Home most definitely is where the heart lies. It isn’t confined within concrete walls but takes wings and rests with me wherever I am. It’s in a rest house deep inside a forest, in a tent pitched high up in the mountains, under the milky way, in a shack on a beach; it is everywhere I go.

Home is where I am

Isn’t home everywhere for everyone who travels? And if that is so, do we not feel obliged to take care of our home that lies beyond our postal address? I feel obliged. I feel responsible.

RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL probably appeals to people on social media, but its practice is near negligible. Is RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL daunting and too-much-of-an-effort? No, it isn’t. It takes less effort than deciding how to colour coordinate our clothes for each day of the vacation. It’s that simple and far less time-consuming than we think.

But yes, it does require our understanding of the condition the world is in today and a sense of responsibility. It does take our good-hearted intention to leave a place as we find it, if not better and being aware of the impact of our every choice and action on the environment.

Start today, make a list (maybe just in your head), and do it, next time and every time.

0) I BEGIN AT HOME

Even before I lock my doors, head down the stairs, and jump onto the waiting cab, I tick off a few things on my to-do list.

I switch off all electric appliances (including the fridge), gas connection, and Wi-Fi (best is to just turn off the main switch of the house). This I do to avoid wastage of resources (that’s getting sparse). I inform my paperman and domestic help of my absence. I request my good neighbour or a friend to water my plants.

I ask somebody to water my plants in my absence

1) MY CUTLERY IN MY BAG

I carry my lunchbox with me. And inside it, my spoon, fork, and knife. Not to forget my ‘red’ mug. This helps me avoid single-use plastic that most harms the environment.

Also, you know what, I can pack my lunch for a day out, carry yummy food back to my hotel, and relish street food at my own pace and while walking down the streets, without having to depend on those plastic takeaway boxes and cutlery that anyway are not as durable and safe as my good old lunch box.

I always carry my bottle and cutlery in my bag

2) WATER TO SIP EVERYWHERE

So, we may not get drinking water everywhere, especially if like me, you like to take a detour and explore the roads less travelled. Have you ever experienced the joy of finding a clean flowing mountain stream and the purity in the taste of its water? For such moments, the bottle is required.

But even when bottled water is available readily (in hotels, restaurants, airports, bus stations), I ditch buying and then disposing it. My experience says that no one anywhere ever refuses to refill water bottles for travelers. Trust me!

Our cities, towns, villages, and even forests are overflowing with these plastic bottles and suffocating our resources, slowly for surely. Not only that, when beautiful mountain sides, tea estates, jungles, lakes, and oceans are littered with plastic, they aren’t a vey pleasant sight for us travelers or for our perfect Instagram pictures. Or are they?

Fresh water springs and lakes high up on the mountains are the best taste of water, ever

3) A CLOTH TRASH BAG

For all the times when I have something to dispose and I can’t find a dustbin, I carry a trash bag. It’s a big possibility that while roaming a town, hiking up the hills, walking through a jungle, driving past country roads, we don’t (unfortunately) always come across a waste bin. I collect all my disposables in my trash bag and then empty it appropriately.

A travel mate recently couldn’t understand the logic of a cloth trash bag. My reason is this way I don’t create additional plastic garbage by carrying plastic trash bags, and it is very easy to just come back from a trip and wash it. Lo, it’s clean and fresh for its next use. This is environment friendly and I save quite an effort and money that goes in purchasing trash bags.

When I was trekking with Indiahikes, they provided me with a cloth bag to collect waste on the mountain. From then on, I always carry a trash bag wherever I go.

4) BRINGING BACK MY WASTE

Another practice I follow is to bring back my disposables, like soap wrappers, toothpaste tubes, wrappers, and so on.

Now this is something I do not do every time. If I am sure that the waste will be disposed off correctly and not cause litter or inconvenience, I refrain from this ritual. But if I’m on a trek, staying with a local family in a small town or village, or camping in the middle of a forest, I follow this religiously.

5) SAYING NO TO ANIMAL PRODUCTS

Invariably when we travel, we end up purchasing animal products because they are unique, popular of the destination, and simply too beautiful. So, a miniature Taj Mahal in ivory, leather jootis and bags, cutlery made of animal horns become must-buy products on our lists. And the latest, live animals as pendants and jewellery. Are we that inhuman?

We will not know how many animals have been harmed and killed so we can adorn our wardrobes and houses. I, personally, am averse to the idea of possessing something that has been possible because of the merciless murder of a living creature. By making a conscious choice of not buying animal products, we can deter poachers, dealers, and sellers from killing animals and driving them to a point of near extinction. This lies in the powers of responsible travelers and we can make a big dent in this ‘animal killing’ business.

There are better and cruelty-free souvenirs that one can purchase

6) WHERE SHOULD I STAY?

Often, we have heard that to experience authentic local culture, we should ditch the expensive resorts and stay with locals. That is so true. Homestays provide us with wholesome travel experience.

But more than that, (if we give it a thought) homestays are ‘real’ houses built by people for themselves. Native dwellers use locally-produced and available materials to build them. They do not occupy huge areas of land that perhaps have encroached on fields and forests. They are energy- and nature-efficient. Moreover, staying with locals also enables us to contribute towards local economy and the income of families.  

At a homestay in Langza in Spiti Valley

7) SAVOURING LOCAL FOOD

Hear it from a lover of food. There is nothing more satisfying and joyful than having local food when travelling. When I eat local food, I experiment, explore and learn about the palate of the region. I have learned that food choices and preferences can be vastly different from one town to another within the same state too. If experience is what travelers seek, then food should be a part of it. I get to interact with locals, know the local produce and ingredients used in cooking, and also collect memories and pictures to savour for the rest of my life.

My food choices while travelling also determine the pressure I am putting on nature for every plate of food. When I eat local food, I depend on grains and spices that grow in that area and is staple. Hence, I do not put pressure on nature and its resources that get unnecessarily used when food has to be transported from other parts of the country. One can only imagine the amount of resources wasted in sourcing pizza in a remote town.

When I eat local food prepared by locals, I am also contributing towards their income and the income of local producers and sellers rather than coughing up a huge amount of money on a famous brand of coffee or burger of which the locals get no share.

Eating local food at a small roadside dhaba while travelling in Kerala

8) BEING MINDFUL OF RESOURCE USAGE

At home, we switch off the fans, lights and electrical appliances when not in use. We do not let water run unnecessarily. Why then we take these resources for granted when we travel? In a hotel, at a homestay, wherever I am, I make sure to not waste resources.

It’s simple. When we save resources, we are helping conserve them and be available to those who need them.

Yet another way of saving resources, that we often overlook, is to limit the laundry services available at hotels. Our towels and bed linen do not need to be washed every day. Imagine all guests across all hotels putting their towels to wash every day. Imagine the amount of water and power being used for that. Just putting things in perspective!

9) ‘NO’ TO ANIMAL-TORTURE ACTIVITIES

How would I feel to be captured from my home, stolen from my family, and live my life in a tiny cage in chains? What emotional turmoil would it cause me to shake my body at the tap of a whip for the enjoyment of strangers who would clap at my misery and pain? How would it feel to live in a beautiful mansion but away from family and surrounded by aliens? How would it feel to be drugged, mutilated, and kicked so somebody could take pictures with me?

Point made? There is no dearth of entertainment. Don’t you think we can, thus, forego the ones that are dependent on being cruel to animals? Do not visit zoos where animals are kept in bad conditions. Avoid places where animals are tied to chains (in the name of animal park), where the young ones are separated from their mothers and where you can take a photo with a wild animal. It simply means the animals are in distress.

And animal rides? You do know how cruel they are and how much they hurt animals and how many of them die of exhaustion.

Elephants in chains at an elephant camp. These camps are not prisons, or are they?

10) USING PUBLIC TRANSPORT

More vehicles, more pollution. If places we travel to, the mountains, sea beaches and forests too become as polluted as our cities (unfortunately) are, where would we then head to for some fresh air?

Using public transport not only helps save fuel and reduce pollution, but it also gives me a chance to experience the place as a local, talk to locals, travel like locals. These are times when I gather stories and do what I love doing the most—observe.

Taking the fuel-free and much favoured public transport in Lucknow

11) LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP

Forest paths are for animals and not for humans to tread. When you are on a forest safari, do not get off the vehicle or stop at one place for too long. Also, lakes and rivers close to forests may be used by animals to drink water and swim. Hence make sure you know about these water bodies before venturing.

And, mountain lakes are not for us to jump into for a swim.

Jungle paths are meant to be traversed on vehicles, not on foot
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