Over my years of traveling I have had some truly incredible experiences, but sadly I have also seen the ugly sides of tourism. As traveling becomes more and more popular and over-tourism continues to be a growing problem, we all need to do our part and be more responsible travelers.
In this blog post I am sharing with you 12 simple and effective tips for being a more conscious and eco-friendly traveler. We can all do our part in leaving this world a better place!
What does it mean to be a responsible traveler?
At the core of it, being a responsible traveler means that you are conscious about your travel decisions and are always striving to make a positive impact on the places you visit. It’s about being respectful of local people, cultures, and animals, minimizing your carbon footprint, and in general just being a good human.
How to be a responsible traveler?
There are so many ways that you can be a responsible traveler. In this blog post I will touch on all the basics, from how to support local communities, packing tips for minimizing your footprint, and what kind of tourism practices to avoid.
Let’s jump right into it!
12 Ways to Be a Responsible Traveler
1. Support Local Communities and Businesses
One of the best ways to be a responsible traveler is to support local communities of places you are visiting. By shopping local you are supporting families and small businesses in that area while also maintaining the profits and wealth generated within that community. Every time you make a purchase from a small business you are helping that family pay their bills, put food on the table, afford adequate housing, and support their children’s education. Something as simple as shopping small can make a world of a difference at the community level.
When shopping local it is ok to negotiate prices in some locations, but if you do negotiate for a more affordable price please keep a few things in mind.
Respect the value of the products sold and don’t bargain too low. Remember that when shopping at many of these local stores, many of these items are unique, handcrafted, or made from expensive/hard-to-source materials. It is important to always take into consideration the value of the product and be respectful when trying to get a cheaper price.
One way to bargain is that instead of stating a lower price, you can ask, “What is the lowest that YOU would go for this product or is it even negotiable to go lower?” By doing so, you are giving the owner the opportunity to value their product and their work while also giving them a chance to negotiate with you and land a potential sale. Always be respectful when haggling.
When I am in a country much less privileged than my own I always consider what that extra $1 means to me versus the person I am buying from. That $1 may be a very small amount to me but an entire days worth of food for the seller. It’s not about having pity or being entitled, it’s about knowing where to draw the line and being generous with your privilege.
2. Respect Local Cultures and Customs
When traveling, I aim to soak in all that I can from the places I visit, including local foods and customs. It is important to remember that you are in someone else’s country and it is important to be respectful of their culture, no matter how different it is from yours. That’s the beauty of traveling to new places… you get to experience so many different cultures and get to briefly immerse yourself in them, and learn from them! There is no better way to connect with the country and the locals than partaking in their traditions and customs.
Research the basics before you visit a destination. Do they have particular dress customs that you need to know for packing? Are certain behaviors frowned upon? Treat locals how you want to be treated by those visiting your own country.
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s OK. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” – Anthony Bourdain
3. Learn the Basics of the Local Language
Another great way to be a responsible traveler is to learn the basics of a local language. I’m not saying you need to take a full course and become fluent, but at least learn enough to get you by during your trip. Simple things like hello, thank you, how much, and goodbye can get you pretty far.
I would recommend using apps like Rosetta Stone or Duolingo when trying to learn some basics of your destination’s most common language.
4. Don’t Participate in Harmful Forms of Animal Tourism
Responsible travel also consists of supporting eco-tourism. Many places will harm animals in exchange for profits. I’m sure we’ve all seen the pictures of tigers being put to sleep all so people can pet them and take pictures with them… or riding elephants. These are horrendous forms of tourism and in my opinion, should NOT be supported.
Check out this guide by my friends over at The Common Wanderer, to help you decide what is appropriate to participate in: 10 Ways to Be an Animal Friendly Traveler.
5. Be a Conscious Tourist
Being a conscious tourist only means that you are being conscious of your actions and your travels. One of the best ways to be a conscious traveler is by making sure that your travels will not cause harm, disrespect, or degrade fragile environments.
This is a hot topic around the world right now. Due to over-tourism many places have had to place limits on how many people visit or enter certain destinations. Others have even had to completely shut down and close entrance to all visitors. Over-tourism essentially means there are too many tourists for an area to handle. This often results in tourist areas being jam packed with people, making it hard to get around and overall less enjoyable for visitors and locals. Over-tourism can lead to fragile and natural areas being degraded to the point that it can take months if not years to recover from the damage.
It’s important to consider over-tourism when selecting where you plan to travel. When possible it is best to avoid over-populated areas or places struggling with crowds. Maybe there is somewhere similar or relatively close by that could really do with more tourists to support their local economy, rather than everyone going to all the same spots. I am not telling you to never travel to busy destinations, just be mindful and look at all your options when choosing where to vacation.
Conscious Tourism Agencies and Destinations
When booking a tour through a tourism agency it is important to make sure that the agency that you choose aligns with your values of being a responsible traveler. When doing this, you should ask yourself a few questions. Do they avoid over-tourism? Do they support the destinations that they book for? And do they give back to the community in those destinations?
6. Staying in Conscious and Sustainable Accommodations
Being a responsible traveler also applies to the accommodations that you choose to stay at. Try your best to choose hotels, resorts, lodges, or other accommodations that are conscious of their practices.
Do they support and give back to the local communities?
What are their sustainability practices?
You can find this out by doing some research on the different accommodations and making sure that they align with your values. I can recommend the website BookDifferent.com (owned by Booking.com), that allows you to see a hotels green credentials, carbon footprint ratings, and more.
7. Eco-friendly Travel Essentials
As a responsible traveler, the travel essentials that you bring can make a world of a difference. It doesn’t have to be anything over the top but some simple products that will help reduce your waste and carbon footprint can go a long way. Some items that you can bring are:
- Water bottle – I recommend a Hydroflask if the water is potable, or a Grayl filter water bottle when it’s not.
- Reusable cutlery & straw – There are numerous options out there but I like this set by Mizu.
- Reusable shopping bag – Use any that you have at home. I like this one by Patagonia.
- Travel coffee mug – Mizu and Hydroflask make my favorite travel mugs.
- Toiletries – bring your own decanted toiletries and avoid using the single-use hotel options.
8. Conscious Actions
Actions can be many of the things I have already discussed above but I want to highlight a few more things. These actions can really help every destination that you choose to visit by reducing your carbon footprint in very simple ways. Here are a few that I recommend:
- Be conscious of your energy use, e.g. turn off lights in your hotel.
- Reuse your bedding and towels multiple times before requesting a replacement.
- Opt out of using single use toiletries or travel sized toiletries (complimentary items) from the hotel.
- Be conscious when eating out and avoid single-use plastics. Use your travel utensils and reusable straw instead.
- Avoid single use cups and water bottles by using your travel mug and reusable water bottle instead. Opt to use your own mug when buying coffee out and be sure to fill up your drink bottle at the hotel before leaving for the day. You can also ask if you can pay at a restaurant to get it filled instead of buying single use plastic water bottles.
- Conserve water by using less when you shower. Taking a 2 or 3 minute shower versus a 10 minute shower can save a lot of water. It’s also best practice not to leave the water running while you are brushing your teeth, shaving etc.
These are just a few of the many simple things that you can do to be a more responsible traveler.
9. Leave No Trace… Even In The City!
On the topic of conscious actions, I want to talk about Leave No Trace (LNT). Although LNT principles are more frequently associated with outdoor travel, it is important to still practice these principles anywhere you go. I have an entire blog post on LNT Principles, but to recap very quickly… LNT consists of these 7 Principles:
- Plan ahead and prepare.
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
- Dispose of waste properly.
- Leave what you find.
- Minimize campfire impacts.
- Respect wildlife.
- Be considerate of others.
10. Offset Your Carbon Footprint
It can get confusing understanding what offsetting your carbon emissions actually means and if it makes a difference. In a nut shell, we all consume energy and produce carbon emissions in our everyday lives (driving, flying, using appliances, heating your home etc.) We generally have a larger carbon footprint when we travel, especially when flying. Carbon offsetting is a means to compensate for your emissions by funding an equivalent carbon dioxide saving elsewhere.
Carbon offsetting is not a replacement for implementing everyday sustainable practices but it can help reduce your impact on the planet for carbon emissions you cannot necessarily cut out. There are numerous organizations that accept carbon offset donations and fund climate protection projects. Below are some that I have found to be easy to use and are doing a lot of good in the world. You can check them out and choose the one that best aligns with your values and overall goals:
11. Volunteer In The Local Community
Another great way that you can be a responsible traveler is by supporting the local community organizations volunteer work. This can be mission work to help build schools and homes to even volunteering at a local shelter. There are also many organizations that help put together volunteer events that you can be a part of.
When you decide to volunteer through one of these organizations, it is important to do your research first. You can sadly find some that run volunteer programs for profit and do very little to help the local communities (or nothing at all). Research can go a long way to making sure your time is being valued when you volunteer and that the community is also profiting from it in a positive way.
When volunteering you also want to make sure that the organization’s mission aligns with your goals as a volunteer. Ask yourself these questions:
- What is it exactly that you wish to provide to that community?
- Is there a specific need that you will be helping with?
- Will it cause further damage or will it be a positive impact in the community?
12. Encourage Others To Be More Responsible Travelers
With my blog and social media influence, I aim to encourage others to be more responsible travelers by being a good example and providing educational resources (like this post). It is important that when you encourage others to be responsible travelers that you go about raising awareness in a kind and polite manner. Explain to people how their actions make a positive or negative difference and lead by example during your own travels. We should all be trying to inspire others to be more conscious of their actions, even if it is just our closest family and friends.
Always keep in mind that not everyone’s values are the same. What is important is that we are all doing our part in some way or another. Whether it’s using a reusable water bottle, shopping locally or doing everything mentioned above and more. Whatever you choose to do to be a more responsible traveler, make sure it aligns with your values and that you do it proudly and humbly.
Recap of Being a Responsible Traveler
I really hope that this guide helps you be a more responsible traveler and that it inspires you to be more conscious of your actions. Are there any specific things that you do that I didn’t mention? Let me know in the comments below. Let’s inspire each other!
Remember that a few things you can do to be a more responsible traveler are:
- Support the local community and local businesses.
- Respect local cultures and customs.
- Learn the basics of the local language.
- Don’t participate in harmful forms of animal tourism.
- Practice conscious tourism and avoid over-tourism.
- Stay in conscious and sustainable accommodations.
- Always travel with your eco-friendly travel essentials.
- Be conscious of your actions.
- Practice the 7 Leave No Trace Principles everywhere you go.
- Offset your carbon footprint through donations.
- Do volunteer work in the local community.
- Encourage others to be more responsible travelers through inspirational example.
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