20 Top Responsible Travel Tips: How to Practice Sustainable Tourism & Be an Ethical Traveler

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Tourism is on the rise, and understandably so; after all, with the world becoming more connected, there are a LOT of spectacular natural and man-made sights (both new and old alike) that are desired to be seen and experienced by just about anyone! (Responsible Travel Tips)

But as traveling is becoming more rampant, it is important to think about responsible travel because overtourism, pollution, and conservation issues are just some of the many dire effects caused by it… As some would say, tourism is a double-edged sword: it can uplift communities but it can also destroy them.

Of course, it’s impossible and unnecessary to ban travel altogether because that’s just not a solution in itself; but what we can actually do as tourists or travelers is to do our part in reducing the negative impact of our trips — not only on the lives of the locals but also on the whole of the planet.

Looking for more ways to travel responsibly?

Read through these articles about responsible tourism!

Responsible tourism, as defined in the World Summit for Sustainable Development in 2002, is about making better places to live in and better places for people to visit — it requires operators, hoteliers, governments, local people, and tourists to take responsibility and to take action in order to make tourism more sustainable (socially, economically, and environmentally).

Other ideas related to responsible travel are sustainable tourism, ethical travel, eco-tourism, and many others; altogether, however, they almost always have the same meaning and goal.

This responsibility naturally doesn’t lie on organizations alone because it is important for us tourists and travelers to partake in this initiative — it must all be a joint effort. Even if it might seem like your sole act might not make much of a difference, remember that it DOES. It will always create a ripple effect, no matter how small.

Besides, we should always treat other people and places the same way that we treat those that are close to us: with care, kindness, and respect.

You’ve probably heard this time and time again but we really only have one planet and we need to take care of it/

So I urge you to please practice some, if not all, of these responsible travel tips!

Top Responsible Travel Tips

» Reduce & Offset Your Carbon Footprint

Carbon Offset (Flights)

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Carbon footprint is defined as the total harmful greenhouse gas emissions that are caused by an individual, thing, or entity (examples of which can be as simple as using electricity).

That being said, practicing responsible travel is tough to do if you’re already hopping on a flight because air travel already contributes to 12% of all transport-related CO2 emissions!

To put a solution to these kinds of problems, people not only practice reducing their carbon footprint but also practice carbon offsetting (basically, doing acts that will compensate for your emissions). To do this, apart from the usual eco-friendly acts that you must do, you should also do the following…

  • Take fewer flights and opt for train or bus transportation for as much as possible.
    • If you have to take a flight, choose to book a direct flight and then travel with only a piece of carry-on luggage (with lesser weight on board, the plane will also use lesser fuel).
    • Choose green and fuel-efficient airlines (examples are Air New Zealand, Norwegian Airlines, KLM, and Turkish Airlines — whereas the worst airlines are said to be United and Delta in the USA alone).
  • Walk more, or rent a bike. If you have to do longer distances, use public transportation rather than renting your own car.
    • You can also try carpool services abroad like Uber, Grab, or DayTrip.
  • Donate to carbon offsetting projects such as those listed here.

For other carbon offsetting or reducing methods, just continue reading below!

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» Travel with Eco-Friendly Products

Eco-Friendly Travel Products

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One of the best responsible travel tips that you should follow is to use (or switch to) sustainable travel products. For this, it’s highly advisable for you to avoid any disposables or single-use items. Some examples of eco-friendly travel products that you can use are…

TIP: When packing sunscreen for your vacation trip, purchase a product that is safe for the ocean because research has shown that there are harmful human health and environmental effects from most sunscreen products sold on the market. (Example of a reef-safe sunscreen is this specific product by Banana Boat).

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» Stay in Sustainable or Eco-Friendly Accommodations

Eco-Friendly Hotels

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There are numerous options when it comes to choosing accommodations around the world, but if you want to help focus on sustainability, look for places that have the stamp of approval from companies like Green Globe, Rainforest Alliance, and Earth Check.

After all, these companies work with hotels worldwide to help them improve their social, economic, and environmental practices — from the way they build their structure to the way they dispose of their waste.

Oftentimes, smaller types of places to stay in are already naturally eco-friendly even without any certification! Examples of these are small lodges, hostels, and guesthouses. House swapping and house sitting (e.g. TrustedHouseSitting) are viable options as well!

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» Support the Local Economy

Buy Local

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Supporting the local economy is one of the best responsible travel tips that you can practice as a visitor in a foreign land! Some of the many ways you can do this are as follows…

  • Go small and go local if you have to choose a shop, restaurant, tour operator, or accommodation. It’s a lot better to support, let’s say, a mom-and-pop-like business rather than the bigger international establishments. Through this way, your money is being circulated back to the local community that needs it more.
    • You can ask your hotel or your taxi driver for tips on the best local/authentic delicacy and where to best taste it!
    • For a more direct impact, try to find the actual village artisans; don’t just go to a gift shop that sells “traditional” items that might actually have been just sourced and mass-produced from China.
  • Hold back from haggling. It’s fine to ask for a discount in most instances, however, it’s important to remember that the small shop you’re dealing with is also just trying to make a living.
  • Eat responsibly. When you do eat locally, refrain or avoid ordering food that is made with ingredients derived from endangered species (e.g. Iceland’s whale meat, China’s shark fin soup, etc.) because if you order and eat these dishes, you are inadvertently supporting the industry.
    • While I’m not a vegetarian myself, I always try to make it a point to reduce my consumption of meat because livestock production in itself already contributes to 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions — which, mind you, is far greater than the emissions by the transportation sector!

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» Choose Social Enterprises

Social Enterprise

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A social enterprise is basically a business that tries to make a positive difference by furthering a social purpose in a financially sustainable way.

Examples of these are establishments that provide job opportunities for disabled persons (example: Bangkok’s Dining in the Dark restaurant), or an artisan shop that houses out-of-school youth to provide them with skills and some livelihood.

Some businesses would simply contribute to a charitable cause by donating a percentage from their profits — there are various kinds of social enterprises out there and you can easily find them by doing a quick Google search.

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» Avoid Taking Natural & Wildlife Souvenirs

Responsible Travel Tips:  Souvenir Shop in Bali

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Whenever you are purchasing some gifts for yourself and others, do NOT buy anything that has been made from stuff such as animals (especially endangered species), rosewood, shells, sand, and corals among many others. Do NOT contribute to the demand, so that eventually they will phase out those items.

In retrospect, do NOT casually take plants, sand, starfishes, or any part of an attraction that you visit (e.g. a chip of wood from a temple, etc.).

All of these acts will upset the natural ecosystem, if not destroy the beauty of local architecture, so please be respectful and sensible. If you can, try to also research the background of certain items you are buying especially products like jewelry or gems since they might not be ethically sourced.

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» Think & Act ‘Green’

Responsible Travel Tips: Environmental Friendly Actions

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I have already explored some eco-friendly habits and activities in the responsible travel tips I’ve listed above, but it helps to reiterate some of these things because even the smallest act can spiral into something big in the long run.

  • Reduce, reuse, recycle. It’s hard to wholly eliminate plastic use, but in order to combat this, you can get rid of any single-use or disposable items that you frequently use — from water bottles to straws. Also, try to bring your own bag when shopping so that you don’t acquire any unnecessary plastic bags.
    • When dining in restaurants, you can bring your own container for smoothies and use your own reusable straw.
    • Instead of using any of the travel guides, booklets, or maps that you see overseas, opt to just use travel apps instead.
  • Conserve electricity. When not in use, ensure that you turn off the lights, air conditioning, TV, and all other appliances in your accommodation.
  • Conserve water as well. Try to take shorter showers and ensure that you have properly closed all taps. If you stay in eco-friendly accommodations, conserving water and electricity are easily addressed in the first place.

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» Choose Sustainable Tour Operators

Sustainable Tour Operators

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When traveling, it is important to do your research and choose a tour company that truly respects its environment — better as well if they collaborate with local communities in order to provide direct jobs for the locals.

Apart from researching their background, it also helps to go through the reviews of past customers so that you can see if their practices are ethical, eco-friendly, and respectful. A good example of a big tour company that practices responsible tourism is Intrepid; however, it also helps a lot if you book with a tour company that is locally owned!

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» Avoid Unethical Animal Tourism

Responsible Travel Tips: Avoid Animal Tourism

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Animal tourism comes in many forms and it is so widely spread that oftentimes, travelers don’t easily recognize what’s right or wrong. This is why it’s important to do thorough research on any attraction or tour that involves animals.

Some of the popular examples of animal tourism that are highly unethical are as follows…

  • Selfie-taking spots with any animal (a snake, a monkey, or any other exotic animal such as that of Tiger Kingdom in Thailand).
  • Animal cafes that often hold a number of animals in a small enclosed space.
  • Swimming with sea creatures such as that of the whale sharks in Oslob, Cebu of the Philippines.
  • Riding animals like camels in desert environments, or elephants in Thailand.
  • Circus shows that utilize animals for tricks, etc.
  • Zoos in general, especially those that hold sea creature shows.

Supporting any of these experiences would mean that you are inadvertently supporting the harm of these animals; therefore, it’s important that you stop from doing such things. (The lesser demand they experience, the faster their business will dwindle).

If you want to get up close with wild animals, it’s a lot better to see them in the wild such as that in a safari. You can also involve yourself with organizations that actually promote the conservation and care of such animals.

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» Explore Beyond the Popular Areas

Bali Swing

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One of the reasons for over tourism is due to people wanting to see the same sights, especially in countries like France, Italy, Japan, New York, where most of their attractions stand out to almost every traveler.

Natural spots are also being crowded by ‘Instagram tourists’, where they wait behind long queues just to get a perfect photo for the Gram.

While this is fine in most cases, keep in mind that major tourist destinations in the world also have hidden gems that can be found off the beaten track — and sometimes, they are much better than the popular ones!

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» Respect the Local Culture and Customs

Respect Local Culture (Wear Burka and Hijab)

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Responsible tourism starts with respect.

Aside from respecting the environment, it’s also imperative to respect the culture and customs of the people in the destination you’re going to — so do your research well before you get on your flight!

  • Mind your manners and be open-minded. Find out the local’s attitudes and mannerisms towards certain things or behaviors. Simple gestures might be harmless in your culture, but they might be disrespectful to others (e.g. giving the thumbs up to someone in places like Greece or Turkey is equivalent to giving them the finger).
  • Dress accordingly. In most places in the Middle East, you need to cover up most of your body (e.g. with a burka or burqa and/or hijab). The same way is true when you are visiting temples or religious monuments in Asia.

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» Find Out the Local Tipping Culture

Tipping Culturea Around the World

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In Japan, for example, waiters and waitresses find it odd (if not rude) when you give them a tip. They take great pride in their work and if you give them something extra, they might feel like they have done something wrong.

For other countries, it’s helpful to download an app like GlobeTips because it advises you about the acceptable percentages that you need to give for tips on various services (taxis, restaurants, tours, etc.), as well as the overall tipping culture adopted by a country.

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» Try to Learn Some of the Local Language

Responsible Travel Tips: Learn the Local Language

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In line with the topic of respect, as a visitor, it is helpful for you to learn at least a few phrases of the local language. This will prove useful to you but it will also bring a smile to the faces of locals — you might even gain a new friend!

Besides, if you put yourself in their shoes, won’t you find it humbling and fascinating if someones at least does the effort to speak a bit of your language? So try to use language apps like Rosetta Stone and learn some of the essential words and phrases. Examples of these are…

Hello
How are you?

Good morning/night
Goodbye
Thank you
Beautiful
Delicious
Excuse me
I’m sorry!

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» Don’t Give Money to Street Kids

Street Children Begging

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It could be tempting to give money or any sort of item to street children that you see abroad; however, it’s best to refrain from doing so. At times it might help, but most of the time it doesn’t because it can further encourage them to continue begging on the streets (thus, encouraging a culture of dependency).

I know that your intentions come from a good place, but if you really want to help, it’s a lot better to reach out to local organizations that focus on education and social welfare programs for the poor or for struggling communities.

If your heart couldn’t take it, it’s fine to take them out for a meal. Eat the food together with the children so they don’t go around to sell/trade those goods instead. Please, again, refrain from giving money; most of the time these street kids work for a syndicate or gang leader so they don’t get to keep that cash! And again, your act of giving them money just encourages them to continue begging, when they could rather seek organizations that could actually help them uplift their lives.

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» Ask Before Taking a Photo

Street Photographer

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I’m sure you find it creepy and intrusive when someone suddenly takes a photo of you right in front of your face — this is definitely the same for everybody else, no matter their age, descent, and culture.

In the first place, holding a camera doesn’t give you the right to snap away photos of little kids just because you found them ‘cute’, nor of adults clad in beautiful traditional costumes because you deem them as ‘photogenic’.

I’m sure some locals wouldn’t mind, but it’s respectful to first ask for their permission (or their parent’s permission for that matter) before taking the shot.

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» Leave No Trace

Take only memories and pictures, leave only footprints.
Leave No Trace

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One of the top responsible travel tips that you should remember is to leave a place as though you haven’t set foot there at all (or you can also make it better) — may it be the city, the backcountry, the beach, or a dense forest.

  • Take your trash with you. Or better yet, clean up the surroundings that you’re in! One of the awesome initiatives that I’ve seen before online is when beach visitors make it a point to fill up a bag with trash before they leave the location.
    • This is also to prevent the introduction of any non-native species or foreign bacteria to the local ecosystem. This is also why countries like New Zealand have strict immigration checks where they disallow any fresh/agricultural and animal product items.
  • Do NOT leave your mark. Don’t be one of those people who feel the need to shout to the world that they were in that location — and by that, I mean graffiti. Don’t carve out your name on anything either!
  • Don’t “create” anything. For instance, campsites are found, not made. So do your research beforehand to check out any designated campsites on your trip. Refrain from setting up campfires (unless it’s allowed or only in specific areas), or building structures and trenches.
  • Stay on trail. Avoid damaging the natural landscape, don’t pick on any of the flowers nor take any of the flora.
  • Don’t feed nor bother the wildlife. Whether intentional or not (this is why it’s important to bring your garbage with you so that they don’t accidentally eat your trash).

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» Speak Up & Stand for What’s Right

Quit Your Job and Travel the World

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Saw a fellow tourist littering? Witnessed an Instagram Story post of your friend who tried elephant-riding? If so, it is YOUR responsibility to respectfully bring this to their attention (as well as offer alternative activities if applicable) so that they won’t make the same mistake again.

On the other hand, if you happen to be involved in an activity that you deemed to be unethical, you should first try to raise this concern with the relevant travel company, shop, or accommodation.

If nothing is being done or if the issue is quite serious, you can even raise your concern to the relevant local and international organizations such as tourism boards or even that of WWF. Don’t also hold back in using social media to further spread awareness! (Karmagawa, for instance, is an amazing charity organization that looks after the welfare of animals . They do a good job of exposing malpractices with the help of their audience’s tips and support too!).

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» Do Some Volunteering

Responsible Travel Tips: Voluntourism

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Commonly called voluntourism, this is one of the top responsible travel tips that you can do for your adventures abroad! Much like what you’re already thinking, voluntourism is basically about volunteering your time and skills to an organization that aims to address an issue and make a difference in communities.

However, be extra wary because some volunteer trips abroad can do more harm than good — this is also why voluntourism sometimes has negative connotations to other people. As such, it is vital to do your research beforehand in order to find programs that are actually sustainable and not just a quick money scheme to attract foreign travelers.

Also, don’t just haphazardly volunteer for, let’s say, a construction project for a school if you are actually not qualified for it or if you have no prior experience that will be of help for this kind of effort.

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» Be Kind

Friends Abroad

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It might seem like common sense, but to be a responsible traveler, you really just need to be kind, patient, and understanding — not just to others but to the foreign place that you are in!

There will always be some inconveniences (it’s an inevitable part of traveling) but if you can try to respond with kindness and respect, this world will truly be a better place and you’ll also get the same treatment in return. That might be cheesy to read, but that’s just how it is!

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» Share Your Experience!

Social Media Share

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Last but not least of this list on responsible travel tips: go and spread the word!

Share the negative experience, but do also share the positive experiences that you’ve undergone too — may it be in the form of a review, a social media share, or an anecdote that you share with friends and family. This will help create awareness as well as support for the relevant companies that truly contribute to sustainable and ecological travel.

Besides, if these amazing companies were to gain more customers and massive positive attention, it might also help inspire other businesses to follow suit!

• • •

Top Responsible Travel Tips for Travelers

Overall

There are many ways in which you can help make travel a whole lot more sustainable, and I hope that this list of the top responsible travel tips will already help guide you!

If you have other responsible travel tips to share, feel free to share them in the comment section below.

• • •

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Solo Female Travel Blogger: Aileen Adalid

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At 21, I quit my corporate job in the Philippines to pursue my dreams. Today, I am a successful digital nomad (online entrepreneur, travel writer, & vlogger) living a sustainable travel lifestyle.

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