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The Independent traveler

I’ve been traveling now for about twenty years. When I was younger I used to regularly take off with my backpack and my camera and head for some remote place, maybe working, maybe just hanging out. I spent a whole year in India in my early twenties. I’ve backpacked all round Europe and the Middle East, spent some time in China and I’ve also been trekking in Nepal and South America. So I’ve picked up a bit of experience along the way.

In the early days I always used to take each day as it came and not really plan very much. Nowadays I plan a bit more. And I tend to go on more organized trips, using tour operators and travel agents. Although I still like to be independent when I get to a place. Believe it or not, you can find responsible tour operators who care about the environment and the places they are taking you to-but you do have to look carefully and ask a lot of questions.

Also, before you go, think carefully about your packing and what you are going to take. Things like shampoo, lotions, sun cream and so on should be kept to a minimum. Make sure you really need them and you are not taking too much-there is no point coming back with bottles that are still nearly full-and above all, make sure they are environmentally-friendly and made from natural substances. In the developing world in particular, they can easily find their way into the water supply and cause pollution.

You can do this very simply-and it also makes your experience much more enjoyable. Make sure that you eat and drink local produce. Try not to go for the big international fast food chains. Most of that money doesn’t stay in the country and you are not helping the local community by using them. Many rural areas in the Mediterranean, for example are seeing their agriculture decline and by eating locally-produced food you will help the local economy. I also try to stay with locals, preferably in bed and breakfast and avoid the big foreign-owned hotel chains.

If you can, use public transport-it may not be as quick as hiring a car but it’s cheap and interesting, and it’s certainly one way of meeting the local people.

As you know, I’m keen photographer, so my camera is my most important piece of equipment. But be sensitive when you are taking photographs, particularly of people-the cultural rules are often quite different. Don’t be scared to complain if you see something wrong, something that’s damaging the environment or whatever. Tell someone. If you come across a polluted beach tell your tour representative; if you see another tourist dropping litter ask them to pick it up. It’s only by doing such things that we’ll get people to change their ideas and their behavior and to get tourism to be a more caring and responsible industry.

Sue Robbins, First Insights into Business, Longman

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