With tourism on the rise in every country around the world year after year, it’s more important than ever to spread the message that is sustainable tourism.
All of us who call ourselves travelers have a responsibility to the countries, cultures, communities, and environments that we visit during our adventures. Being a responsible tourist doesn’t just leave a positive impact on the people and places we encounter, but it also leaves us with both a more fulfilling experience and the knowledge that our adventure didn’t come at someone else’s expense.
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If you’re new to the world of eco-conscious travel, here are my top tips for how to be a respectful, responsible traveler – let’s get into it!
Choose Ethical Wildlife Options
Having the chance to get up close and personal with animals that are indigenous to a region is really important to a lot of travelers. But in the past few years, we’ve taken a hard look at the use of animals in tourism, with many companies coming under fire for their inhumane and unethical practices towards the animals. The sad truth is, a lot of travelers who patron animal “sanctuaries” where they offer elephant rides or photo ops with big cats are encouraging and funding those establishments to take more animals out of their natural habitat in the wild – ultimately endangering the species.
However, there are plenty of opportunities for you to interact with the indigenous animals without supporting harmful tourism practices. For example, instead of visiting an establishment that offers elephant rides, patron a local business or charity that rescues elephants from illegal breeding and logging. (If you find yourself in Chiang Mai, Thailand, check out Elephant Nature Park – they rescue elephants and relocate them to the most beautiful reserve!)
Minimize Plastic Waste
The fight to manage plastic waste is a long-fought battle in places all over the world, especially areas like Southeast Asia, and has become one of the most recognized forms of responsible tourism. And thanks to this push (many countries like China, the Philippines and Sri Lanka – which put forth an appeal back in 2019 to ban single-use plastics – are taking strong steps to reduce and manage plastic waste), minimizing your plastic waste is easier than ever!
Minimizing plastic waste, especially the pesky single-use plastics like cups and utensils, is all the more manageable with eco-friendly travel products like stainless steel straws, reusable water bottles, and other gear that that’s made from recycled materials.
Leave the Place Better Than You Found It
I learned this rule long before I became a worldwide traveler, and I abide by it now more than ever: leave the place better than you found it. This is my mantra wherever I go – whether it’s a friend’s house, a day at the crag with my rock climbing friends, and also the various cities and villages that I visit.
There’s no doubt that keeping an area free of litter is just one of the many ways you can be a responsible traveler. But there are other ways, too. You can also participate in beach clean-ups, bring a mesh bag with you wherever you go to pick up any trash that you see (I specifically bring one when I go snorkeling or scuba diving since unfortunately a lot of trash winds up in the water), and also use eco-friendly products like sunscreen that don’t damage the environment after you’re gone.
Choose Eco-Friendly Transportation Options
I doubt too many people ask themselves how many carbon emissions they’re contributing to our atmosphere based on which transportation option they choose for a trip. And truthfully, I don’t think about it enough myself. But since my 3-month trip across Asia, I find myself thinking more and more about how my adventures affect the communities and environment around me. And I’m not the only one thinking this way.
Considering the transportation sector is the biggest culprit for greenhouse gas emissions (the travel industry contributed 28% of the United States’ carbon emissions back in 2018), more and more travelers are considering the most responsible way to get from Point A to Point B. And while flights are still pretty much a necessity if you’re wanting to jump the Atlantic or Pacific, there are still plenty of transportation options at your disposal that release fewer carbon emissions than a flight.
Traveling by train is no doubt the most eco-friendly way of getting around, especially when you need to cover a lot of ground, but taking a bus is another greener alternative than jumping on a plane. And if you have to travel by car, try and make it a carpool!
Support Local Business
Another great way to be a responsible traveler is by supporting local businesses in the places you’re visiting. While spending with big chains like fast-food restaurants hurts local cultures, it also means there’s a really good chance that the money you’re spending won’t even stay in the country.
So, on your next trip, you can make sure that the money you spend during your trip stays in the community even after your trip has ended. By staying in locally owned accommodation, traveling with local guides, eating at local restaurants and patronizing local shops, you can help build up the communities you visit. Not to mention you can also help fight against the washing out of local cultures by staying away from global franchises.
And don’t forget! Sustainable tourism is a two-way street. By supporting local communities, you’re immersing yourself in the local culture and giving yourself the chance to have more meaningful experiences.
Work with Responsible Tour Operators
For many young travelers, and especially solo travelers, partnering with a tour operator is a really smart and fun way to visit a new country. And if your goal is to travel responsibly, you can choose a tour operator that is not only committed to operating responsibly, but they also incorporate supporting local communities and limiting your environmental footprint into the trip!
Some of the best tour operators out there include: Intrepid Travel, G Adventures, One Life Adventures, and many more! Just do your research on a company’s website prior to booking and make sure they’ve their responsible tourism policy made readily available.
Use Eco-Friendly Travel Gear
In a perfect world we’d all be able to travel without contributing carbon emissions and other harmful things to the environment – but the world’s not perfect. That being said, another great way you can do your part is by switching to sustainable travel gear and accessories. Fan favorites like Patagonia, the North Face and Osprey have been longtime industry leaders when it comes to creating gear and apparel that are good for the environment. But \ new companies are popping up all the time with the singular goal of creating high-quality, eco-friendly products.
To start making the switch, check out my ultimate list of eco-friendly products for responsible travelers!
Stay in Eco-Friendly Accommodation
Much like choosing eco-friendly travel gear and working with tour operators that support sustainable tourism, switching to eco-friendly accommodation is another great way to reduce your impact as a traveler. According to the United Nations, the hotel industry is responsible for 1% of the world’s carbon emissions, which is why it’s essential to choose accommodation that uses green practices.
An eco-friendly hotel or hostel is one that makes a tangible effort to reduce and/or eliminate their environmental impact. A few of the most common ways an accommodation can reduce their environmental impact is by using recycling and composting programs, installing energy-efficient lighting, using non-toxic or vegan products, and only supplying reusable dishes and cutlery.
If you’re interested in reading more about eco-friendly travel, this blog is the fourth installment of a series I’m doing on responsible tourism. Check back next week for my next post, or subscribe to the blog so that you can get alerts when I post new content – cheers!
Previous Posts in the Responsible Travel Series: