By the common wanderer
Responsible tourism is all about having an active awareness about the effect that travel has on destinations and cultures around the world; positive and negative.
It’s about considering your own impact and that of the travel providers you choose, and taking responsibility for ensuring that every facet of your travels, from the transport you take, the places you stay, the way you interact, and the companies and governments you support, are as sustainable as possible.
It’s about travelling with awareness, kindness, and mutual respect for the world around you, making small choices with big impacts, and at least attempting to leave no trace of your wanderings.
SHOULD WE STILL BE HIKING IN NEPAL AT ALL?
As visitor numbers continually increase, particularly in the Everest and Annapurna regions, so too do the problems that accompany them: littering and pollution, overtourism and crowding on trails, exploitation of local porters and guides, and environmental and cultural degradation.
So is it still ethical to trek in Nepal? We believe yes.
In our opinion, trekking in Nepal boosts the local economy and raises the standard of living significantly in one of Asia’s poorest nations.
Not only should we not boycott it, we should actively be encouraging our fellow travellers to travel there. But we need to ensure that we’re encouraging them to trek in a responsible, respectful manner; one that considers their impact and works to benefit locals, the mountains, and tourists alike.
In that way, you can support Nepal’s largest industry (tourism) in a healthy way, while not partaking in its unethical side.
Here are our top tips to make that happen:
TRAVEL WITH AN ETHICAL TREKKING COMPANY
When booking your trek, ensure that you’re signing on with a company that reflects your own.
Ask them about their environmental policies whilst on the trek, whether single-use plastic and waste management is a concern for them, and whether their staff (particularly porters) are paid fair wages, health benefits, and are given adequate trekking provisions and equipment.
RESPECT YOUR PORTERS AND ENSURE THEY’RE TREATED FAIRLY
Ensure that you’re supporting your porters by booking your tour with an organisation that provides its porters with the following: weather-appropriate clothing and protection, fair and stable basic pay, proper shelter and food provision whilst on trek, weight carrying restrictions and medical care.
While we’re at it, if you decide to book a porter independently please don’t ask them to carry more weight for an extra fee.
Respect that porters rely on being able to carry weight for their livelihoods; don’t risk injuring them or their ability to support their families.
OPT TO TREK LESS-POPULAR TRAILS
We’ve all seen the images of traffic jams on Everest, as climbers wait their turn in the death zone to reach the summit. While that’s an extreme example considering most leisure trekkers will never end up anywhere near those peaks, overcrowding is still very much a concern for the popular Everest Base Camp trek and the Annapurna region.
Avoid contributing to over tourism and waste management issues by option for a lesser-known hike like the Mohare Danda, Upper Dolpo, Kanchenjunga, and Mardi Himal treks. This also has the added benefit of spreading wealth more equally amongst Nepal’s rural communities.
STICK TO THE TRAILS AND LEAVE NO TRACE
A single wrong step off the trail by a boot can take years to regenerate again, which literally expands the impact of your footsteps long after you’ve gone home and the aches in your legs have dissipated.
Leave the mountains are mother nature made them: stick to the marked trails, wait till you can go to the toilet at a teahouse instead of in nature, don’t litter, and pick up any trash you see along the way too.
RESPECT THE LOCAL CULTURE
For some, Nepal treks are all about personal achievement and self motivation and that’s totally valid, but also keep following in mind: the mountains are where Nepal’s unique cultures and customs can be found, and the Annapurna region is celebrated as one of the most significant cultural and sacred regions of the country.
Nepal is generally quite conservative, and it’s important to respect that and behave accordingly.
Remove shoes before entering certain temples and holy places and be aware that non-Hindus may not be permitted at some religious sites. Dress modestly, take care not to offend and ask your leader if you are unsure if something is appropriate.
Treat locals how you’d wish to be treated as a guest, take your cues from how they behave and dress, and always travel with respect at the heart of your adventures.
DON’T COMPLAIN ABOUT THE FACILITIES
Obviously this isn’t about legitimate concerns you may have about your teahouses (no bedding, doors that don’t lock, issues with your hosts, etc), but rather about recognising where you are, and that your accommodation and facilities may be, at times, a little rudimentary.
Many of Nepal’s trekking areas are remote, and even getting basic supplies in can be a struggle.
What’s more, Nepalese people are amongst the most hospitable you’ll encounter anywhere, so you can be assured that if you’re staying in a teahouse, they’ve done everything they can to make it a clean, comfortable experience for you.
Some will be more comfortable, others much less so, but try not to be that person who complains about it, and instead focus on the epic experience of a lifetime.