How to travel responsibly? We gathered here some information about responsible travel; read through and think about how you could travel responsibly.

Responsible travelling

Travelling widens your world, and to many travelling is the highlight of the year and the dearest and best memories have been made while on the road. Travelling has multifaceted effects not only on the environment, your destination and the local people, but also on yourself. This is why it's good to take a moment to think about why and how you are travelling and what is the impact of your travelling to nature and to other people. At its best, travelling is a fantastic experience to you, and your travelling gives back to your destination country in many ways. However, as a traveller, you may unknowingly burden or do damage to the local environment and population. We've gathered here some information regarding travelling responsibly; read through and take a moment to think, what you could do to travel responsibly. 

What is responsible travelling?

At the very basic, responsible travelling means travelling that leaves an overall positive impact on the environment, society, population and economy at your destination country. With responsible travelling, we aim to make sure that tourism has a positive effect on the destination without burdening, damaging or causing suffering to the local population and environment. Responsible travel is not only about minimizing your flights and maximizing the time you spend abroad (although your carbon footprint is an important part of travelling responsibly). Responsible travel also means that at your destination, you act respectful towards the local culture, minimize your effect on the environment by for example avoiding single-use plastics, do not take part in activities that are harmful to animals (such as elephant rides) and make sure you use your money in a way that directly benefits the local people by for example staying at small independent accommodations and buying your souvenirs from local produces and sellers. Responsible travelling can also mean volunteering or other work and activities that benefit the local community and/or environment. 

For many, travelling is a way to relax and leave behind the everyday life at home, but that does not mean that the traveller is free of responsibility while on the road. Reading up on local customs and habits, taking into account your impact on the environment, and respecting the local culture should be self-evident to all travellers and those who are planning to travel. Because responsible travelling has so many things included in the term, you may feel like you need a bit of help with planning a trip according to the principles of responsible travelling. Many travel experts and agencies are already operating responsibly and share openly and specifically information on what they are doing to ensure responsibility and what kind of objectives they have for increasing responsibility in their operations. How can a traveller be sure that their travel agency or tour operator is operating and working responsibly? 

How do I know if my travel agency/tour operator is operating responsibly?

Responsible travel is on the rise right now and many travel agencies and tour operators are already operating responsibly. It's not always simple, however, to know that for sure and in what ways exactly the operator is working responsibly, or if an operator has responsibility or sustainability policies in the first place. The first thing to do is to check the travel agency's or tour operator's website. If the company is committed to assuring and promoting responsible travel, they are likely to have their operations, policies and goals listed and presented on their website. Also, googling and a phone call to your operator will take you a long way; ask frankly, how your operator is ensuring responsibility every step of your way. 

Because responsible travel is a hot topic now and many travellers expect tour operators, travel agencies, accommodation providers and their destination countries to act responsibly in tourism, there is a risk that a service provider may talk about responsibility, while not acting accordingly. If a hostel is promoting itself as an eco option, but still offers shampoo and hygienic products in single-use packaging, washes the towels and bed sheets daily and uses the nearby beach to release their sewage water, their certainly not acting responsibly, even if they had solar panels on their roof. Whether you are travelling independently or using the services of a travel operator, a little detective work with Google, TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet will help you avoid green-washing.  

Me as a traveller

The concept of responsible travel includes a myriad of different guidelines, best practices and policies and it may feel distressing and difficult that the traveller themselves should always remember to act according to the many principles of responsible travelling. There are a few rules of thumb that are fairly easy for every traveller to follow and execute on their travels home and abroad, near and far:

  • Minimize your carbon footprint and impact. Flying is the biggest burden on the environment, and has almost always a bigger impact on it than travelling on land or at sea. Avoid weekend taking weekend trips where you need to fly; when you travel, travel for a longer period of time that allows you to cover multiple destinations by train, bus, car or hiking. Travelling outside the high season is also a good way to minimize your impact, both on the environment and your travel budget. Many destinations suffer from over-tourism during the high seasons, but are struggling to make ends meet outside it. Consequences of over-tourism are for example a higher rent rate for local people at the destination and erosion. 
  • Volunteer. Could you spend a part of your time travelling as a volunteer worker? Volunteering is a great way to help the local community or take part in environmental conservation projects at your destination. Check out some responsible volunteer work organizations in our Volunteering abroad article. 
  • Choose ecological accommodation and a responsible travel operator. Get to know the accommodation options at your destination, and find out how they are operating responsibly: are they rationing their use of water, are they recycling their trash, are they hiring locals and are they avoiding single-use items. If you haven't picked your next destination yet, see if any of these beautiful ecological options would tickle your fancy. Make sure that your travel operator does not take you to unethical volunteering or natural destinations, and only operates with service providers who operate responsibly and sustainably. 
  • Use your money on local services and products. Stay with local, independent accommodation providers, eat at local independent restaurants, buy locally produced goods and products and use local guide and experience services. This way you'll benefit the local community directly with your travels.
  • Pick animal experiences and nature destinations with care. Animals should never be used to entertain people, and wild animals should live as free of human contact and interaction as possible. Elephant rides, tiger petting, crocodile shows, animal circuses and taking pictures with snakes and birds are not ethical animal tourism, but cruelty, and cause irreparable harm and damage to the animals. If you want to see wild animals on your travels, responsible safaris and responsibly operating natural parks are a good option, as well as volunteering in an animal welfare project. 
  • Minimize trash and pack reusable items with you. Pack your trusty water bottle with you to avoid having to buy a plastic bottle every time you head out. A water purifier/filter is also a good investment. A lunch box, a travel cup, a metal straw and your own cutlery will also likely be handy in many a place. An easy way to avoid plastic waste is to pack a canvas bag to serve as your shopping bag on your travels.
  • Spend your money responsibly. Think twice, if it's sensible to bargain over a product that will cost you 1 EUR. Most likely the sellers and producers have good use to your euro, but it won't break your bank to use it. Be sure not to give money to begging - rather, donate to a local charity or school. Begging might be a way of income for a family, which may keep children away from school and on the streets begging for money. Begging is also often organized and may be linked to organized crime.
  • Encourage others to travel responsibly. Speak about your travelling experiences, your trips and your best practices. Personal experiences and tips have a big influence also on the travelling habits of those around us, so share your experience of responsible travelling with your friends and family.

We hope you found some information you had been looking for and that you'll pay note to the principles of responsible travelling the next time you head out to the world. Happy travels!



World Tourism Organization: Sustainable Development

Lonely Planet: How to choose a responsible travel operator

Lonely Planet: Sustainable Travel - 6 ways to make a positive impact on your next trip

Responsible Travel: Top tips for travelling responsibly

Nomadasaurus: 10 Proven Ways to Be a Responsible Traveller in 2020

Nomadasaurus: The Ultimate Guide to Sustainable Tourism in 2020

WorldlyAdventurer: Responsible Travelling: 5 Ways to Travel Better in 2020

KILROY: Vastuullinen matkailu Why You Shouldn't Be Obsessed With Shoestring Travel

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