ETHICAL & RESPONSIBLE TRAVELER – A complete guideline every world traveler should follow

Paula Martinelli Blog, Ethical Traveling, Responsible Traveler, Travel 7 Comments

While the big question for some people is, “How can I change my life while traveling the world?”, for me this questions has become, “How can I make a difference in the world while traveling?”.

The biggest motivation for me to start blogging was not to encourage more people to travel, but primarily to encourage travelers to be ethical and responsible while traveling, and help care for our endangered planet. As a world traveler, I feel that my mission is to help educate and bring awareness by encouraging people to be ethical travelers and help make traveling more responsible.

Recently we have been seeing more information about the tourism's impact, such as these articles: Over-tourism has become a world problem  and also Negative impacts on the environment has increased.

We don’t really need to encourage more people to travel. Instead, we should educate each other on how we can be more involved in helping to make a difference protecting the environment and supporting local communities while we travel. We can all increase our awareness of the problems around us and help make smart choices that will have a positive impact in someone else’s life and preserve our environment for future generations.

For this reason, one of the features of my blog is Ethical traveling. In case you are wondering what my definition of ethical traveling is, I have created this list of 15 items to describe what I’ve learned from all these years living in different countries and traveling to different places all over the world.

I will start my list with a very important lesson that I’ve learned, and keep it in mind as step #1 for our next choicesAs Dalai Lama said “Love and Compassion are necessities, not luxuries and without them humanity cannot survive”.

  • How can you love and respect our planet without practicing compassion?
  • How can you love to travel and connect with other cultures without practicing compassion?
  • How can you live a happy and balanced life without practicing compassion?

We all live on a big planet with so many different cultures and we are all connected through the same amazing ecosystem and share the same home, Earth. When we travel, we learn, we grow and we become closer to each other. Even if we are different, when we immerse we become part of the culture and the new culture becomes part of us. Love and respect others, the animals and the environment; it is our responsibility as world travelers. Make choices for ethical traveling as much as you can. Go at least once on a humanitarian trip or conquer a mountain at your own speed. People around you will want to hear your stories, and you will be much cooler than before.

My Black H'mong friends in Sapa, Vietnam
My Black H'mong friends in Sapa, Vietnam


Have I ever mentioned that I am a big animal lover? One of the main reasons that I got motivated to start writing my blog is to feature what I have learned. I am constantly learning about different sources of animal cruelty in tourism, and how I can do my part helping to spread the word about it.

If you are planning to visit any place that offers any type of interaction with animals, please start doing your research before you go. There is a lot of trustworthy information on the web nowadays about Tourism Animal Abuse 

Sometimes we are not aware of the negative impact that tourism can cause to the wildlife, and it is our obligation as to educate each other and talk about it. It is the only recipe for improvement.

Animal cruelty can have many forms, and some examples are: elephant rides, tiger temples, circuses, zoos, animal shows to entertain tourists, places that offer selfies with animals, swim with dolphins, bullfights, dogfights, eating and purchasing endangered species (e.g. turtle egg soup, crocodile handbag) …and the list can go on and on. In this article, you can find great information about Sustainable Alternatives to Animal Tourism

Love and Bananas
NEVER go on an elephant ride. They are tortured in order to carry tourist on their backs


One of the most fascinating reasons for traveling is to learn from a new culture. What a great opportunity when we share a meal with a local, make choices to eat at a local restaurant, volunteer in schools and social programs or support local merchants by visiting local markets. It is so awesome when we can help to empower the local economy.


As James Michener said, “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay home”.

While planning your next destination, learn as much as you can about the local culture. Learn what they eat, how they eat, what is their main religion(s), how they dress, how they greet each other, etc.

Learn to say “thank you”, “hello” or “how much” in their language, they will appreciate it.

Choose local restaurants and challenge yourself to sit at the table and have a meal with a local and start a conversation.

Most likely you will have a great opportunity to learn about the local culture, and make a new friend.

Streetfood, Cambodia
Enjoying lunch and conversation with locals in Cambodia


We can all help to make a difference during our travels. While you have the opportunity to enjoy your adventure and relax during your vacation, you can still help the local communities. It is a win-win proposition.

When you book a trip with a family-owned business you know the money will be used as part of the income for the family and also help kids to stay in school and have a better quality of life.

At the same time, you will have the opportunity to immerse in the local culture and have an in-depth exchange.

When you book a tour with operators that are engaged with charities, you will have the opportunity to contribute while at the same time helping with the local causes.


It is a great way to travel and learn more about the locals, how they live, what they eat, what they talk about – even if you don’t understand the language, use this opportunity to watch the body language and learn a few words.

I listened to stories of life from a woman who owned a house we stayed in in Rotorua, New Zealand (through Airbnb). She shared things that I would never read in any book or other blog.

Also had the opportunity to live with a hill tribe in Vietnam and it was one of the most amazing experiences in my life. All while sharing a house with locals.

Spending time in a rural village in Nepal was also magical, and they made me feel a special guest during the time we spent together.

With my family in the rural village in Nepal
With my family in the rural village in Nepal


It can be a place where they employ refugees, or a hotel where they train young local people to have a profession, such as the hotel I stay during my trip to Cambodia.

They did a fantastic job, costing much less than other hotels that would offer me the same level of quality.


As a matter of respect, when we are preparing to visit a culture that is different than ours, we try to learn before we go.

For example, don’t be “that tourist” showing disrespectful behavior or being loud and obnoxious.

Dress appropriately keeping in mind that some countries require that we cover our knees and arms in respect of religious norms, or that we don’t take pictures of specific places such as inside temples. If in doubt, you can always check and ask a local for permission.

#Temple Thailand
Removing shoes and dressing appropriately when visiting Buddhist temples shows respect.


This is a very important item for all of us, and if you haven’t read it yet, I recommend Rick Steves’ article The ugly tourist, as we don’t want to be classified as one of them, right?

My basic rules include, DON’T: use a selfie-stick in congested areas, speak loud in public, stand in front of someone else that is taking a picture, throw trash on the ground and also apply the rules of #8 and Behave Accordingly.

Respecting others and learning about them and their culture, opens opportunities for unique experiences.


Treat our environment as you treat your own house. While on the road I have seen so many “ugly tourists’” behavior that are unacceptable, just to get a unique (aka: stupid) selfie, such as breaking an iceberg with a stick or crossing a  barrier…grrrrrr!!!!

Hooker National Park
Tasman Glacier is the largest glacier in New Zealand. This place is fantastic and at the same time, very fragile


Of course we are not going to be fluent in the local language, but one thing that I do before I go to a new place, is learn a few polite words such as “hello”, “thank you” and “please”.

It makes the difference, as the locals can see our efforts to show interest in their language. A classic example: I am from Brazil and my mother tongue is Portuguese (not Spanish). We say “oi” and not “hola”


If you have been to a Full moon party in Thailand or hiked the Himalayas in Nepal before, you know what I am talking about.

People party, have fun or take advantage of an amazing hiking in the Himalayas...while leaving all their trash behind.

Make better choices to carry a recyclable trash bag with you. If you are walking around, especially on a beach, or on a hike pick up trash along the way.

Refuse to use any straws or use plastic water bottle, which normally take a few minutes of usage and then takes hundreds of years to disintegrate in nature.

Trash I collected during my hiking in the Himalayas
Trash I collected during my hiking in the Himalayas


Children should be at school and not exploited by their families or even local gangs to make money while begging in the streets. There are other ways to help to provide to local communities other than just giving money. See items 5 & 6.

Kids all over the world are the same, they are very curious and they love to interact with you. Make sure to give them attention and love, such as listening about their stories or teaching them a new world in English.

My little friend in Sapa, Vietnam
My little friend in Sapa, Vietnam
Playing with kids


It doesn’t matter if you are going to travel to a safe place, any place on earth can have someone with bad intentions and where there are tourists there will also be “pick pockets”.

Also on the other side, there is no need for us to show our “bling-bling” accessories or our latest high tech smart watch. Enjoy the simplicity of traveling.


My trips start months before I actually jump on the plane.

I find that the opportunity to learn as much as I can before I visit a country is just fascinating. I read books, watch documentaries and of course I watch a lot of Vlogs and read Blogs, as I love to learn about a place from different perspectives.

The more we learn about a culture, the more enjoyable the trip will be as you will feel comfortable around people and their culture.

Also, make sure that the activities you are planning to do are really ethical and support responsible tourism.

montana machu picchu

Now, I also would love to hear from you, besides, it is all about education, right? Do you have any practice that I haven’t listed or if you have any questions or recommendations, please leave your comment at the end of this post. The best way to educate ourselves is to talk about it, and I am here to share what I have learned during my traveling and I would love to learn from you about your experience.

LIVE YOUR BEST LIFE - Travel, be Heatlhy & Practice Compassion

Paula Tip:

If you want to learn more about ethical traveling, I write about My Ethical Experience from places that I have visited and you can learn more here

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Comments 7

    1. Post

      Thank you Megan for the kind words. I truly believe that it is our job to help to remind all travelers on how important it is to care about others, and to bring only positive things to the places where we visit in our wonderful Planet 🙂

    1. Post

      Thank you Sydney. You are right, it is so important and I think we learn as we go, trying to be more aware and learn from our mistakes. I have done several mistakes, and I try to learn from it, and also help spreading the word with others.

  1. Great post Paula. Almost ten years ago I visited Thailand as a young naïve girl and visited a tiger temple and rode an elephant. I have regretted both of those activities ever since and my friend and I spent time at an elephant sanctuary to educate ourselves. It makes me so sad and I love that your focus is on ethical travel.

    1. Post

      Thank you Jo! The beauty is that we are all learning and educating each other, I also did things that I regret but today, I am able to evaluate things better and try to make better decisions.

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