What is responsible travel, everyone is talking about? I am pretty sure that you have heard of it, as in the age of climate change and mass tourism development, responsible travel getting more popular and necessary. Why did I decide to be a responsible traveler? How do I do responsible travel? Do you have to sleep in a tent and eat grass leaving your comfort far behind, in order to travel eco-friendly?
What is responsible travel and why is it important?
Green travel, eco travel, sustainable travel or responsible tourism are terms which all describe creating positive effect on the environment, while you travel. Your behaviors and simple choices you make during travel, do matter and by changing them, you can lower your negative impact. Responsible travel or responsible tourism are when people are conscious about either positive or negative choices they make.
Why did responsible tourism become popular? What have we done wrong? Our planet struggles with climate change and devastating human activity. Extensive deforestation, overpopulation, exploitation of resources, also mass tourism, became factors which deplet the Earth. The need of taking care of the planet is in every aspect of our life. While traveling, we have impact on the environment as well, and important is to be aware of sustainable travel forms.
Responsible tourism or ecotourism are trends in tourism which happen to be an answer against mass tourism, behaviors which are harmful for nature, wildlife and people. Ecotourism cares about the future of our planet but also respects the culture and heritage from the past.
How did I start to care about responsible travel?
A few years ago, living in a village in Poland, I wasn’t much aware of human impact on the environment. I also had no idea what is responsible travel or ecotourism. When I traveled to Asia and saw the river in India, trash in the Philippines or Indonesia, I was shocked. Middle East and North Africa weren’t much better. Seeing trashy beaches in Syria, destroyed heritage in Algeria or coral reefs vanished by bombing in Malaysia, were heart-breaking. Not to mention the rainforest of Borneo which is almost completely vanished due to palm oil plantations and the wildlife diversity decreases every single day.
This kind of experiences stay in the memory forever, and make me think twice about the little choices I take during my trip. Not everyone is aware about the extreme amount of the air pollution leaves every plane or where our waste is ending up? Are you aware? I wasn’t. It was the journey which opened my eyes, and changed the way I travel. At first I felt powerless as I cannot stop deforestation of Borneo or clean the ocean trash. But crying will not change anything. I got motivated, to take an action.
“Bee the change, you want to see in the world”
I started to explore the world more consciously, slowed down my trip, cared what and where I eat, what type of transportation I took, and how much waste I produced. Later, little by little came changes of my daily habits: buying more eco-friendly and fare trade products, eating more healthy, choosing the accommodation wisely. Step by step, I am trying to do my part: adding more “green” changes into my life and sustainable travel as well as spreading awareness.
16 Tips for responsible travel
Mother Earth is our home, and we have a right to see it. There is so much that stands out on this planet as astounding, so much to explore and unique cultures to learn from! Responsible tourism is the way we can all contribute and show nature how grateful we are. EVERY traveler is able to make their adventures more friendly to the environment, respect the people and animals who inhabit it. How to start a sustainable travel? Many travelers are unaware of some behaviors having negative effect on the environment. To help you in defining them, I prepared a list of responsible tourism tips for every next journey.
1. Travel by land
Did you know that one long flight can issue as much harmful gases as a regular car in one year! A bus, train or ferry will leave less pollution so it’s much more eco-friendly to choose to travel by land. If you cannot take other option than flying, try booking non-stop flights whenever you can. It’s takeoffs and landings that create most of an airplane’s carbon emissions. When renting a car consider hybrid or electric vehicle, which use less fuel and produce less carbon emissions than gas-guzzlers.
Not to mention walking or cycling which are healthy ways to explore the cities as well as countryside and absolutely eco-friendly. In fact, a budget traveling is more sustainable, so why not? I love cycling, and bike cities like Copenhagen or Ljubljana are just perfect examples of how the urban planning can contribute to no smog and traffic in the city.
2. Share a ride
Notice that most of the cars have just a driver while other sits are empty. How less pollution and traffic we could have, if we share rides or use public transport? Commuters are a perfect example of responsible travel by sharing a ride. Public buses or trains produce less carbon footprint and are cheaper than taking a car. What’s more, we can save up money when dividing the cost of the fuel with the other people. There are apps for a car share, which you can use in many countries. What about my favorite “sport” – hitch hiking, which is a free car sharing opportunity? It’s not only sustainable travel opportunity, but also amazing adventure worth considering.
3. Responsible travel = minimalism
Every kilo counts when traveling. The more weight, the more carbon emissions the plane, train or a bus produces. Try to keep your luggage to one carry-on size bag and pack only essentials. If you want to learn about minimalist packing, here is my video guide.
4. Travel slowly
Responsible travel is a slow travel. The slower you travel, the less carbon footprint you leave by using less transportation. Slow travel will allow you to explore the place better, feel it and get to know the culture deeper. Read more on: how to go slow travel and live like a local?
5. Sustainable accomodation
Planning your place to stay, you can also produce less carbon footprint or support local communities. Sustainable hotels or hostels are growing like mushrooms after rain. More and more accommodations get responsible tourism certificates, which means they care about the environment and carbon emission. You will be impressed how much some of them are involved by effective waste treatment systems, recycling, friendly energy sources such as solar energy or hydroelectric power.
Choosing a hotel or hostel in the cities, please check if they have a certificate of responsible tourism. The list is growing, and ecotourism starts to be finally visible and accessible. Going to the countryside to immerse with nature, does not mean, you will have to sleep in the tent. While camping is a perfect eco-friendly solution, some people may want to have more comfort. Here come eco resorts, eco-bungalows, eco farms or eco-villages. The options are numerous, the point is to look for them. Take time to do a research before the trip to find about ecotourism in that area.
6. Stay with locals
Less carbon footprint leaves shared accommodation. In general, it’s more eco-friendly to choose a dorm than single room or sleep in the houses of local people. Again, many options to sleep for free when you travel by staying with locals, from which my favorite community is couch surfing. For me it’s the best way to explore the culture deeper, see how local people live, what they eat and do. Locals know the best places to see, and their recommendations made me discover unbelievable spots which tourists were not aware about. From paid room rentals in the local houses, the most popular is AirBnB. Locals rent their spare rooms or houses which gives you an option to sleep cheaper and support their economy.
7. Sustainable travel activities
Immerse yourself in outdoors for a nature-filled and carbon-reducing holiday. You can sail, snorkel, scuba dive, hike, paddleboat, kayak, bike, swim, bird-watch, meditate or do your favorite sports. Options for ecotourism activities are infinite.
When going to the islands it will be more eco-friendly to join the public boat or share with other travelers than taking a private charter or plane. Choose local guides to support economy of small businesses. Before booking a tour check for eco agencies. I remember my dilemma while going to Indonesia for a jungle trekking. Choosing the right agency was a bunch of research, but it was absolutely worth it! I found one agency which thinks in perspective about jungle conservation and inspires the other agencies in doing so.
However, be aware that greenwashing is an issue which started to develop along with green travel. Greenwashing applies to those companies, hotels or agencies which use terms eco, green or organic to earn money, cheating that they are sustainable businesses. Ecotourism is in general more expensive, some entrepreneurs take advantage of it, while the only thing they care about is money. I will never forget my experience on Lombok Island, Indonesia where I chose eco-agency to climb up the Rinjani Volcano. I was shocked when I saw that what distinguish them from the others and make them eco is the fact, that they pick up the trash after they cook on the trail. You may think that taking your own garbage is not ecotourism, it’s just logical. In Asian reality, however, this is not always clear and this is why misusing the term eco often applies.
8. Support local economies
Responsible traveler is aware on what he or she spends money. Instead of supporting big chain restaurants or shops, you choose to support local businesses. Shopping malls tend to kill small companies and by using cheap labor from poor countries, make rich investors richer.
No matter if you buy clothes, food or souvenirs try to go local. My favorite places to visit when I travel are street markets. This is where the authentic life takes place! No matter which country, street markets are the best places to get fresh food from local farmers. One of my weaknesses is buying hand-made crafts. As I am an artist myself plus a responsible traveler, I just cannot stop myself from getting some unique souvenirs from locals. Whenever I travel, I always have a cotton bag for shopping in my luggage. Getting this into your habit, will avoid unnecessary plastic waste.
Buying locally also means to eat local food rather than in international restaurants which produce much more carbon footprint on transportation and are not always ethical. Learn about local cuisine from street food stands or markets. Try local beers, wines, cognac, whiskey rather than imported alcohols. Don’t be that guy who goes to India and looks for McDonalds and KFC.
Read more: 8 reasons for shopping locally while you travel.
9. Immerse with the culture
Respecting the local custom is a very important part of responsible travel. Read a bit about the culture, before you go, to know how to speak and behave. You don’t want to have a wrong dress code and accidentally show the wrong gestures as I did in Iran. Even if you disagree with some rules or find some rituals shocking and controversial, you should honor your role as a visitor and treat traditions with respect.
Step outside of your comfort zone and immerse with locals! Have a unique culture experience by asking locals about the history, participating local festival or listening to the local music. You will see how much it makes local people happy, that you show interest in their culture or try to learn some new words. Simple “thank you” in local language will make a big difference.
10. Live like a local
When you are at home, you don’t wash your towel every day, right? Don’t put the towel in the hotel on the floor. Hang it, so the cleaning service knows that you want to use it again. Taking shorter showers and not letting the water run while we brush teeth, will save a lot of water. Having refillable water bottle will not only reduce your plastic waste but also safe you money as more and more public spaces provide water dispenser. Save the electricity by switching off the lights and electronic devices when you go out.
11. Respect the nature
Take only photos, leave only footprints – says a well known quote. Never litter and if you can, pick up the trash from the trail or beach. It’s a great random act of kindness, which will enrich you and help planet Earth.
Do not use chemical deodorants, mosquito repellents and other sprays. Read their label and you will learn how much you harm your own lungs and the air around you. The same with chemical cosmetics. Nowadays, there are so many organic products, that you really don’t need to poison your skin and nature.
12. Responsible travel and wildlife
As a responsible traveler do not feed nor disturb the wildlife. While snorkeling or swimming, be aware of the marine life around you. Do not touch anything and be careful while using your fins. Marine life is very sensitive. Even chemical sun screen can harm them. Do not take shells as a souvenir as it can damage local ecosystem. Many sea creatures use empty shells to hide from predators.
Say no to any animal use for business such as horse carriage, elephant riding or circus. Those animals suffer! When going on safari or jungle trekking, do a research about the experience and check if it’s responsible. I saw wildlife in the touristic places, to take a photo with, such as birds, tigers or snakes. Those are WILD animals and their place is in their natural habitat. Do not support people which captivated them and use to earn money. It’s not ethical.
I was terrified to see prisoned civet cats which produce the most expensive coffee in the world. Coffee made out of their shit, from unique tradition became a massive, not ethical business. Be aware of buying the luwak coffee in South East Asia.
13. Reduce your waste
You never know where your waste is going, seriously. I am not talking only about the sea pollution, rivers, beaches and mountain trails. After reading about the Philippines and other Asian countries buying trash from US, Canada or Australia, I was terrified. Animals die when their stomach gets stuck with plastic, marine life dies and I could write an infinite of examples but they all come to one point: plastic is one of the biggest issues of our generation.
First of all, try to produce as little waste as possible. Secondly, reuse and recycle whatever is possible. Always say no to straws and one time use cutlery or plates. Never take away food or drinks packed in styrofoam, as this material is not recyclable and includes harmful chemicals. Carry your own refillable bottle, cotton bag for shopping and other essential gadgets for responsible traveler.
14. Don’t waste paper
Before the trip we sometimes get stressed and print tons of pages which may be useful but in the end are not necessary. Rethink what is really essential. While you travel, return maps, brochures to the tourist info, once you’re finished with them. They can be still helpful for other travelers. Moreover, you can refuse the paper bills or tickets, if it’s possible by getting your shopping done on the street market or buying tickets online.
15. Volunteer and support local initiatives
Responsible travel also means getting involved in sustainable tourism initiatives. There are lots of ways to volunteer from eco – farms, wildlife rescue centeres to teaching at school. The most popular online platforms to find a volunteer work abroad are helpx or WWOOF. Commit a random act of kindness such as cleaning up the beach from rubbish. These types of experiences enrich your personality, protect the environment and provide unforgettable memories. You can make a difference!
16. Help saving the bees from extinction
Bees are extremely important as they pollinate flowers. We should thank the bees for 2/3 of our food! Because of common pesticides use, the bees are on the extinction list. There are many ways to save the bees and absolutely everyone can help! While traveling you can support local bee-keepers by buying their products or volunteering in planting the flowers in empty public spaces. Take an action!
Does my impact on responsible tourism count?
“Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean”
You can’t help leaving a charcoal smudge in your wake, no matter what. I am trying my best, but I am not perfect in sustainable travel either. However, thinking that small changes you make will not change anything is completely wrong. If everyone would think like that, indeed nothing would change. Power of individual actions is insane and spreads like a virus. Brick by brick we can build more sustainable environment. Responsible tourism is the future of tourism.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
The Bee is a nature lover and tea addict. Loves the idea of slow life and responsible traveling, constantly trying to improve to bee more eco-friendly. Appreciates old cultures and traditions, loves to immerse with locals, listen to ethnic music as well as taste regional food and drinks. Her favorite spots while traveling are family houses and street markets.