Welcome to the New Year of the Sheep. This year travelers can enjoy gentle travel according to the calm nature of the sheep/goat in Chinese astrology.
Frequent travelers and tourists often ask: how can we do more? How can we travel right? Sustainable travel happens when the visit is positive to the place visited. All aspects have to be considered: social, ecological and economic. I have found it helpful to remember three things for responsible travel, ecotourism, and just plain "right" travel: common sense, respect, and information.
Respect the locals (society): Try to adapt to local practices and customs without imposing your own habits and lifestyle; wear appropriate clothing; do not distribute gifts publicly (distribute gifts in private to the teachers or the community members if participating in volunteer tourism and if culturally appropriate.
Buy local (economy): Help sustain local cultural events and craftwork; use services provided by the local population particularly for transport and hospitality services; choose local restaurants serving zero mileage/kilometer food; go to the local markets.
Protect the environment (ecology): save energy; save water; avoid plastic bags; eat organically, locally, and seasonally.
Protect heritage (society): attend local events such as craft and food markets, local or non-profit events; try to understand the story behind monuments and ancient buildings.
So what are Italy-specific tips?
Society: it may sound old-fashioned but it is still important to wear appropriate clothing during many occasions of your visit. For example, while visiting a religious monument, churches in particular, avoid wearing shorts and revealing tops. Bring a scarf or a t-shirt in case you visit such places.
Economy: Italy is well known for fashion and art. During your visit, taste the local, typical dishes and check out local craftwork. Lake Como, for example, is famous for its silk; unfortunately there are only few shops selling it - find the shops and help the local economy.
Ecology: In Italy the plastic bags are not available free of charge anymore; it is a good idea to bring a reusable (or textile-based) bag with you every time you need to do food shopping. This way, you will save money and help the environment. Choose seasonal and organic "bio" food.
Heritage: Italy's history is rich; Italy started to be a united nation only in 1861, but most Italians consider their origins to be from the Greeks and Romans. There are many monuments, mostly churches, built on former pagan temples. However, very few of them are documented. Why don't you try to find one during your next trip to Italy?
Your travel can be sustainable from the beginning. How do you choose the most suitable tour operator?
Reliability and experience of the tour operator and guide
Involvement of the local population and environmental awareness
Number of participants (avoid traveling in large groups)
Availability of operators to provide information and assistance before departure
You can also use SustainableVisit.com's customized travel planning services if you prefer a "do it yourself" guide on your next trip.
About the Author
Sara Vitali, based in Italy, is the founder of Sustainable Tourism World (STW). STW provides information about sustainable tourism and sustainability and is geared towards professionals interested in the subject: students, researchers, operators and entrepreneurs.