The reason we travel is to explore the beautiful cultures, foods and scenery this amazing planet offers. However, travel creates significant impact on natural resources, consumption patterns, pollution and social systems. The need for responsible and sustainable travel is essential for the industry and planet to survive for future generations.
In order for National Parks to stay open, wildlife to flourish, local communities to thrive, cultures to continue and our planet to look pretty, these are the tips you need to play your part in responsible travel.
Even if you feel you are a responsible tourist, there is always room for improvement as well as new tips, programs and incentives you can get involved in every time you travel. Hopefully you will learn something from this guide and feel inspired to always travel responsibly.
WHAT IS RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL?
Firstly, the words sustainable, responsible, ethical, eco-friendly and so on are being thrown around A LOT like a new trend. However, there is also a considerable amount of “green washing” going on – this means companies are chucking in the word “eco” or “green” to make you feel you are doing a good deed for the environment when in fact you’re maybe doing the opposite.
We understand the irony – we’re travel bloggers encouraging you all to hop on a plane then telling you that carbon emissions and mass tourism are destroying the planet. However, we recognise we too are part of the problem so are trying hard to change this through our small slice of the internet.
By spreading the word on sustainability, travelling slower, volunteering with schemes such as Workaway or house sitting for locals instead of staying in hotels, we’re hoping to inspire others to do their part for the planet.
Responsible travel is recognising ways you can travel whilst causing minimal negative impact – both during your journey and destination. It’s not just a case of leaving a destination as you found it but leaving it even better than you found it, creating a positive impact on the local economy and the environment.
Due to social media, travel is becoming less about getting lost in Tuk Tuks, laughing with locals or trying new foods and is instead about people travel from one Instagram spot to the next. Genuine experiences, cultures and friendships are being lost due to the “doing it for the ‘gram” attitude and Facebook likes.
However, companies such as Backstreet Academy are attempting to change this and we are too. We recommend booking an experience or two with locals rather than funding mass tourism or large corporations. It’s time to start creating your own memories, rather than replicating someone else’s.
HOW CAN I HELP TRAVEL RESPONSIBLY?
Essentially, responsible travel falls into 2 categories – ecological and social. Ecological relates to the environment, eco-systems and wildlife. Social is local communities and cultures. They go hand in hand and our advice below relates to both aspects.
We are by no means perfect and responsible travel is a continuous process, with us also learning new habits daily. We’re not asking you to stop travelling or save the planet overnight we just ask you bear in mind the impact your trip has on the environment.
Although each one of these tips only make a small difference, each one contributes to the big picture of being a responsible tourist. These small choices ensure you travel responsibly and that your impact on the environment is as minimal as possible.
We get it, it’s overwhelming and 20 tips is a lot to take on-board so to make it as straight forward as possible we’ve divided our tips into Do’s & Don’ts.
HOW TO BE A RESPONSIBLE TOURIST
THINGS YOU SHOULD DO
1. DO: Buy a Reusable Coffee Cup
It wasn’t just the stunning surroundings we fell in love with when living in Australia – it was the coffee. However, Australians alone use 1 billion disposable cups PER YEAR, 90% of which rock up in landfill – and that’s just one country.
Don’t become part of this statistic and purchase a reusable coffee cup. If you are clumsy (like us) or don’t have much space in your backpack we recommend the Stojo collapsible silicon cups. They fold up and fit in your pocket so there is no excuse not to bring it with you and the silicon means they are unbreakable in your backpack. Take a look at our short video (the very bottom of this post) which shares a little demonstration on how these amazing wee cups work. Oh and QVC if you wanna sign us up, we’re available.
2. DO: Take A Reusable Water BottleNot so fun fact: 1 million plastic water bottles are purchased around the world EVERY MINUTE. There is no excuse not to use a refillable water bottle – it saves money, the planet and using plastic. It’s one of the easiest ways to be a responsible tourist.
3. DO: Use Solid Shampoo Bars
We could dedicate an entire post on how much we love these little guys. Firstly they save yet more plastic ending up in landfill as the Lush ones (which we use) last an amazing 80-100 washes, depending on how much hair you have. One bar is the equivalent to 3 liquid shampoo bottles.
They save space as they can be used as body wash and shampoo which saves you juggling several bottles to the shower. Finally, you can take them in your carry on and they avoid annoying spillages all over your backpack.
4. DO: Bring Reusable Shopping Bags/Canvas Totes
Since the UK introduced a fee for single use plastic bags in 2015, the number of plastic bags sold by retailers has reduced by 83%. However, it shocked us that the fee was only introduced to Australia when we moved there in 2018.
An ordinary plastic bag takes up to 1000 years to decompose not to mention the wildlife they can kill when digested by mistake. Purchase a canvas one or a foldable one that fits into your pocket so you never forget it and it can be used again and again.
An essential for any responsible traveller as they’re perfect for groceries on the road, or if you’re souvenir shopping to avoid lots of plastic bags
5. DO: Purchase Second Hand
The fashion industry is the second highest pollutant of water ways after the oil industry with the demand for fast fashion being a massive contributor. Many travellers opt for cheap, fast fashion to avoid bringing expensive clothes on their travels or because they’re only going to wear it for a short amount of time. However, this choice is encouraging fast fashion which not only contributes to pollution but unethical labour and textile waste.
Instead, be a responsible traveller and purchase second hand from op shops or charity shops to continue the life cycle of your clothing. Better yet, if you only require clothing for a certain activity or short period of time (e.g. raincoat, hiking gear or those Thailand pants you’ll never wear again) when you’re finished with it donate it to an op shop so the clothing karma continues and it won’t end up in landfill.
6. DO: Recycle
We were surprised during our campervan trip in New Zealand how few bins are provided in the National Parks. However, this is to avoid wildlife raking through them, the cost of emptying them and the eyesore they create but no bins does not mean you can dump litter wherever you please. If a campsite, national park or wherever you are does not offer a bin or recycling, be a responsible traveller and take your litter with you until you find a responsible way to dispose or recycle it.
7. DO: Pick Up Your Three For The Sea
Globally, more than 8 million tonnes of plastics are dumped into the ocean each year. If you do see litter on your travels, be a responsible traveller and pick it up – it takes mere seconds. In Australia they use the phrase “3 for the sea” by picking up 3 items of rubbish, that’s 3 items less ending up in the ocean or landfill.
You could also try “Plogging” where you pick up litter as you jog, take a bag on a hike and compete for who picks up the most before you return or have a peek at guys like Adventure Bag Crew or #trashtag on Instagram which went viral this year to get you inspired.
Moments after this photo was taken when we were snorkelling in Moalboal, this turtle tried to eat a plastic bag as it looked just like a jelly fish. We quickly scooped the bag up alongside crisp packets and water bottles which should have been in the bin, not headed for a turtle’s belly.
8. DO: Reduce Food Waste
Whether its street food, buffet joints or 5 star restaurants, only order what you can finish. Just because the food is cheap doesn’t mean you should order more and PLEASE be a responsible tourist and don’t just order food that will look good for Instagram #cry.
Whenever possible, use leftovers to reduce food waste. Storing leftovers in reusable containers or packing picnics where possible avoids expensive stops at commercial chains and yet more plastic packaging.
Food waste is a pet hate of mine, so we try our best when cooking in a campervan to show you ways to re-work leftovers for a new meal idea the following day but it also saves you money and helps save the planet. We also advise the best food to taking camping to avoid food waste and make the most of cooking on the road.
9. DO: Buy Local
When you can’t meal prep and have to purchase food be considerate where you purchase from. Huge supermarkets keep their costs low by shipping in food from overseas which means massive carbon footprints, food waste and unnecessary packaging, not to mention the tax scandals and unethical labour.
Farmers markets and shopping in season avoids this. When we were enjoying van life, if we stayed in a free campsite, we always purchased a coffee or breakfast in the nearest town. This not only encourages a positive attitude from locals towards travellers but helps sustain local communities instead of lining the pockets of tax-dodging global chains and it’s a practise we will continue whether in a van or not.
Favouring small businesses means you’re not helping a CEO buy a third holiday home, you could be helping a dad put food on the table or a mum pay the mortgage. We also feel local business owners were full of helpful advice, hidden gems, shortcuts and travel tips for the local area – even more reason to be a responsible tourist and shop local!
10. DO: Offset Your Carbon Emissions
It is unavoidable that during your travels you will produce carbon emissions however you can help counter balance this and it’s easier than you may think.
- If you are road tripping: Enter the make and model of your vehicle, plus the number of miles driven into this calculator. It will calculate the carbon emissions in metric tons and will convert it into dollars.
- If you are flying: Some airlines allow you to offset this as part of the booking process and some even have it already included in the flight price. If not, enter your flight and number or passengers to calculate your carbon emissions on an offset shop such as this one. You are then given options of projects to donate this money to, like a reforestation project in Kenya or towards sustainable farms in Nicaragua for example. It is a small way to really make a tangible difference.
- When you are booking accommodation: The guys at Click A Tree have setup B and Tree where travellers can book their accommodation and in return they will plant a tree.
HOW TO BE A RESPONSIBLE TOURIST:
THINGS YOU SHOULD NOT DO
11. DON’T: Drop Litter
Sounds obvious right? However, litter is not just plastic but peels. You may think, being organic material, that banana peels and orange peels are safe to chuck, but it can cause havoc to eco systems who do not usually rely on this type of food. To avoid animals eating your waste, don’t put it there in the first place.
12. DON’T: Feed The Wildlife
This goes hand in hand with the point above, however we were so shocked during our time camping in Australia how often we seen tourists with palms full of seeds for birds or enticing kangaroos with carrots. The irony is, those wanting to feed the wildlife are usually the biggest animal lovers. If you truly love wildlife, do not feed them “human” food as they become reliant on humans and this encourages attacks.
Worse yet, if an animal then bites a tourist that animal is often put down by authorities. This happened so often on Fraser Island in Australia where dingo’s are native. Tourists encourage dingo’s to get close with food in order to grab an insta snap, the dingo gets a fright from the flash of the camera, bites the human and then eventually authorities put the dingo down.
13. DON’T: Waste Water
During our campervan trips, it was often encouraged in campsites to take 3 minute showers and we brought this habit home after van life was over, in order to stop wasting water.
If you struggle to time your showers, we encourage “1 song showers.” Choose a song that’s short (not Meat Loaf’s Bat out of Hell) and make sure you’re done by the time the song finishes. Better yet, if you really wanna be a responsible tourist – shower together to save water 😉
14. DON’T: Wash Your Hair in Rivers/Waterfalls
Leading to our next point. Don’t think by bathing in rivers, streams or waterfalls you’re saving water from the showers. It is infuriating the amount of Instagram snaps we have seen of those attempting their own Herbal Essence advert.
Animals and plant life rely on these water sources for survival, which is being destroyed with shampoos, soaps and sun creams that wash off into them. By all means, swim and enjoy them – but don’t turn them into bubble baths.
15. DON’T: Use Any Old Suncream
Which also relates to our next way to be a responsible traveller. We’ve all heard about the Great Barrier Reef bleaching but did you know suncream from tourists is a huge contributing factor?
Research shows that coral reefs in Hawaii are exposed to over 6,000 tons of sunscreen lotion EVERY year. When snorkelling or swimming in the sea please be a responsible tourist and always consider an ocean friendly sun cream so you are not contributing to the killing of the coral, or any marine life.
16. DON’T: Pick Up Leaflets
We used to be SO guilty of this. I hoarded leaflets and maps thinking they were great souvenirs to remember our travels however, once home I never looked at them again and they were thrown in the bin.
Whether at the airport or tourist information, do not grab every leaflet insight. Instead, photograph the useful ones or use online resources. Better yet, ask locals for tips as they know the best hidden gems, short cuts and crowd free spots.
Campsites and hostels are particularly bad for this, handing out maps or local information to each visitor, we usually return our map at the end of our stay so they can re-use it for the next person.
17. DON’T: Ignore Signs
Whether it’s climbing pagodas in Asia or heading off footpaths on hikes, by ignoring signs and heading off designating paths you are stamping on habitats, eroding the scenery and putting your life (and others) at risk.
An example of this is the pagodas in Myanmar. Thanks to so many tourists wanting the sought after hot air balloon sunset snap from the top of a pagoda, this has resulted in the closure and blocking off of so many of these historical sites. Not to mention the huge ugly barriers put in place to avoid erosion or injury.
Similarly, on Great Ocean Road cars are opting to park wherever they please for photo opportunities so ugly barriers are now in place all along the sides because tourists can’t stick to designated parking places. Please be a responsible traveller and do not ignore signs – they are there to keep you and the environment safe.
18. DON’T: Take “Souvenirs”
It’s unbelievable what we’ve seen people try and nick in the name of a souvenir. Whether rocks from the Great Wall of China, sea shells from Hawaii or coral from the Barrier Reef, it’s actually illegal and above all, not yours to take so do not do it.
19. DON’T: Use Plastic Straws
Hopefully by now we are preaching to the converted and you should know as a responsible tourist, plastic straws are an obvious no no.
In America alone, 500 million straws are used EVERYDAY. Think of how much plastic that uses. Say no to straws and if you must use one, bring your own. A reusable straw is an essential eco-friendly product in your packing list.
Our Stojo cup came with its own silicon straw which folds up inside the cup – ideal for smoothies and iced coffees. Also ideal for storage as the flexible silicon means it simply folds up so it takes up very little space and is so easy to clean.
20. DON’T: Forget To Do Your Research
Whether it’s an elephant sanctuary in Thailand, an eco-hostel in Madrid or volunteering in India, always do your research to ensure these schemes are as ethical as they say, as you may be causing more harm than good.
Is your money going to local people or outside investors? Is it encouraging animals to be used for human entertainment? Are you going for the right reasons or because you think it’ll look good on social media?
Also research local customs, ensuring to behave, speak and dress appropriately to respect local traditions. Not forgetting, that when you do see these fascinating traditions to always seek permission before photographing as not every culture wants their home or face plastered all over Instagram.
TAKE ONLY PHOTOS, LEAVE ONLY FOOTPRINTS
We hope our responsible travel tips have given you some food for thought on how your travels will impact the environment. Please remember your choices do not just affect your trip, it ripples to the well being of both the environment and people around you.
We have barely scratched the surface on ways to travel responsibly, there are so many more tips we could share and each day of this adventure we are learning something new. We are by no means perfect and we would love to hear of any ways you have improved your travel habits that we haven’t included here. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below and any other ways to be a responsible tourist.