Travel Tips

Ultimate Guide for Traveling Sustainably to Indigenous Communities

Traveling teaches us to appreciate the world and its wonderful variety, but it can also be very polluting. We all must reduce our footprint and take better care of the planet to ensure that we do not cause irreparable damage to the only home we have.

Furthermore, visiting an indigenous community means an additional risk to their environment, and therefore we must avoid at all costs endangering it to ensure the survival of the tribes.

The next time you plan a trip, we suggest you put our tips for more sustainable travel into practice.

A. Reduce your Waste and Recycle

  1. Make sure you have the lowest impact on villages, most of them are not equipped with an efficient waste management system. Whatever waste you bring to the village, like plastic bottles or candy wrappers, these often end up in fields, rivers, beaches and in the ocean. Make sure to bring back with you all your waste and dispose it where you are sure it will be recycled. Unfortunately, this option is often missing in some countries. If you bring a trash bag with you, consider participating to at least a partial cleanup of a beach, a forest or any other natural environment
  2. Bring your own bags, containers and reusable utensils, especially if eating on the go! Plastic bags are common in local markets and often ditched in rivers or buried under the ground creating all sorts of health problems for the communities and they are toxic for the planet. Consider taking a reusable shopping bag with you when you go shopping in local markets, and since plastics utensils and containers are the norm, consider reusable utensils sets in bamboo (very lightweight) and containers. This will dramatically reduce your petroleum-based carbon footprint.
  3. When you have the option, search for locally purified water in recyclable glass bottles. Sometimes, especially in the tropics, green coconuts are a great option to stay hydrated! It is low in calories, naturally free of fat and cholesterol, contains more potassium than four bananas, and it is extremely hydrating. It also contains easily digested carbohydrates in the form of sugar and electrolytes.
  4. Dispose of all types of sanitary waste properly.

B. Conserve Water and limit Energy use

  1. The water you will have access to is a luxury for some of the tribes that you will visit, so make sure you don’t waste any. It is an extremely precious good and the communities will kindly share it with you! Energy is also uncommon in some areas, but when you have access to it, please make sure you limit your use of it! You can now travel using your own power or non-polluting power sources like solar powered cell phone battery recharger.

C. Support Local Economies and Shop Carefully

  1. Invest in handmade goods: support the real local economy. What a better way to bring back with you a truly valuable reminder of your experience? Today, indigenous resistance to economic globalization and capitalism is essential for their survival so invest in some of the handmade local goods! This will help them, especially women which are often the handcrafters, to build a local economy and it will help families. This will also show them how much you appreciate their culture!
  2. If you come across markets selling wildlife or wildlife products, be conscious that these are often endangered species that have been captured in the wild and sold illegally. Seashells are now considered endangered and don’t be tempted to buy fur or leather. Travelers are considered to be inadvertently supporters of a growing marketplace for trafficking rare and endangered wildlife products as souvenirs. If you see it in a market it does not mean it is legal to buy it and these are often illegal to export or import. You will encounter serious fine at customs and be part of the trafficked at-risk species market, which is also dangerous for the global health according to the World Health Organization.

This is a list of the items to avoid and to watch out for:

“Antique” carved ivory tusk, coral jewellery, snake wine or reptile goods in general, tortoiseshell accessories, shells and coral jewelry, objects or medicine made from protected plants, fur from tigers, most spotted cats, seals, polar bears, and sea otters, live monkeys or apes, most live birds, including parrots, macaws, cockatoos, and finches, wild bird feathers and mounted birds, some live snakes, turtles, crocodilians, and lizards, certain leather products, including some made from caiman, crocodiles, lizards and snakes, some orchids, cacti, and cycads medicinals made from rhino, tiger, or Asiatic black bear. THESE ARE DANGEROUS FOR THE HUMAN HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT.

If you want to do business with local companies or people engaged with the communities you will be visiting, please consider approaching sustainable businesses or association working toward the Sustainable Development Goals. Consider also donating to local foundations!

D. How to respect the local Wildlife

  1. Do your research about the endangered species in the area you are travelling to and the overall condition of the flora and fauna.
  2. While hiking, stick to the path, going off the beaten path could mean you could step on protected or endangered plants. Do not feed wildlife, don't taunt them and keep a safe distance. Often times, doctors and hospitals can be hours away, so stay alert and be aware of your surroundings! Do not try to take wild animals home with you.
  3. Do NOT encourage local people to keep wild animals as pets and pay to have your picture taken with them. This is often an incentive to poach endangered species from the wild and obtain pets to display for tourists. Owners often lie about the true situation or aren’t aware. Reconsider riding elephants, drinking civet coffee, swimming with endangered animals and be aware of safaris. Try to visit a sanctuary or wildlife preserve area where animals are free in their natural habitat.
  4. Opt for sunscreen that are biodegradable and reef safe. This also applies to soaps and shampoos. The waste generated by your use of these products will soak in the soil, that we will be later drank by the local communities digging for water, or will end up in rivers, streams or in the ocean endangering their fragile ecosystems. Chemical ingredients in soaps and sunscreens are now banned from some countries since they jeopardize the fragile ecosystem of the reefs, its marine life or the soil. Make sure your sunscreen is reef safe and it does not contain oxybenzone and octinoxate which bleach corals, and your soaps are biodegradable.
  5. Make sure you are not packing with you involuntarily seeds, insect egg, and other living material that can also hide in your shoes. You may carry these plants to new locations unintentionally, and end up bringing invasive species to protected areas.

E. How to lower your carbon footprint

  1. Opt for public transportation and sharing services, it will also add to your travels an incredible experience and you will interact with local people! Bikes rentals are often common and a great way to visit sites.
  2. If you are afraid of your carbon footprint while flying, try to choose a fuel efficient aircraft such as the Boeing 777 or Airbus 345. The Boeing 787 aircraft will be soon the best option, its fuel consumption will be 27 percent less than other similarly sized aircraft.


Cover photo