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4 ways to travel (and live) more responsibly

#MUNIonThis: From the recent closure of Boracay; to the increasing trash problem in Siargao, El Nido, and several Philippine island destinations; and the threat of bare, lifeless mountains filled to capacity by throngs of tourists brought by popular films and media; coupled with irresponsible camping practices; how can we be better travelers/tourists? As advocates of sustainable tourism, we are always looking for best practice for both travelers and travel business-owners.

At the MUNI Meetup on Responsible Travel on April 12 together with Forest Foundation of the Philippines, we endeavored to ask the questions:

  1. What does it mean to be a responsible traveler and tour operator?

  2. What can we do to encourage travel that enhances the experience and quality of life of both the travelers and the locals, rather than one that takes away from our natural and human resources?

L-R: Glenn Mallari, Ann Dumaliang, Gela Petines


We had inspiring discussions with our panelists:

  1. Ann Dumaliang, Project Officer of Masungi Georeserve, a conservation area and a rustic rock garden tucked in the rainforests of Rizal; Nat Geo Young Explorer

  2. Gela Petines, Managing Director of Reef Nomads, a travel company that reconnects people to the ocean through guided skin diving tours; Project Head of Batang VIP; Former Founding President of ISDA

  3. Glenn Mallari, U.P. Mountaineers Batch 2010, former Vice President for External Affairs of U.P Mountaineers in 2012, and graduate of BS Tourism from UP Asian Institute of Tourism

The panel was moderated by MUNI’s founder and chief collaborator Jen Horn, an advocate of sustainable tourism, trip curator of MUNI Travels, and one of Forest Foundation of the Philippines’ Best Friend of the Forest (BFFs).

Responsible Travel = Responsible Living

In MUNI’s introduction to the topic of Responsible Travel, Jen shared some of the simple everyday things we can do to keep our travel destinations beautiful, protected, and continue to thrive with life even outside the dates of our travel.

These are simple things such as:

  1. Bringing your own reusable water bottle, coffee cup or mess kit – nowadays, there are a lot of zero waste basics available that can help us curb the use of single-use plastic and other disposables that are usually difficult for coastal communities to deal with.

  2. Conserving resources – clean water and energy may be hard to come by in some of the places we visit, and it pays to be mindful of what we consume.

  3. Choosing reef-friendly, oxybenzone-free sunscreen – local brands like Wawais or Human Nature allow you to help protect our coral reefs while protecting your skin (Oxybenzone leaches corals of its’ nutrients, which leads to coral bleaching). 

  4. Being more mindful of our impact on a place with the sand or souvenirs we take away, or the path or trail we choose to tread on mountains – how we climb up a mountain is more important than reaching the top.

  5. Proactively doing cleanups wherever we go – the act of cleaning up per se may not amount to much in itself, but the act of doing so is an opportunity to educate and influence others to be more mindful of the waste they produce and mindlessly throw away.

Creating experiences of greater value

During the discussions, our featured panelists reminded travel business owners and travelers alike to be mindful of the carrying capacity of destinations, and not overcrowding places. Instead, they were encouraged to craft experiences that help make the trip more meaningful for the traveler and local host, while reducing the stress on the environment.

Masungi Georeserve and Reef Nomads, and even MUNI with MUNI Travels, are businesses that cater to travelers who favor experiences that are fair, just, and mindful of the local people and the planet. These businesses do exist, and it’s our power as travelers to sway other businesses to make more mindful choices in designing their “products” or tours.

Culturally sensitive environmentalism

The discussion also reminded us to also be sensitive enough to understand that we are visitors in the places we visit, and that we must seek to understand first what struggles or challenges locals face in dealing with conservation or solid waste management issues, and what their context is, vs. jumping in with judgment, and finding out how we might be able to help them address what they struggle with the most.

Oftentimes, locals have to contend with the lack of alternative product options, or a proper waste collection / management system, or other livelihood opportunities, and these issues are tied into the whole problem of unsustainable travel.

So with businesses like Masungi Georeserve and Reef Nomads providing other livelihood options that hinge on better human life sustainability rather than just environmental sustainability, and travelers like the UP Mountaineers and others present at the meetup demanding a better, more sustainable approach to travel, there is hope. 🙂

So what can we do?

  1. Treat each place like home – whether traveling or in the city, a large part of our environmental problems revolve around us not being more mindful in other places because it’s not our own backyard. What we need to understand is that whatever waste we create in one place can come back and affect us too. It’s the simple act of not littering and cleaning up wherever you go, or turning lights and A/C off when you leave your hotel room (because you wouldn’t leave your own A/C on at home), or not changing sheets or towels daily. Every place we go on Earth is a part of our home.

  2. Come from a place of compassion – both in our dealing with the environment as with the people – our fellow travelers and also the locals of a place. Being part of the “woke” crowd doesn’t mean we can just go into a place and tell them how we think they should do things. Instead, it would be best to understand their local context first and why things are the way they are.

  3. Share responsibly – Rather than just taking travel selfies, we can use social media as a tool to educate others on how to better appreciate different sites and show why they are valuable. We can share how we can do our part to preserve and protect these places, its inhabitants and their practices. We don’t all have to be “online influencers”, but each post is an opportunity to actually influence our friends, family and other followers to be more mindful whenever they travel.

  4. Make sustainable living an everyday habit – Because we create impact in these travel destinations before and after our travels, sustainable and mindful living should be an everyday, moment-to-moment choice: be it reducing our waste, consuming more consciously, and understanding that our sphere of influence and impact is bigger than we might imagine.

Jen closed the meetup by saying, “We create impact before and beyond our travels. So, our goal shouldn’t just be to travel responsibly but to live responsibly.”

How can you be a more responsible traveler, tour operator or travel business owner today? 🙂

[Editor’s note: It’s a constant challenge to live more sustainably, but the MUNI Community is here to support you on your journey. See our latest posts, news and upcoming events to engage with our community!]

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