner Cambodian Children’s Trust and learn about the incredible work they are doing to prevent vulnerable children from ending up in orphanages. While in Cambodia, we were fortunate enough to discover several wonderful social enterprises that offer travellers the opportunity to spend their holiday budget in a way that directly benefits the local Khmer people. A little research, care and consideration can go a long, long way in this remarkable country.

Jaan Bai restaurant is a thriving social enterprise, giving back to the local community. Image: Erin Bennion

Jaan Bai and Kinyei Cafe, Battambang

If you’re spending any time in the Cambodian city of Battambang, two quietly hip establishments worth visiting are Kinyei Cafe and Jaan Bai restaurant. Both are social enterprise initiatives of the Cambodian Children’s Trust and the Feel Good Coffee Group, and will completely wow you with the quality of their coffee, meals, cocktails and service.

Kinyei Cafe is located in a French colonial-era townhouse, right next to the town’s central market. One of its most important social missions is to provide vocational training and fair employment practices for Cambodian youth, training staff in all aspects of cafe operations and management, as well as channeling some of the profits back to CCT. Kinyei Cafe’s barista training is top level, with our group electing to get up that little bit earlier – even on ‘early start’ mornings, and that’s saying something – just so we wouldn’t miss out on that well-crafted caffeine hit.

Jaan Bai, meaning ‘rice bowl’ in Khmer, also provides skills development and employment for Cambodian youth, with a share of profits going towards CCT’s child protection and community development work. Mouthwatering menu items include green kampot pepper prawns with chilli jam, and banana flower chicken with lemongrass, garlic, galangal and kaffir lime. Be sure to order yourself a Crocodile Tail cocktail while you’re there – don’t worry, it’s not what you think.

Marum Restaurant, Siem Reap

On our last night in Siem Reap we visited Marum, which is run by Kaliyan Mith, an NGO that works with street children and other marginalised young people. Marum is also part of the TREE Alliance, which stands for Training Restaurants for Employment and Entrepreneurship. Like CCT’s initiatives, Marum gives you the perfect opportunity to indulge in some authentic flavours of the region and support the students who train there at the same time. All profits from TREE restaurants help these young Cambodians become skilled, productive and have the chance at a much brighter future.

Must-do at Siem Reap: the Made In Cambodia Markets. Image: Emma Russell

Made In Cambodia Markets

Picking up something unique that you wouldn’t find back home is always one of the joys of travel, although these days just about everything authentic is outnumbered by a truckload of cheap imitations. Do your research, and you’ll usually find that there are a number of markets or crafts centres which channel profits back into the local artisan community. Made In Cambodia Markets do just that. The main philosophy behind the Made in Cambodia Markets is to help create Khmer jobs, from the villagers producing the handicrafts to the sellers interacting with the visitors. The Market opens to the public every day from noon to 10pm evening at King’s Road, Siem Reap.

Your traveller's dollar can make a world of difference for many people. Image: Emma Russell

What travel brings

If you travel to discover something new and are willing to approach new situations with an open mind, you will be rewarded beyond belief. What travel offers is a chance to be moved by what you see, do and feel in unfamiliar lands, then to return home with a greater understanding of the world. For the rest of your life, you’ll feel a connection to the places you’ve been. Travel will open your heart and what the world needs right now is more people like that.

If you love elephants but want a responsible travel experience, ask us about Elephant Nature Park day trips.


Erin Bennion

Experience Erin's experience

Based in Brisbane, Erin is a writer and content creator with a penchant for using fancy old French words wherever possible and an insatiable hankering for trawling through vintage markets in small Scandinavian towns (no really). One of her dreams is to take her family to see General Sherman in Sequoia National Park and give that big, old guy a group-hug.