Some Advice on How to Travel More Intentionally

There’s a gentler way to explore now that the world is opening up.

two young girls sitting in a fishing boat on rural Indian shoreline

Mayur Kakade / Getty Images

One of my most memorable holidays took place a few years ago. I visited the state of Gujarat in the western part of India, going to Bhuj in the Kutch district, which had suffered a devastating earthquake in 2001. Nearly 40 million people had been affected and many lives were lost in this tragedy. The infrastructure was rebuilt gradually, and platforms such as Khamir, preserving the crafts, ecology, and heritage of the region and providing a means of livelihood, also sprang up.

I stayed at an eco-resort called Shaam-e-Sarhad, built and managed by a pastoral community. I visited craft villages such as Ajrakhpur, home to block-printing by Kutchi artisans; Nirona, where craftspeople are engaged in lacquer work, bell-making, and Rogan Art; and Hodka, to explore handicrafts and Kutchi embroidery. It was an unforgettable, immersive holiday, where I soaked in the beauty of the stark landscape, learned about craft traditions directly from the artisans, and visited their homes while making my little contribution to the economy of the region.

According to Statista, in 2020 over a staggering 610 million domestic tourist visits were made across India. Even though it was a decrease from the previous year due to the pandemic, domestic tourism is expected to rebound quickly, thanks to revenge travel.

As responsible tourists, how can we do our bit to travel with a light footprint, while being mindful of the environment and contributing to a destination’s economy? Ahead, a few suggestions based on how I travel in India.

Take a Slight Detour

As a child, my first few holidays (not counting summer holidays spent with my grandparents in Mumbai) took place in the cradle of the Shivalik Hills. We visited Solan a few times, a tiny hamlet in Himachal Pradesh in the north of the country, staying at a family friend’s brewery.

In Solan, a city of lush tomatoes and fragrant fungi, we did scant little except go for long walks and spend days in the gardens on the swings. There were no must-see icons to tick off the list, no planes, buses, or trains to catch, no malls to visit, and no clubs to party. There were scarcely any travelers either, many of whom had instead made a beeline for bustling Shimla, located over 50 kilometers away, the erstwhile summer capital of the country in colonial times that’s witnessing overcrowding now. After a holiday spent contemplating our navel, we returned to the city.

couple sits overlooking city of Jodhpur, India

Witthaya Prasongsin / Getty Images

Overtourism not only impacts your holiday but adversely affects the life of the locals. With my vacations becoming more about tranquility and self-discovery, now I research destinations and plan itineraries consciously in order to keep the epicenter at a respectable distance from tourist stomping grounds and to visit during quiet seasons. In this way, you are not completely in the wilderness but are far enough from tourists elbowing past you on your evening walk.

Leave the Place Pristine and Undisturbed

There’s nothing more abhorrent than tourists who run amuck damaging the fragile ecology of a region and leaving it worse for wear. Garbage disposal is posing a big challenge, especially in tourist spots, and it is impacting animal habitats, too.

The easiest way you can deal with it is by reducing the waste you generate. Think multi-layer plastic snack packets and single-use plastic water bottles. In India, many hotels refill bottles with filtered water in your room. I boil this water in the in-room electric water kettle and fill my bottle. For snacks, living in a tropical country, fresh fruits and nuts are my preferred munchies over processed chow or deliveries that come in plastic. I’ve even travelled with food from home, such as theplas (a flatbread that can last up to two weeks) to nibble on.

Of course, there’s always some amount of waste you will end up generating. When in doubt, carry the garbage with you to the largest city on your itinerary where it can be disposed of or recycled efficiently, thanks to the robust infrastructure.

Support Local Economies

women hiking in the Indian countryside
Two women hike in Munnar, India.

SolStock / Getty Images

According to the UNWTO, domestic tourism and traveling in areas close to home, indulging in open-air activities, buying nature-based products, and preferring rural tourism are among the major travel trends that will continue to shape tourism in 2022. The finding says that tourists are seeking sustainable, authentic, and local experiences that create an impact on local communities. By truly living like a local on a holiday, as I did in Gujarat, you will fall in love with a place and treat it like home, taking back enriching memories, and, of course, all that you brought with you (plus the waste you generated).