Do you know why you feel that connection to Goa, that longing to stay here as long as you can, that invisible thread pulling you to keep coming back? It’s because the warmth of Goa slinks into that deep, special space inside your heart and as you spend time away from here, it keeps escaping, slowly but surely. And when your reserves are done, you feel compelled to return.
Over the last few years, you have likely noticed that Goa is changing. The lush greens, calming blues and vast golden expanses of sand are getting pitter-pattered with towering mounds of garbage and the traffic is likely reminding you of the city you came in from. You and your friends are all talking about how this is not the Goa of your younger days and how you’d like to help but aren’t really sure how.
Enter responsible travel. I say the best way to see the real Goa is slowly, as you meander through the fields or as you sit by the sea and spot that dolphin leap out of the water when you least expect it or as you sit compactly in a little dinghy and roll through the backwaters. When you move slowly, you take in more of what’s around you, and when you truly appreciate the beauty around you is when you will make an effort to preserve it. And when you hike to remote spots and leave them clean and litter-free, that’s when you are a responsible traveler.
Responsible travel is no new term, but it’s definitely a misunderstood one. People tend to think it’s more complicated than it is. It doesn’t mean that you have to travel backpacker style or forego anything - it means that you have to be socially and culturally aware and sensitive of the place you’re going to. As a responsible traveler, you are immersing yourself in the space and treating it like your home, even if for a few days. And you are respecting the sentiments of the people whose permanent home it is. You can be a responsible traveler by doing the following:
● To stay, pick an eco-resort or guest house. Some of my favourites in Goa are Vaayu at Ashwem, Nature’s Nest in Mollem, Wildernest in Chorla, Khaama Khethna in Agonda and the list goes on. For any hotel you are planning to stay at, ask them if they follow sustainable practices - does the hotel use any form of clean energy, does the food waste get composted, do they follow any sort of sustainability program?
● When seeing the city or surrounding regions, pick an operator who is sensitive to nature and has an understanding of biodiversity. Take a boat trip down the Chapora river with Khoj-Aao, go dolphin watching with Terraconscious, try scuba diving with Dive Goa, or kayaking with Naturecraft adventures. When picking a tour operator, make sure that they are slow and conscious. Make sure they avoid single-use plastic to serve meals and packaged drinks. A conscious tour operator will ask you to bring your own water bottle.
● Carry your own water bottle and dabba and cutlery if you can. We’ve all seen hundreds of ‘Bisleri’ bottles littering the beaches and the forests. Plastic and littering can both be avoided when you carry your own water. It’s easy enough to find kind locals in Goa who will let you fill your bottle with drinking water when it’s empty. When you’re on holiday, you never know when you might have that craving for a gelato or a burger. So if you can bring along your own tiffin box and cutlery, kudos to you for you’ll be avoiding some more single-use packaging.
● Walk or cycle to explore. Goa has a number of companies operating bicycle tours, like Blive or Dramapur adventures. There are also a number of places you can rent bicycles to explore around on your own. With the traffic-free bylanes of all the quaint villages, it’s a pleasure to amble along lazily on foot or on green wheels.
● Eat at conscious eateries. These are the restaurants that are so mindful of the waste they produce that they try to avoid it altogether. From locally sourced vegetables to reusable steel straws, from plant-based cheese to using every single part of the fruit or veggie, these food joints will help you up your sustainability quotient. Bean Me Up, Mojigao, Prana Cafe and Gratitude Cafe are some favourites.
Overall, a conscious traveler keeps an eye on his impact on his surroundings. Could you share a cab to the airport with a friend even if it meant one of you having to wait at the airport for an extra hour? Could you carry your own toiletry kit so you didn’t have to use one of the tiny wasteful bottles the hotels offer you? Or could you politely say ‘Maka zai’ and show eagerness to learn other Konkani words during your stay here? I truly believe that a responsible traveler establishes a much deeper connection with the land - I’m a testimony to it.