Sustainable tourism in Russia. Tips on how to be responsible.
The benefits of sustainable travelling
We at ExploRussia support sustainable tourism in Russia. We firmly believe that sustainability and travel should go hand in hand.
Responsible travel is considered the most enjoyable way to travel because it brings you closer to local people and their culture. It also gives you a chance to experience the authenticity of the destination. Travelling consciously, you will maximise the benefits of tourism by contributing to local communities’ economic and social development and preservation of the environment. Does it sound like worth trying?
The UN experts distinguish three dimensions in sustainability: economic, social and environmental. We are going to cover all three in relation to the topic of sustainable tourism in Russia. The list of recommendation is not exhaustive. To make a trip more interesting, research on the destination you are traveling to. Russia is the biggest country in the world and definitely one of the most diverse ones, taking into consideration its climate zones, nature differences, multiple nations, languages and customs, and even time zones. For sure, you will find a lot of fascinating things to check upon your arrival.
Follow our little sustainable practices guide below and you’re guaranteed to have a much richer experience during your time in Russia (and anywhere else, for that matter).
ECONOMIC DIMENSION: STICK TO LOCAL
- As you will understand reading this writing piece, sustainability is often about appreciation of the local. Thus our first recommendation is to buy local products, it helps to keep manufactory traditions alive and provides vital income to the local community. Bargaining for goods in Russia is not always an appropriate behaviour but if the price is negotiable, pay a fair wage.
- Avoid buying souvenirs that exploit wildlife or threaten endangered species.
- Eat locally. Try to be open to regional cuisine, this way you will gain insight into the culture of the area and will support the local economy. It will make it truly sustainable tourism in Russia. In the end, the apples you buy at local markets might not always be the prettiest, but they for sure are the tastiest.
- A big advantage of buying from a local vendor is that the money you spend stays in the area and doesn’t go into the pockets of big corporations. Buying milk from a village shop in a milky area in the Trans-Siberian railway is better than shopping in “Auchan” because it may serve well for the development of the rural area.
- Tipping is a tricky issue, but as a general rule, tip when you are satisfied with the service. Tipping rules and sums in big Russian cities differ from the ones in remote areas; fifty rubles in Moscow are hardly comparable to fifty rubles in Ulan Ude. You can ask your guide for advice if you feel confused.
- Explore more and when you have an opportunity and will, consider giving back. If there is any issue or region that attracted your attention- a small farm, a honey factory or a development centre, try to stay involved and explore it more. Think about supporting local NGOs or conservation efforts.
SOCIAL DIMENSION: TAKE PART IN A LOCAL LIFE
Sustainable tourism in Russia and in any other country is not only about fighting pollution or being eco-friendly. Respect local people, laws and culture.
Let’s be honest here: what will you more likely remember? A shared meal in a restaurant with a fellow traveller that you met along the way or a shared meal with a Russian babushka that invited you home to her? Probably both but the second option will allow you to dive deeper into Russia culture and try to catch a glance of Russian enigma.
Before the start of your trip
- From the moment of planning your trip, open your mind to other cultures and tradition. Not only will it enrich your travel experience but you will also be more gladly welcomed by the local people.
- Keep in mind that faces, living conditions and life style will be different in Moscow and in Siberian towns, and behave respectfully in a new environment.
- Learn a few words in Russian. It shows your willingness and effort that locals will appreciate.
- Pick locally-owned hostels and hotels or try to book a room in a private Russian house, to communicate with locals.
- Hire local guides. People who actually live in the destination you are going to have the most accurate local knowledge and will share with you the most authentic and interesting stories about the place you are visiting.
When you’re in the country
- Use public transport. It’s not yet the part where we talk you into reducing your carbo step. With public buses you are also more likely to come away with a much more interesting story to tell your friends when you arrive home. Taking typical Russian means of transportation, like overnight trains, regional trains and marshrutkas is a perfect opportunity to interact with locals and garnish the adventure!
- Be aware of people’s sensitivity to being photographed.
- Dress properly, bearing in mind local sensibilities, particularly when visiting a church or a mosque. Respect sacred and holy places.
- Act as an example. Demonstrate responsible behaviour to other travellers who might be less informed than you.
- Cultivate the habit of listening and observing and ask questions instead of making judgements. Make the most of small interactions with local people, on the street, in a shop and any other daily situation.
When you’re back in your homeland
- After you’re back home, don’t keep your memories to yourself. Share pictures and experiences with your family and friends. Distribute tips on how they can travel responsibly, bringing a positive impact to the environment and local communities.
- Feedback – tell your operator and other service providers how they did and where they can improve. We at ExploRussia are striving to improve our performance, so your opinion matters and helps us act on the issues and operate in a sustainable way.
- Also, keep your promises. Send pictures and write to people you promised to contact. Such gestures mean a world to many people.
Sure, travel is awesome because you can visit all those places that you normally only know from brochures, but in fact, it’s the people you meet and friendships you build along the way that make your trip truly unforgettable.
ENVIRONMENTAL DIMENSION: RESPECT THE NATURE
Caring about nature is the new black. All kidding aside, please pay attention to what luggage you travel with, what places you visit and how you travel. It all influences the state of nature.
General advice for sustainable tourism
- To start from, travel lightly and leave any excess packaging at home. It’s tempting to pack everything you think you might need, but do you really need items like the plastic wrapping of your new toothbrush? It consumes space in your baggage and creates extra trash.
- Leave no trace. Avoid disturbing wildlife and damaging their natural habitats. Stick to designated tracks and trails. Don’t litter.
- Do not take natural keepsakes, such as pieces of rocks, stones or native plants, when spending time outdoors.
Transport is one of the most massive air and soil polluters. To reduce your footprint, consider taking fewer but longer holidays. Avoid transfer flights and whenever possible, choose transportation options which have minimal impact on the environment, e.g. a train.
When taking a long trip across Russia, lean on trains not planes. The Trans-Siberian Railway journey is the most exciting and educating way to travel when you’re making an acquaintance with Russia. It’s a screaming example of sustainable tourism in Russia. Trains cause less harm to nature than planes. During a five to thirty days journey from Moscow to Vladivostok you will meet hundreds of Russian people and share a great number of Russian meals.
If you take a short weekend vacation and visit only one city, be it Moscow, St Petersburg or Novosibirsk, whenever possible rely on public transportation rather than a private car. The reason is the same, a trolley or a metro wagon accommodates more people than a car, and the level of pollution per one trip will be lower.
By the way, did we already mention that the Moscow metro is simply mind-blowing? On average, almost 7 million people take the metro here in Moscow every day! This number is only trumped by Asian megacities like Beijing and Tokyo.
The final advice from us will be to hire a bike. Moscow developed bike routes for starters and more trained bikers. On a bike journey you can explore the neighbourhoods that are not included into travelbooks.
- Choose a hotel that introduced an eco-friendly policy. Choose your accommodation wisely. Ask for lodges that are environmentally friendly. Turn off air conditioning when you leave the room, don’t expect your towels to be washed after one usage, try using reusable water bottles and rechargeable batteries.
- Use precious resources sparingly. Reduce, reuse, and recycle. Use water and electricity as efficiently as possible.
The Baikal problem
Lake Baikal is an awesome place in summer, and winter brings even more magic to it. Unfortunately, recent years Baikal Lake has severely suffered from the consequences of mass tourism. We had covered before in details Lake Baikal environmental problems in a respected article. To mention some of the aspects, there is a problem of litter, trampling down the natural lands and wild tourism. It doesn’t mean that you can’t go to lake Baikal, please be seduced by its charm and beauty… However when you travel to lake Baikal, we kindly ask you to be particular respectful to its surroundings and contribute to local economy. If you like jogging, try plogging along the Baikal shore. We would genuinely like it to stay the cleanest lake ever and the Pearl of Siberia.
Practice these tips during your responsible travel in Russia. Support sustainable tourism in Russia! Choose a trip from the existing tours or ask us to design a tour tailored to your individual expectations.
ExploRussia wishes you extraordinary travel experiences!
This text was written by our friend, a passionate traveller and a word buff Natalia Motorina.