Ethical & Responsible Travel – 15 Tips every world traveler should follow

Paula Martinelli Blog, Ethical Traveling, Responsible Traveler, Travel 20 Comments

Ethical and Responsible tourism can be a very sensitive and confusing topic, but with these simple 15 Travel Tips every world traveler should follow, we can all encourage ethical and responsible tourism and make a positive mark on our planet.

15 simple tips on how to be an Ethical & Responsible traveler

 

While the big question for some people is "How can I change my life while traveling the world?" - For me this question 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 practice ethical and responsible tourism, and help care for our endangered planet.

As a world traveler, I feel that my mission is to constantly search for better alternatives and to learn how to make better choices at each place I visit. I want to help educate and encourage people to be ethical travelers and make traveling more responsible. These 15 simple tips on how to be an Ethical and Responsible traveler are a great start.

Recently we have been seeing more information being shared about the tourism's negative impact, and over-tourism has become a global problem  and also negative impacts on the environment have increased.

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.

 

Ethical and Responsible travel tips
Hiking in the Himalayas in Nepal with an ethical tour operator

DEFINITION OF ETHICAL & RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL

 

You have probably seen, read and heard discussions about some hot topics in the travel industry lately on Ethical Travel, Responsible Tourism, Sustainable Tourism, Eco-Friendly travel and so on.

They are all counterparts and there are still some fuzzy areas. For this reason we ALL should be engaged not only in discussions but also actions that make us more ethical and responsible travelers.

 

ETHICAL & RESPONSIBLE Tourism, in simple words means when you visit a place and the impact you create with your visit is positive and respectful.

 

It is taking responsibility for ensuring that every facet of your visit, from the places you stay, the tours you opt to take, the transportation choices, the way you interact are as ethical as possible.

It is when your visit enhances the quality of life, it can be financially or culturally of the people you meet - the money you spend should go direct into local people's pockets.

Also, the time you spend visiting should not cause damage to the environment.

 

Ethical and Responsible travel in Tibet
Potala Palace in Tibet is a great place to meet locals and get to learn about their culture and religious traditions

 

 

These may sound quite obvious and simple to follow, but what does it look like when we put them into practice? Are we really paying attention to all of our actions and choices while we are visiting a place?

That's the reason it is so important that we pay close attention and have an active awareness about the effect that travel has on each destination and culture, as each place has different ways to create a positive or negative impact through tourism.

These 15 travel tips of how to promote the ethical and responsible tourism is what I have learned during my over 20 years of living in different countries, and traveling around the world...and I am still learning!

You don't need to change your travel style completely, or spend tons of time prior to your trip researching about what the ethical choices are on your next destination.

But once you start to be more aware of the positive vs. negative impact tourism can create, you will become more conscious and start to find opportunities everywhere on how to make positive choices.

To be an Ethical and Responsible traveler is a constant learning process and I am also constantly learning and finding out new ways to be better every day, and I hope these tips will help to make a positive impact in our planet.

 

Booking.com

1 - PRACTICE COMPASSION WHEN YOU TRAVEL

 

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 choices

As 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 on ethical and responsible tourism as much as you can.

 

ethical and responsible tourists
H'mong friends I made while traveling in Sapa, Vietnam
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2 - DON'T SUPPORT ANIMAL ABUSE

 

This comes to the top of my list of ethical and responsible travel as most animals used for tourism are abused and evenTripAdvisor stopped selling tickets to animal attractions. 

Have I ever mentioned that I am a big animal lover? During my travels, 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.

We Ethical and Responsible travelers are the only ones who can help stop animal abuse in the tourism industry.

Animals used for entertainment are typically kept in horrible conditions and trained and managed by inexperienced staff, and by visiting these institutions we do become party to the system and perpetuate the cycle of abuse.

Animal cruelty can have many forms, and some examples are:

  • Elephant rides
  • Tiger temples
  • Circus and Zoos
  • Seaworld
  • Animal shows to entertain tourists
  • Places that offer selfies with animals
  • Swim with dolphins, sharks and whales
  • Bullfights and 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

 

Ethical tourism do not abuse animals
NEVER ride on the back of an elephant! You will have a few minutes of fun while the elephant has a lifetime of torture

3 - IMMERSE WITH THE LOCAL CULTURE

 

One of the most fascinating reasons for traveling is to learn from a new culture.

If you go on vacation and miss the opportunity to interact with the locals, you are missing a huge opportunity to understand the culture of the place you are visiting.

Some of the great opportunities are:

It is so awesome when we can help to empower the local economy. In addition, it is a great way to learn and understand the people and their culture and background.

Ethical and Responsivel travel in Africa
My experience visiting a Himba village in Namibia was very authentic and remarkable

4 - BE OPEN MINDED

 

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.

Read about a journey through every country in the world.

Learn a few local words, 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.

 

Responsible travel tips in Cambodia
Eating a delicious meal with some locals in Cambodia, always the best experiences!

5 - SUPPORT FAMILY-OWNED AND CHARITY RELATED OPERATORS WHEN BOOK YOUR TOUR

 

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, like this amazing ethical experience in Sapa, Vietnam.

Before you book a tour make sure they are engaged with charities or supporting the local communities as you will have the opportunity to contribute while at the same time helping with the local causes.

Another positive impact is to help to preserve that specific culture as they are encouraged to deal with their traditional culture to protect or regain important parts of their cultural identity, a perfect example is the San People Living Museum in Namibia.

 

Ethical and Responsible travel tips to support local communities in Africa
The San People Living Museum in Namibia is an amazing example of supporting the local communities

6 - SHARE A HOUSE WITH LOCALS

 

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. She shared things that I would never read in any book or other blog.

I 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.

Another great experience was to spend time in a rural village in Nepal. It was such a humble and magical experience, as they made me feel a special guest during the whole time we spent together.

 

Ethical and responsible travel supports local homestay
With my wonderful host at the homestay at a rural village in Nepal - a very authentic experience

7 - MAKE CHOICES THAT SUPPORTS A CAUSE

 

It can be a place where they employ refugees, locals with special needs, empower women or support kids education.

Some Examples:

  • Hotel -  During my trip in Cambodia I stayed at a hotel where they train young local people to have a profession. They did a fantastic job, costing much less than other hotels that would offer me the same level of quality.
  • Restaurant - In Sydney Australia you can eat at the Lentils As Anything - Everyone is welcome to come for a meal and contribute in any way they can.
  • Tour Operator - For my trip to Nepal I chose to hire Epic Adventures, as they share 20% of their profits with local charities.
  • Travel Insurance - You can use services that choose to give back to the local communities like the World Nomads that funds over a hundred projects around the globe.

8 - BEHAVE ACCORDINGLY AND MIND YOUR MANNERS

 

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, take our shoes off to enter religious places and don’t take pictures of specific places such as inside temples.

If in doubt, you can always check and ask a local for permission.

 

Responsible and ethical travel tips in religious sites
Make sure you dress appropriated and take your shoes off to enter religious sites in Thailand

9 - RESPECT FOR OTHERS: LOCALS AND OTHER TRAVELERS

 

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:

  • Take a picture of a local without asking first
  • 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
  • Also apply the rules of #8 and Behave Accordingly
Ethical travel tips in Thailand
Respect the local culture by engaging with their traditions

10 - RESPECT THE ENVIRONMENT

 

Treat our environment as you treat your own house.

While on the road I have seen so many “ugly tourists’” behaviors that are unacceptable, just to get a unique (aka: stupid) selfie, such as breaking an iceberg with a stick or crossing a  barrier…grrrrrr!!!!

Also, remember that in many parts of the world water is scarce, and this is something we take for granted. Help to conserve water taking shorter showers and turning off the tap water while you brush your teeth.

My top picks:

 

The Himalayas is a very fragile place and require ethical traveler to visit
The Himalayas in Nepal is a stunning place to visit, it has been suffering the consequencies of the over-tourism

11 - LEARN A FEW LOCAL WORDS

 

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's tongue is Portuguese (not Spanish). We say “oi” and not “hola”

A great option is the free app Duolingo for quickly learning a few local words or phrases.

 

12 - DON'T LEAVE ANY TRACE

 

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 1 day hiking in the Himalayas
Trash I collected during 1 day hiking in the Himalayas

13 - DON'T GIVE MONEY TO CHILDREN

 

Children should be at school and not exploited by their families or even local gangs to make money while begging in the streets.

How do you handle beggars during your travels?

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.

Ethical and Responsible traevel tips also applies for chidren
I loved spending time with the kids in Sapa, while I shared a homestay
IMG_7522-2

14 - AVOID TRAVELING TO OVERCROWDED PLACES

 

Overtourism is a real problem and it means: There are too many people in a particular place at a particular time.

Some of these places are: Iceland, Italy, Spain and Croatia.

If you want to avoid the overtourism, and see the reality of a new country the best way is to avoid traveling to destinations considered as a "must-see" and instead, focus on places and destinations that are "off the beaten". There are many places around the Planet that need and want more travelers.

You will have an amazing opportunity to have an authentic experience and be rewarded with a pleasant experience with the local residents who will welcome you with open arms, instead of face the #TouristsGoHome kind of treatment.

 

Italy image of overtourism, follow the travel tips for ethical
The main attractions in Rome are normally overcrowed with tourists

15 - STUDY BEFORE YOU VISIT A COUNTRY

 

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.

There are amazing content available such as this book, watch documentaries, Vlogs on YouTube and Travel Blogs, and you can 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.

 

Ethical and Responsible travel in Cambodia
A monk in Cambodia giving blessing
IMG_8701-3

CONCLUSION ON ETHICAL & RESPONSIBLE TOURISM

 

We are constantly learning: If am I a perfect example of ethical and responsible traveler? Of course I am not, as I said before, I am constantly learning something new from each trip I go on. I also made some bad choices in the past, and I am just happy I became more conscious, and now I do my research before I travel to any new place on how I can be a better traveler.

Practice it: Being an ethical and responsible traveler will get much easier as we practice it, and we start to be more conscious about the decisions we make. Start practicing recycling and straw removal and trash pickup while at home, so when we do go somewhere, it is a habit.

Help to spread the word: Anytime when you have a good experience with a non-profit organization that helps to protect the environment, supports children education or give back to the local community - just give them good reviews, share your positive experience on TripAdvisor or social media. But on the other hand if you see any negative impact the tourist is doing, share that as well. This is the best way for us to continue to educate ourselves on best practices.

It is all about information and education - It is important we do our due diligence and vote with our dollars to support organizations that are doing ethical things. If we stand together and say “we want to travel responsibly,” we can make it happen.

 

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.

 

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Comments 20

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      Author

      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 🙂

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      Author

      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.

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      Author

      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.

  2. Your post is very educational and a good reminder of how to become a responsible traveler. It’s also beautifully written. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

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  3. Thank you for this great post, Paula. I couldn’t agree more with all of these points! I think that even though most people have good intentions while they’re travelling, they often don’t even realize what kind of negative impact their actions might be causing. That’s why it’s so important to keep on spreading the word and educating people on how to travel more responsibly.

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      Author

      Marjut, you are absolutely right. Most of the times we don’t know about the negative impact and for this reason I keep learning new things on how I can be better, and also, talk and educate my readers is part of my mission. We are constantly learning and sharing good advice.

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      Thank you Megan, I am so happy you enjoyed this post. I think it is so important to travel with a purpose to not only explore a new destination, but to create a positive impact on the places we get to visit.

  4. Hi Paola, just came across your post on FTB. My niche is also ethical and sustainable travel but struggle a lot to have any feedback on the group. I am happy to find you and would love to connect with you. This post is great, couldn’t agree more.

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      Author

      Hello Margarida, I am so happy your niche is also responsible travel. Yes please, let’s connect as I think it is so important we all travel respecting the local culture, the environment and to support the local communities adding value not just for us as a travelers, but also, leave a positive mark behind.

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