Last updated on October 17th, 2022 at 02:31 pm
A couple of decades ago or so, people didn’t care about being more responsible travellers. Back then, responsible travel was a brand new concept that hardly anyone had ever heard of. However, since then, the world has become a slightly (?) worse place to live in. Αlthough the travel industry is not the sole – nor the primary – culprit for the world’s woes, it has its fair share of responsibility.
This is why adopting a sustainable tourism model is critical these days. But what is responsible travel and how can we all be responsible travellers?
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What Is Responsible Travel
When we travel, we affect the destinations we’re visiting. That’s a given. What’s not a given is whether the effect our travels have on destinations is a positive or a negative one. That’s where being responsible travellers comes in. Leaving a place better than you found it, not only for other travellers to visit and enjoy but especially for locals to live in, could be a concise definition of responsible tourism.
We are travellers and we love to get to know new destinations, sample exotic tastes and visit famous landmarks. There’s absolutely nothing wrong about that. However, while we travel, there’s one thing we must always remember.
Every place we visit isn’t a Disneyland of sorts for us to have fun for a week and then move on to the next one. Any given destination is a living and breathing community of people who call it home. Or a habitat where animals should be left alone to live their lives in peace.
Being a responsible tourist means respecting local communities and natural habitats. That said, a responsible traveller doesn’t stop there. With their travel decisions and choices, responsible travellers actively protect the environment, fight against animal cruelty, support local economies and speak up against social injustice, discrimination and violation of human rights.
Apart from responsible tourism, you may have heard of sustainable tourism, ethical tourism and ecotourism too. Although there are slight differences between these four terms, they are used interchangeably to describe the ways to become responsible tourists and also the direction the travel industry should take to achieve sustainability.
If you want to know more, visit this Wikipedia page.
How To Travel Responsibly: 35 Easy Ways To Become Responsible Travellers
More and more businesses in the travel industry, such as hotels, tour companies etc, are making an effort to adopt a sustainable tourism model. Also, tourism authorities across the world gradually become aware of the benefits of sustainable tourism. However, change doesn’t happen overnight and change needs us, the mere travel lovers, to happen. This is why it’s important to learn how to travel responsibly.
If you’re wondering how to be a responsible traveller, you should know that it’s neither difficult nor does it require you to give up on the things you love about travel. On the contrary, being a responsible tourist teaches you how to travel better by embracing immersive travel, which in its turn, helps you enjoy your trips like never before.
Sometimes, responsible travelling is mistakenly thought to be about protecting the environment alone. However, as we already explained, sustainable travel touches upon many other aspects too, such as social, cultural and economical ones.
For ease of reference, we’ve divided our list of the ways to be more responsible tourists into two categories. Responsible travel tips that touch upon the social, cultural and economical aspects and those that touch upon environmental and animal-related issues.
So, here’s our list of 35 responsible travel tips that are easy to follow yet make a huge difference for the destinations we’re visiting.
Local Communities, Economies & Cultures
1. Choose Responsible Travel Companies
Nowadays, there are many brands in the travel industry that promote responsible tourism. From hotels and tour operators to airlines, transfer companies and restaurants, the list of professionals offering sustainable holidays is constantly increasing. Therefore, it’s worth doing a bit of extra research at the planning stage of your trips to make sure that you support socially, culturally and environmentally responsible businesses.
2. Embrace Slow Travel
From personal experience, we know that it’s not easy to take long breaks from work as often as we’d like. We also know how hard it is to resist the temptation to plan a weekend escape every now and then. Yet slow travel is one of the pillars of sustainable tourism. This is why it’s better to plan fewer long trips than many short ones.
By staying in a place for a little while longer, you inevitably become part of the local community. As a result, you have the opportunity to support the local economy in a more meaningful way. In addition, travelling slowly has a positive impact on the environment. For instance, slow travel allows you to travel by train or plan a road trip instead of flying, thus reducing your carbon footprint.
3. Discover Off-The-Beaten-Path Destinations
In the last couple of decades, the sudden rise of social media use – especially Instagram – combined with the often ridiculously affordable tickets offered by certain low-cost airlines resulted in a cruel reality for many famous destinations worldwide; the constant battle with overtourism.
One of the best ways to combat the overtourism that plagues the super popular destinations is to discover and visit off-the-beaten-path places instead. By spreading the word about the beauty of the hidden gems you unearth and encouraging others to visit them too, not only do you help the mainstream destinations breathe but you also contribute to the growth of local economies of these lesser-known places.
Read our article about Liberec, a secret gem in the Czech Republic.
4. Visit Touristy Places During The Low Season
Of course, we’re not saying you shouldn’t visit the iconic destinations you’ve always dreamt of. Who doesn’t want to visit Venice or Santorini after all? There’s a simple way to enjoy the world’s most famous destinations while staying true to your responsible travel mission. That’s no other than visiting during the low season.
Planning a trip to a super touristy destination during the low season means that you support the local community when it needs you the most. No, Santorini doesn’t need you during the peak summer season. But local businesses could use a bit of extra cash in the winter, late autumn or early spring. Not to mention that you can have all this unfathomable beauty to yourselves if visiting during the low season.
5. Don’t Use AirBnB
When AirBnB entered our lives back in 2008, it presented itself as an immersive way to experience the places we visited while helping locals gain a bit of extra income by renting their spare rooms to travellers via the platform. Fast-forward to today, this romanticised concept of immersive travel has been replaced by a harsh reality for local communities in cities like Athens, Barcelona, Venice or San Francisco, where AirBnB is thriving.
Far from the initial plan, most AirBnB listings are no longer the locals’ spare rooms. Large companies buy flats or even entire blocks of flats – evicting current tenants in the process – to convert them into AirBnB listings and profit from this ever-growing business of short-term rentals.
This means that fewer flats are available as long-term rentals for locals, which results in increased housing prices. In many cities nowadays, it’s next to impossible to find a decent flat to rent that doesn’t cost a fortune.
We’re pretty sure that AirBnB didn’t set out with a purpose to remove locals from their homes and turn entire neighbourhoods into tourist accommodation blocks. Yet it does nothing to regulate a situation that’s already out of hand. Therefore, if you want to travel responsibly, it’s best to book a room in a hotel, a guesthouse, a hostel or a B&B rather than an AirBnB.
6. Look Away From All-Inclusive Hotel Deals
Several hotels and resorts offer their guests all-inclusive packages. Buying one of these means that you pay for your stay alone and the booking price includes unlimited food and drinks. Sometimes, some activities or entertainment are included too.
All-inclusive hotel deals sound tempting for two reasons. First of all, the idea of going on a pre-paid vacation that won’t cost you an extra penny while there sounds very appealing. However, all-inclusive packages are not exactly what we’d call value-for-money deals. Services at such hotels and resorts are mediocre at best while the food is almost always flavourless and low-quality.
Secondly, when you’re visiting destinations that require you to step out of your comfort zone, you may feel it’s “safer” to spend most of your time in the hotel and always eat at the hotel restaurant rather than take your chances at local restaurants. Yet, what’s the point of travelling to a destination if you’re not going to see and experience any of it?
In terms of responsible travelling, resorts that offer all-inclusive deals are simply the worst. Most of these hotels belong to multinational companies run by billionaires. This means that your money doesn’t support local economies one bit. Moreover, locals who work at these hotels are usually underpaid. How else would hotels that offer all-you-can-eat-and-drink buffets make a profit if not by taking advantage of cheap labour?
7. Choose Family-Run Hotels
Following on the previous point, you should do your best to choose independent, family-run hotels over international hotel chains if you want to be a responsible traveller. This way, not only do you help the local economy and community, but you also add to your travel experience by staying at a unique place that reflects the local vibes and makes you feel at home rather than at an impersonal hotel where every guest is a number.
8. Eat Locally
Apart from sustenance, food offers valuable insight into the history, culture and traditions of any given destination. Therefore, to enjoy the most immersive travel experience, you need to try the local cuisines.
Before you venture out into the magical realm of world tastes, consult sites like TripAdvisor, or better still, your favourite food bloggers to find the best restaurants in the destinations you’re visiting. Make sure they are independent restaurants run by locals. And, please, for the love of God, think of all the wonderful tastes you’d be missing out on and don’t consider McDonald’s and the like an option when you travel abroad.
9. Shop Locally
Similarly, during your travels, try to avoid international brands and shop locally instead. Even if you’re only looking to buy a few souvenirs, make sure you purchase something original that’s made in the country you’re visiting rather than the omnipresent Made-in-China fridge magnets (unless you’re in China obviously).
Also, if you want to buy groceries, choose an independent mini-market or a local supermarket chain over the multinational giants and prefer products made in the country you’re visiting.
10. Avoid Cruises
In terms of sustainable and responsible tourism, cruise tourism is like the plague. The negative impact cruise ships have on destinations is so great that we could write a whole article about it. For now, suffice it to say that cruises add to the overtourism of famous destinations without any economic benefits for local communities since cruise ship passengers fleetingly visit the iconic landmarks without leaving a penny to local businesses.
Moreover, the tremendous environmental damage caused by cruise ships is yet another valid reason to avoid cruises if you’re wondering how to be more responsible when you travel. To be fair, some cruise operators are looking into ways to become sustainable tourism companies. However, there’s still a long way to go.
11. Study Local History a Bit
Every country has a different historical background. Before travelling to someplace new, it’s worth getting acquainted with the main points of the history that forged the country you’re visiting. This way you’ll be able to get an idea of the reasons behind local people’s mentality and immerse yourselves in the local culture in a more meaningful way.
12. Understand a Destination’s Current Situation
Apart from its history, it’s important to know the current situation of a destination you’re visiting. Is this place in a state of political turmoil or was it caught in the middle of war recently? Or perhaps has it just been hit by a natural disaster? All these life-changing events have a significant impact on societies and it’s good to know how things are for local people before you visit a place.
13. Have an Idea of Local Laws & Rules
As responsible travellers, it’s important to use your common sense at all times. Common sense dictates that local laws and rules are to be respected no matter what. For instance, when driving in a foreign country, take some time to get acquainted with the local traffic rules and regulations, such as speed limits, restricted parking zones etc.
Furthermore, make sure you respect signs with rules and regulations for tourists when you’re out sightseeing. For example, if there’s a sign that says Don’t take photos or Don’t touch, don’t overlook it. It’s there for a reason, usually one that has to do with the preservation of a site. Even if this reason sounds trivial to you, you should still comply with the rules out of respect towards the work of art you’re visiting and to keep yourselves out of potential trouble.
14. Ask Before You Take Someone’s Photo
The Internet is flooded with images of exotic-looking locals who are either smiling for the camera or going about their daily chores, oblivious of the fact that someone’s taking their photo. In the first case, the photographer has probably asked for permission before snapping the shot. In the second case, they most probably haven’t.
Unlike most landmarks and landscapes that are free for everyone to photograph, people, especially children, should have a say in whether they want to appear in your photos or not. In some cultures, taking photos of strangers is even considered offensive. Therefore, if you want to take someone’s photo during your travels, do ask for permission first.
15. Respect Local Dress Codes
Some destinations have strict dress codes. Especially when it comes to religious sites, it’s almost always mandatory to cover your knees and shoulders to enter, regardless of where in the world you are. In several countries, you also have to take your shoes off to enter a place of worship. Whether you agree with these dress codes or not, not complying with them is a display of disrespect towards the local communities.
16. Learn The Local Language
There are few things that locals appreciate more than the effort you put into communicating in their language. Learning a few words in the language of the destination you’re visiting and thus facilitating interaction is one of the best ways to be a responsible tourist as it’s a huge sign of support and respect towards locals and their culture.
17. Be Nice To Locals
When travelling, there are many people you interact with daily. From waiters and hotel receptionists to drivers and tour guides, every local you meet is a unique chance for you to delve into the local culture of the destination you’re visiting. For this reason, the locals you meet along the way are what makes each trip special. The least you can do for these locals is to be kind to them, wear your biggest smiles when you see them and engage with them.
Animals & Environment
18. Don’t Visit Zoos & Aquariums
Who doesn’t love animals? Yet animals are not attractions. Therefore, if you do love animals, zoos, aquariums, circuses and other establishments that keep animals in captivity are exactly the kind of places you should neither visit nor support as responsible travellers.
Zoos and aquariums claim to be designed to preserve and protect wildlife. However, the truth is that zoos and aquariums are highly profitable businesses. Therefore, they’ve created all this preservation and protection narrative to make sure they never go out of business. Wild animals belong exactly where their name suggests: in the wild. Keeping them in cages, often dragged and hungry, is against their nature. This is why animals in captivity often get depressed or become ill.
The only acceptable way to observe animals is to visit them in their natural habitats. Still, before visiting any nature reserve or booking a safari trip to a national park, you should thoroughly research the companies behind these experiences to make sure that all their animal-related activities are ethical and not even remotely associated with animal abuse and exploitation.
19. Don’t Use Animals As a Means of Transport
In the past, animals were widely used as a means of transport. Nowadays, thanks to huge technological and scientific advances, the need to ride animals as a means of transport no longer exists. However, some destinations insist on exploiting animals for profit by presenting them as the only way to get to a place.
For instance, riding donkeys in Santorini is presented as the best way to get from the Old Port to Fira. Similarly, riding a camel in the Sahara Desert in Morocco is presented as the only way to get into the heart of the sand dunes. Don’t buy that. There are always alternatives.
For example, in Santorini, you can either walk or take the cable car. In Morocco, you can reach the sand dunes by 4×4 vehicle. By refusing to ride animals for transportation, you send a deafening message to those who exploit animals to make a profit that they won’t get away with it forever. And that’s the magic of ethical and responsible tourism.
20. Don’t Ride / Swim With Animals For Fun
Some destinations exploit animals by convincing tourists that riding them or swimming with them is part of the local culture. It never is. Riding elephants or swimming with dolphins shouldn’t even be on your bucket lists if you wish to be more responsible travellers. There are plenty of other amazing things to do during your travels that don’t involve the potential harassment of animals.
21. Don’t Pay To Have Your Picture Taken With a Wild Animal
In some cultures, animal abuse goes unnoticed and unpunished. Locals use cruel methods to tame wild animals to make a profit. One of the commonest practices is to tame wild animals and then have tourists pay for a photo with said animals. For example, if you’ve been to Jemaa el-Fnaa Square in Marrakesh, you must have been approached by a monkey handler for a photo or stumbled upon a snake charmer or three.
The only way to convince these people to stop mistreating animals for profit is to show them that you’re not interested in what they’re offering. Whenever someone tosses a tame wild animal your way for a photo, just keep walking and never look back. If everyone did that, these people would soon be out of business and many animals would be spared.
22. Support Local Animal Shelters
When you find out that there’s a local animal shelter in the area you’re visiting that does a great job saving animals, it’s worth stopping by to support this effort. Some local animal shelters are open to the public. For instance, in this cat sanctuary in Rome, you can stroke as many cats as you like, make a donation, or simply spread the word on social media by posting a photo of you at the cat sanctuary.
In other cases, you may not be able to visit the animal shelter itself. But you can buy merchandise to help fund the shelter’s efforts. For example, Donoussa Cats Project is an initiative on Donoussa Island in Greece. Thanks to the project’s volunteers, all cats on the island are well-taken care of.
Although there’s no animal shelter to visit in Donoussa, a stroll around the island’s narrow alleys is proof enough that cats are really happy there. They’re all fluffy, clean and well-fed. To support Donoussa Cats Project, you can buy the handmade items they’re selling to raise money for the cats.
23. Reduce or Stop Eating Meat
The meat industry is intertwined with animal cruelty. Apart from that, meat consumption tops the list of factors responsible for global warming. Therefore, if you’re wondering how to be a responsible person, you should reduce, or better still, stop eating meat. With meat-based recipes out of the way, you’ll be surprised at how many mouthwatering plant-based and healthy delicacies you will discover during your travels around the world.
24. Be Mindful of Food Waste
Apart from being a major ethical issue – namely because it’s unacceptable to throw away food when there are so many people that can’t even afford to eat – food waste is also a huge environmental problem. One of the main factors responsible for pollution is the food waste that ends up in landfill sites, as it emits harmful gases responsible for global warming.
Of course, we’re not saying that you shouldn’t try as much of the local food as you’d like when you travel. Far from that. However, there are a few tricks you should always keep in mind as a sustainable traveller. First of all, you should avoid buffet restaurants and hotels. The amounts of food prepared for these buffets are so great that inevitably a lot of good food is eventually thrown away.
Secondly, be clever when you order at restaurants. Don’t order too much right from the start, but keep ordering as you go if you still feel hungry. Last but not least, don’t forget that you can always take your leftovers with you. For example, if you’re dining at an Italian restaurant, make sure you finish your pasta first. If there’s any pizza left after you’re full, you can always enjoy it for breakfast the following day.
25. Don’t Leave Rubbish Behind
We hoped that we wouldn’t have to include this on our list of responsible travel tips. We hoped that this terrible practice would have been eliminated by now. But it’s not. The saddest part is that making sure you don’t leave any rubbish behind is probably the easiest thing you can do to help the environment. Yet some people still leave way more than their footprints in the places they’re visiting.
When you have something on you that belongs to the rubbish bin, please keep it in your bag until you find one. If the rubbish bin you find is full, please wait until you find the next one.
26. Try To Conserve Water
Not all places in the world have the luxury of abundant fresh water. This doesn’t apply to underdeveloped or developing countries alone. Even the most cosmopolitan destinations, such as the Greek Islands, suffer from water shortages. Especially during the summer when the main factors for water shortage are the lack of rain and the increasing demand for fresh water due to the influx of visitors.
Therefore, try to be mindful of water waste and conserve water by taking small easy steps. For example, turn off the water while brushing your teeth or shaving or don’t flush toilet paper to avoid clogging that would need loads of water to be resolved.
27. Think Twice About Wild Camping
Some places are more tolerant than others when it comes to wild camping. However, wild camping can harm the environment in more ways than one even though it’s usually regarded as the best way to get in touch with nature. Improper waste disposal, lighting open fires, disturbing wildlife and using soap or shampoo to bathe in rivers or waterfalls are not exactly signs of environmentally responsible behaviour.
28. Use a Thermal Bottle
The need to reduce the use of plastic is more pressing than ever. Bringing your thermal bottle is one of the best ways to use less plastic during your travels. Especially if you’re visiting a destination where tap water is safe to drink or if there are freshwater springs where you can refill your bottles.
29. Carry a Reusable Shopping Bag
Similarly, you can reduce the use of plastic while shopping for groceries during your travels. Instead of buying separate plastic bags each time you go shopping, carry a reusable shopping bag with you at all times. This can either be a tote bag or a foldable shopping bag.
30. Buy Less, Experience More
If you’re wondering how to be more responsible, it’s vital to understand that consuming less is the epitome of sustainability. Therefore, try to refrain from indulging in shopping sprees when you travel and use this money to book authentic tours and experiences run by locals instead.
31. Avoid Flying For Short Distances
Flying is one of the main factors responsible for global warming. Of course, flying is inevitable when there are long distances involved and that’s OK. What’s not OK is to travel by plane when there are other sensible types of travelling available. For instance, it doesn’t make sense to fly to an island that’s only a short ferry ride away. Similarly, it’s not worth travelling by plane when you can reach your destination by train or even by car.
32. Choose Direct Flights
It’s scientifically proven that direct flights are less harmful to the environment than connecting flights. This is because 50% of carbon emissions come from takeoff and landing. Therefore, try to book non-stop flights when available. If there are no direct flights for the route you’re interested in, the best way to make up for the extra carbon emissions is to make a trip out of your transit flights.
For instance, we had to fly from Athens to Palma de Mallorca once, but there were no direct flights. Therefore, instead of simply using connecting flights via Rome and Barcelona, we added a few extra days and stayed in Rome and Barcelona. That saved us from booking extra flights to plan trips to these cities at another time.
33. Offset Your Carbon Footprint
Nowadays, there are ways for frequent flyers to offset their carbon footprint. The idea behind carbon offset projects is that you balance your carbon footprint by funding environmental projects that help reduce greenhouse gases.
Certain websites help you calculate your carbon emissions per trip and the amount you should pay to offset your footprint. However, most airlines now have their own carbon footprint scheme. Therefore, the easiest way to go about offsetting your carbon emissions is to pay a small surcharge at the time of booking your flights.
34. Explore More On Foot Or By Bicycle
Walking is the best way to get to know a place. It’s also one of the most pleasant forms of exercise. Apart from that, walking is also the most environmentally friendly way to explore a new destination. Therefore, to be a happy and responsible traveller, make sure you pack comfortable shoes for your trips. Alternatively, you may consider yet another eco-friendly and healthy way of getting around: cycling.
35. Use Public Transport
Of course, your feet can’t get you everywhere. In those cases, using public transport is one of the finest examples of responsible tourism. When public transport isn’t reliable or not even an option, try to share a taxi or use shared transfer options instead of private ones.
The Importance of Responsible Tourism
Knowing how to be a responsible traveller is one thing. But understanding the importance of responsible tourism puts all this effort into context. First and foremost, sustainable tourism is important because it has a positive impact on the destinations we’re visiting. However, it also enhances the travelling experience for travellers themselves.
The benefits of responsible tourism are many. Sustainable tourism helps local communities grow and sets the foundations for thriving local economies. Also, it preserves natural resources and protects endangered species. Responsible tourism makes sure that century-old traditions are safeguarded and promoted and sets out to eliminate social injustices and discriminations of any kind.
If you want to be more responsible travellers, start at home by adopting an ethical mindset. Don’t judge others, be tolerant and keep an open mind. Moreover, talk about responsible travelling with friends and family. If that’s your thing, start a conversation on social media.
Speak up against the things you came across during your travels and didn’t like and promote the ethical tourism companies you loved. The more responsible travellers out there, the better the world will be for everyone.
Do you have any other responsible travel tips to share with us? Let us know in the comments!
Further reading about responsible travels:
The Green Travel Guide
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I’ve heard the term responsible travel before but didn’t really know what it meant until now. I realised there are so many things I can do to be a responsible traveller and it isn’t hard to do either! Thanks for sharing this. I will definitely try to be aware of these things from now on.
Hi Erika, we’re very glad our article helped you realise how easy it is to stay responsible while travelling!