Did you know that your travel choices contribute to many – sometimes all – of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals? Conversely, your travel choices can also cause damage to the environment, encourage poor labour conditions and weaken the economic power of local communities. And now that global travel restrictions are easing, is there a way you can enjoy better travel experiences while also doing good? Here are 8 ways you can choose to travel better.
8 Ways You Can Choose to Travel Better
Stage 1: Planning and preparations
1. Start with being an Intentional Traveller
“Verily actions are by their intentions, and one shall only have that which one intended. So whoever’s migration was to Allah and His Messenger, then their migration was to Allah and His Messenger. And whoever’s migration was for some worldly gain, or for a woman to marry, then their migration is for whatever they migrated for.”
Narrated by Bukhari & Muslim
We can all become more conscious consumers and it all starts with being intentional.
Make your intentions as small or as grand as you like. Want to explore the beauty of Allah’s creation? Make the intention that doing so will draw you closer to Him. Want to meet new people? Make the intention that He will guide you to meeting people that will bring goodness into your life. Want to learn more about another culture or connect with your own heritage? Ask Allah to ease the path of seeking knowledge for you.
When a 20-year-old Ibn Battuta set out from his home in Morocco in 1325, his primary intention was to complete Hajj. He would end up travelling for 29 years, experiencing many [mis]adventures along the way and becoming one of the most fondly remembered travellers in history.
Whether you stay local or abroad, travelling is an investment of your valuable time and hard-earned money. Make it count.
2. Read up on your destination
Not only will this help you to explore better; it also gives you a starting point for planning your itinerary.
Read up on the local history – the good, the bad and the ugly – and be critical of where you source your information. Once you’re in your chosen destination, familiarise yourself with the locals’ stories by speaking with local guides, shop owners, and taxi drivers. They’re often the ones with their hands on the pulse of the beating heart of society. Equip yourself with a few conversational phrases to help you connect with the locals on their terms – you’ll find it far more rewarding and satisfying than hoping to get by using only English.
When booking your accommodation, read up on who owns and runs it. Where possible, book locally owned and run hotels and guesthouses.
-Top tip: Don’t plan to just hit the tourist spots. Seek out off the beaten track experiences that bring you up close and personal with the locals. Number 4 will help you with this.
3. Avoid cheap package deals
This sounds counter-intuitive – who doesn’t love a bargain? The thing is, package holidays are like fast fashion; cheap, low quality, and often create harmful and exploitative working conditions for locals.
If the price looks too good to be true (accommodation, meals AND flights included as well?!), it is. When it comes to quality, you get what you pay for.
Instead, invest in yourself by purchasing higher-quality travel services. Whether you choose to DIY, consult a travel designer, or join a group tour, you’ll find that investing in a better way of travelling rewards you with a much better experience. Choose accommodation that allows you to explore the local neighbourhood or surrounding scenery, rather than one that’s enclosed or discourages you from leaving. Research and connect with tour guides and tour group providers designed with Muslims in mind. Halal Tourism is the fastest-growing sector in the tourism market, making it easier for Muslims to access much better travel experiences.
You can open the door to enjoying transformational experiences on your trip, so stay away from cookie-cutter packages and support local businesses instead.
Stage 2: Whilst you’re travelling
4. Hire a local guide…
…and get access to off-the-beaten-path experiences.
If you’ve ever had a friendly local take you around their city, you already know how much difference it makes to your trip. Having a friendly local that’s trained in their local history and hospitality will open so many doors for you. You’ll have a direct key to experiences and stories that are otherwise difficult to access as a traveller. This is particularly relevant if you’re curious about the local history and culture.
It helps to have a local recommendation where the best places to eat are, particularly halal food. A trustworthy local can also tell you how to avoid the tourist traps and protect you from getting taken advantage of as a traveller.
The benefits of hiring a local guide for the community are many. Your payment will circulate within the local economy for longer when it lands in a local’s pocket. You’ll be supporting a local family and local business, along with helping to preserve the local culture and history by paying for locals to continue sharing their community’s stories.
5. Eat locally
When you’re in a new place, it’s easier to gravitate towards international restaurant chains serving familiar food. But we all know that the food isn’t authentic to the local community, so you miss out on that authentic experience.
Plus, one of the joys of travelling is experiencing food the way the locals do, right?
The benefits of eating at a local cafe/restaurant/street food cart are many:
• Support a local business
• Experience local culture through the food
• Fewer carbon miles when food is sourced locally
• Support the preservation of heritage when eating traditional cuisine
As a Muslim traveller, one of the challenges we often face is finding halal food; but this is changing. All over the world – particularly across Far East Asia – tourism boards are investing in Muslim travellers. Today you can enjoy halal beef bulgogi in Seoul or halal ramen in Tokyo more easily than even a few years ago. This trend is spreading in the UK and parts of the US too, where a growing understanding of allergens and dietary requirements is helping halal to enter the mainstream.
Wherever you travel, don’t be shy to ask about what goes into the food, and do your research in advance.
P.S. Take a reusable water bottle with filter/filtration tablets – cutting down on water bottle use is a really helpful way to lower our contribution to the world’s plastic problem.
6. Cut down on your carbon emissions
We already know that plastics are causing a lot of harm both to our environment and to people involved in their production. But did you know that the production of plastics also increases carbon emissions? Greenhouse gas emissions from the plastic lifecycle are threatening targets to keep global temperature rise below 1.5°C (Source: Center for International Environmental Law).
Cutting down on your carbon footprint sounds complicated, but it’s easier when you start small:
- Take a steel reusable water bottle when you travel: Fill it up after Airport security at a water fountain, and you’ll also be saving yourself the extortionate airport prices for bottled water. In fact, cutting down on water bottle use throughout your travels is a really powerful way to cut down on single-use plastic.
- Avoid single-use plastics: Cutlery, plastic bags, coffee cups, soap bottles are examples of day-to-day items that we don’t often take into consideration when it comes to reducing carbon emissions. If you enjoy your coffee, you may already have a reusable cup/flask. For soaps and shampoo, let’s be honest, hotel versions usually aren’t any good for your hair/skin anyway. You can either buy travel-friendly reusable bottles or buy your cleaning products in bars instead of bottles.
- Fly less: Where possible, take a train or bus and enjoy the scenic route through the country, rather than an internal flight.
- Eat local food: When the food you eat is native to the destination, you’re cutting down on the fuel needed to transport it from the farm to your plate.
7. Be mindful of experiences and attractions that may cause harm and/or exploitation
This one is not as easy to spot, so here are some warning signs to keep an eye out for:
- Hotels or resorts built on land previously home to indigenous communities or on religious/sacred sites. You can usually find out in advance through searching about the accommodation online.
- Holiday accommodation that damages important natural habitats. For example, did you know that some of those beautiful water villas in the Maldives are damaging coral reef habitats?
- Activities where animals are trained to perform; not only at the circus, but also where it may be less obvious, like elephant trekking. Wild animals like elephants undergo harsh conditioning for them to become ‘tame’ enough for human service.
8. Seriously consider offsetting your carbon
Now, this is a tricky one that comes with its own problems. Theoretically, you can have a major polluter – like a fossil fuel energy company – have net-zero emissions because it buys offsets to make up for the carbon it produces.
Likewise, you and I can buy carbon offsets without trying to reduce our carbon footprint at all.
So before buying any carbon offsets, consider how you can reduce your carbon footprint (hint: there are already quite a few tips above!).
The other issue with offsets is that it’s not clear how effective some of these projects are. Planting trees, for example, is useful if they are going to thrive in their environment and contribute to capturing carbon now/soon, as opposed to in ten years.
That said, there are some promising projects for capturing carbon, including reforesting wild areas, protecting mangroves and more innovative ocean projects where sea kelp and algae are grown to sequester carbon. Projects that are tailored to the local environment are worth investing in not just when you travel, but whenever you want to take action to combat climate change.
“If the Hour (the day of Resurrection) is about to be established and one of you was holding a palm shoot, let him take advantage of even one second before the Hour is established to plant it.” (Hadith authenticated by Al-Albani)
So, are you ready to choose to travel better?
This list is by no means exhaustive; there are many more considerations that I haven’t mentioned, but I hope this gives you an easy starting point.
We’ve collectively watched on in horror this summer as record-breaking wildfires have engulfed some of our favourite tourist hotspots, devastating forests and taking the homes and even lives of those caught up in what is clearly an urgent climate alarm bell. Travel and tourism over the last six decades or so has caused more harm than good. As halal tourism continues to grow, let’s educate ourselves about the negative impact cheap package holidays, waste-pumping cruises, sprawling resorts – to name a few culprits – have on people, animals, and the environment.
Every dollar you spend on travel is a vote. So as you plan your next trip, ask yourself – who and what are you voting for?