15 Tips on How to be a Responsible Tourist and Create Positive Impacts

If you are wondering what is a responsible tourist, and how you can creative a positive impact while you travel, you are at the right place!

As a world traveler, I feel that my mission is to be a Responsible Tourist and to constantly search for better alternatives and to learn how to make better choices at each place I visit.

My goal is to encourage people to be Responsible Travelers and make a positive impact on the places we visit, by both, minimizing and reversing the negative effects of travel. Some of these things can be over-tourism, environment, destructions of heritage and other aspects that we cover on this article in details.

Recently we have been seeing more information being shared about tourism’s negative impact and over-tourism has become a global problem.

We can all increase our awareness of the problems around us and help make smart choices that will have a positive impact on someone else’s life and preserve our environment & wildlife for future generations. So without further ado, I hope you enjoy this article on how to be a responsible tourist!

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Namib desert in 25 photos of Namibia

What is the Definition of Responsible Tourism

But what is the definition of Responsible Tourism and how can I be a responsible Tourist?

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 in actions that make us more ethical and responsible travelers.

Responsible Tourism
Hiking in the Himalayas in Nepal with an ethical tour operator

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

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 with the locals

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 directly into local people’s pockets.

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

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?

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

How Can I be a Responsible Tourist?

This is the big question now: How can I be a Responsible Tourist?

First of all, I want to start by saying that this article is not judgmental, and I believe it is all about education. The more we open for discussion and to learn from each other, the better we become. 

I have done some things during my traveling, that helped me to educate myself and correct my actions as a responsible traveler. I am here today to share what I have learned during my over 20 years of living in different countries, and traveling around the world…and I am still learning!

I got to the point that 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?”

Responsible Tourist

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.

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.

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 you can start today practicing some easy and eco-friendly travel hacks to be a more sustainable traveler. 

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 on our planet.

Responsible Tourism: 15 Tips to be a Responsible Tourist

1. Practice Compassion and Travel Responsibly

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 on how to be a Responsible Tourist.  

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.

Responsible Tourist

2. Don’t Support Animal Abuse is one of the #1 rules to be a Responsible Tourist!

This comes to the top of my list of ethical and responsible tourist as most animals used for tourism are abused and even Trip Advisor 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 in 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 on wildlife, and it is our obligation to educate each other and talk about it. It is the only recipe for improvement.

We Ethical and Responsible Tourists, 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.

P.S.: The picture below was taken during hiking in Thailand when I found this gorgeous lady chained. I decided to buy her some bananas to feed and give her some love.

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 and one of the best ways to be a responsible tourist, is to learn from the local 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, their culture, and their background.

Himba in Namibia is a great way to support the locals and be a responsible tourist
with the Himba tribe in Namibia, we still remain friends and talk weekly

4. Be Open-Minded is a rule for any Responsible Tourist

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 is a big part of being a responsible tourist. 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!

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 looking for ways to be a Responsible Tourist. 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.

Namibia self-drive and visit with the Bushman
“Katchaaaa” means it is all good – an amazing visit with the San people

6. Share a House with Locals is part of being a Responsible Tourist

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 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 spending time in a rural village in Nepal. It was such a humble and magical experience, as they made me feel like 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 Support a Cause

Traveling responsible is not only by being self-aware about individual impact. It is also making explicit choices for travel providers and service companies, by showing in your purchase decisions that you do care about what they do and how do they work to reduce their footprint and have a better impact on the community or environment.

This is how we as responsible tourists can expand the impact beyond ourselves and bringing industry a signal and contributing to the eco-responsible-community-animal friendly travel choices.

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 to 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. Be a Responsible Tourist and Behave Accordingly

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. Instead, be the responsible tourist that respect the locals.

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 appropriately and take your shoes off to enter religious sites in Thailand

9. Respect for Others: Locals & Other Travelers

This is a very important item for all of us, Responsible Travelers, 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
Responsible tourism in Thailand
Respect the local culture by engaging with their traditions

10. Respect the Environment

Treat our environment as you treat your own house, and support the Responsible Tourism and be a Responsible Traveler!

While on the road I have seen so many “ugly tourists’” behaviors that are unacceptable, just to get a unique (aka: stupid) selfie or an Instragrmmable picture

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

My top picks:

Travel responsible in Brazil

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 learning 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.

Or if you don’t have time to learn a few words, you can buy a translator device to assist you while interacting with the locals, in their own language. 

12. Be a Responsible Tourist and Don’t Leave Any Trace behind

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 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 a plastic water bottle, which normally takes a few minutes of usage and then takes hundreds of years to disintegrate in nature.
Travel responsible
Trash I collected during 1-day hiking in the Himalayas

13. Don’t Give Money to Children

This is another very important rule about being a Responsible Tourist. 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 to their stories or teaching them a new word in English.

Sapa Homestay experience in Vietnam
I loved my experience at an authentic homestay

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.

Currently, 1.2 Billion people travel per year. which is roughly 15% of the population. With that said, one of the most disturbing consequences of mass tourism is its environmental impact.

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

It is very important that we promote responsible tourism – and the good news is that it is not hard to travel responsibly. By slightly changing our behavior, it can be part of the solution.

If you want to avoid over-tourism 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 responsible tourist
The main attractions in Rome are normally overcrowded 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 is 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, a big part of being a Responsible Tourist, make sure that the activities you are planning to do are really ethical and support responsible tourism.

Responsible tourist

Travel Insurance for your trip

I never leave my home without travel insurance which is designed to help cover your expenses if something goes wrong on your trip. Things can go wrong, and you don’t want to get stuck paying tons of money if you get sick or have an accident without travel insurance. 

World Nomads Travel Insurance has been designed by travelers for travelers, to cover their trip essentials. Especially if you are like me, travel insurance is ideal for adventurous travelers. Travel smarter and safer – You can do your quick quote below and find out how little you can pay for the essential benefit of Travel Insurance for your next trip!

Sapa everything you should know
Local H’mong ladies in Sapa wearing traditional clothes

Responsible Tourist Conclusion

We are constantly learning: If am I a perfect example of a responsible tourist? 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’s education, or gives 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?

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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