Simple Steps to Becoming a More Responsible Traveler

July 19, 2017
Sonja Bolger
5 min read

The United Nations declared 2017 the international year of sustainable tourism for development. The focus is on tourism that is well managed, and well designed, rather than unsustainable mass tourism. So what does that mean for you?

The idea is that we should try to travel in a way that respects and benefits the local people and places we’re going to. As travelers, we can each do our best to travel more responsibly and sustainably, and educate others on how they can do the same. But what exactly is responsible tourism and how do you be a responsible traveler?

Responsible travel is about being environmentally, culturally, and economically aware with your travel choices. Sometimes people don’t like speaking about responsible travel because it sounds like something that could curb your travel fun, but that isn’t the case. Responsible travel is about making travel a possibility in the future. And it doesn’t have to be hard!

How to be a more responsible traveler

Go local

Being a more responsible traveler means going local. When you travel, do your best to support the local economy and locals themselves. Try local restaurants, buy locally made souvenirs and treasures to take home with you, and support local tour guides.

How to be a more responsible traveler

Lower your carbon footprint

Obviously flying to amazing destinations around the world isn’t going to be good for your carbon footprint, but long haul flights can be hard to avoid if you want to travel somewhere far away from where you live. Flying has the biggest impact on the climate, but there are ways to travel more responsibly even if you do fly. Combine trips to close together locations, rather than flying twice to the same region, and try to take the most direct route since taking off and landing uses the most fuel.

Try to lower your carbon footprint by traveling overland where possible. Consider taking a bus or train rather than a domestic flight when you get to your destination country. This can be a more budget friendly option too!

When you’re at your destination consider walking or hiring a bicycle to get around rather than using vehicles for transport. It’s great for your health and a wonderful way to explore.

And of course, check out vacations closer to home, or be a tourist in your own town and region!

How to be a more responsible traveler

Read up on and respect local culture

Be a responsible traveler by seeking to understand and respect local culture. Learn a few simple words or phrases in the local language. Hello, goodbye, and thank you are a great start!

All cultures are different, and there may be issues you need to be aware of, expectations around dress or certain customs. For example, in Thailand, you shouldn’t touch someone’s head, or show the soles of your feet to anyone for spiritual reasons. This means not patting children on the head, or sitting with your feet pointed towards someone or up on the back of a seat in a vehicle.

Remember to ask before taking photos of people, and try to avoid being excessively noisy or not respecting religious traditions.

How to be a more responsible traveler

Go on an Eco-Friendly Retreat

If you go on a retreat, look for a sustainable or eco-friendly retreat, or one that supports the locals. Many retreat centers have commitments to support local businesses or to participate in environmental conservation in their area. Check out the retreat center as well as the retreat planned by the instructor and look for experiences that are seeking to further sustainable tourism goals.

How to be a more responsible traveler

Whatever you bring, take it away again

A responsible traveler should seek to keep places as they originally were. Try not to take things with you that you might leave behind, including extra packaging on any items. The place you’re traveling to may not have the waste facilities available to you at home, including recycling facilities.

Try not to buy bottled water if there is no way to recycle the bottles, and don’t use scare resources, like firewood in areas where it’s not readily available.

How to be a more responsible traveler

Support charities rather than beggars

Although it’s heartbreaking, you should try to avoid giving money to child beggars as it gives their families an incentive to keep them begging. Look for a local charity to support instead. At the same time, be wary of volunteer programs involving children, as the instability of people going in and out of their lives can do more harm than good. The key is thorough research into any endeavor that you want to support.

Bring a refillable water bottle

Bringing a refillable water bottle means you can save money filling up at free water fountains and cut down on plastic. Use a water purifier or purifying tablets if the water isn’t safe where you’re traveling to.

How to be a more responsible traveler

Pack light and environmentally friendly

Unfortunately, items like sun cream, soap, and deodorants, can all pollute the waterways. There are environmentally friendly options for these products, however, so be a more responsible traveler by finding alternatives.

Don’t use plastic bags to separate things in your bag, instead try packing cubes.

Pack light, because lighter luggage means less fuel consumption and a lower carbon footprint, and it can help you avoid having to take transport when you could walk with a lighter bag.

How to be a more responsible traveler

Educate others

Part of being a more responsible traveler is taking opportunities to educate others about responsible and sustainable tourism. Luckily, the idea of responsible and sustainable travel is becoming more mainstream and people are more open to the idea of learning more about it. If someone questions your decisions while traveling, like the products you’re using or your choice of transport, take the time to educate them as to why you’re making those choices.

If you’re on a retreat, then you’ll be in a community environment that’s open to sharing, and it’s a great opportunity to speak more about responsible tourism and to learn from others about the ways in which they might seek to be a more responsible traveler as well.

How to be a more responsible traveler

Sustainable tourism is only going to become more important as more people seek to discover the world around them. You can take a wellness vacation that ends up being healthy for the environment, as well as you. So next time you’re planning a trip, think about how you can be a more responsible traveler.