Last Updated on August 31, 2021 by

This short piece was extracted from my book, The Adventure Traveler’s Handbook. To read more on it, head over to my book page or to Amazon.

How To Travel Responsibly

How to Travel Responsibly

As travelers, it is our responsibility to ensure the activities we engage in protect the environment and support communities. When traveling with an operator, we need to look beyond the eco-friendly claims, and ask what they are really doing to support the environment, local people, animals, and plants. Here are some tips to help you travel responsibly:

Reduce your carbon footprint

Offset your carbon emissions and reduce pollution by taking trains, ferries, or bicycles instead of flying. Economy class is best, for the same reasons as carpooling and public transportation. Each flyer’s share of a flight’s carbon emissions is relatively less because it’s spread out over more people. You can also buy carbon offsets to balance your carbon emissions.

Choose a responsible operator

Ask to see the tour operator’s written policy for responsible tourism and make sure the policy explains how they minimize environmental impacts and support the local economy. Find out how many local people they employ and if they work with local charities. It’s good to know how the operator implements its policy and if it has a monitoring system in place to ensure that everyone follows the policy. If the company has no policy in place (written or unwritten), it probably isn’t truly committed to these values. One of the reasons why I like traveling with G Adventures is their emphasis on going local and contributing to communities that are in need — check out what they do as a social enterprise.

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We used local porters on our trek in Nepal with G Adventures

Look for eco-friendly hotels

These days, every other hotel claims to be eco-friendly. How do we know which ones to trust? Check if hotels have Green Key certification, a reliable certification system recognized worldwide. The criteria used to determine certification includes water and energy waste, making guests aware of how they can be more environmentally friendly during their stay, environmental management, staff involvement in green initiatives, the use of chemicals and other more specific determinates. During your stay at the hotel, do your part by indicating to the hotel’s cleaners that you don’t need your towels and sheets changed daily. Switch off lights whenever you’re not in the room, or open the windows instead of using the air conditioning.

Gambia's Makasutu Lodge is a great example of an eco-friendly lodge

Support local businesses

Hire a local guide instead of a foreigner. Your money goes directly to the community, and locals tend to be more knowledgeable about the destination. Whenever possible, visit locally owned establishments, including guesthouses, restaurants, and shops. Another option is a homestay with a local family. This is a wonderful opportunity for eco travelers who want to immerse deeply in local culture. Do not buy products made from endangered species, hard woods or ancient artifacts. You can also try to visit and support local conservation or social projects and even bring them useful gifts.

Visiting a local orphanage in Uganda

Respect local culture

Learn a few basic words in the local language; people always appreciate your interest in learning their culture. Simple words like “hello” and “thank you” can go a long way. Learn Spanish when you’re in Latin American and you won’t feel like such a gringo. Dressing appropriately in a conservative environment will allow you to fit in better. In many cultures, women are required to cover up most or all of their bodies. Be sure to find out the cultural norms beforehand. The locals will appreciate your efforts. Remember that local people have different ways of thinking and concepts of time, this just makes them different not wrong – cultivate the habit of asking questions. Ask before taking pictures of people. Some people do not want to be photographed. Good travel photographers are sensitive to the desires of their subjects and accommodate refusals gracefully.

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Visiting the home of my local guide in Iran

Avoid aggressive bargaining

While some vendors do expect you to bargain, remember that your purchases directly affect their livelihood. Decide if you want to hang on to that extra dollar or if it could help them more. It’s often difficult to know your limits in bargaining so if you’re not sure, ask your local hotel for tips. Remember that the purchases you make directly affect vendors’ livelihoods, so decide if you really need to hang onto that extra dollar or if it could impact the vendor more.

All smiles at the local market in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Reduce, reuse, and recycle

It has been estimated that 29% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions result from the “provision of goods,” which means manufacturing, transport, and final disposal of goods. Be sure to always dispose your garbage properly, and minimize your electricity and water consumption. Reuse a bottle by refilling it from safe water sources or by disinfecting tap water with the Steripen.  By buying used products and reselling or recycling items you no longer use, you dramatically reduce your carbon footprint.

Reusing produce at an ecolodge in Thailand

Leave no trace

Do not leave garbage anywhere, or take anything from the environment. Stay on designated walking trails and camping spots, and always bring a trash bag to carry your waste with you. If there are no established toilets, relieve yourself at least 200 feet away from rivers and lakes.

What do you do to minimize your impact? Did we miss out any responsible travel tips?