Once they invited Mother Teresa to take part in a street protest against poverty and she refused it kindly. The reason? She explained she would never fight AGAINST something, but rather always FOR something.
You might ask, how does that relate to ecotourism and responsible travel? Well, when we’re on the road, most of us tend to be aware of what we don’t like rather than having a clear idea of what we actually stand for.
Sometimes we don’t like the way locals treat tourists, but we don’t know how we should respect the other cultures ourselves. We feel upset when watching a chained monkey jumping around his owner begging for money, but we rarely dare to say a word to him. We are disgusted when we see an illegal dump in a beautiful valley surrounded by palms, but we don’t think twice before grabbing another unnecessary plastic bag every time we go shopping and using more than one napkin in a café.
There are many factors that modify the way we travel and one of them is our love for nature. Living back in Frankfurt in Germany, we used to go hiking almost every weekend, no matter which season it was and later we switched to long bike tours.
Now, while travelling, we look for hiking paths or at least a green park to have a walk through in any place we visit, we try to talk to locals and support them as much as we can, which makes us also more observant and curious.
If we should name one single moment that enhanced our fondness for nature and changed our perspective on travelling, it would be volunteering at the Bring the Elephant Home Foundation where we helped to document the restoration of the natural habitat of wild elephants.
We realised that just to be passionate about hiking, breathing fresh air of pine trees and petting every cute cat and dog or smiling at a lady who prepares your divine smoothie is not enough when you want to help to preserve natural resources and respect other countries with their cultures and peoples.
We all might know what is not right, but it’s more important that we are all more conscious while travelling and take positive and inspiring actions ourselves.
In this post, we’re very happy to ask our friends and like-minded travellers to share some helpful tips on how to travel responsibly and how to actively support the idea of ecotourism so that you can start with these small yet impactful steps yourself. In the end, it’s always best to start yourself if you want to motivate others to follow.
Aligning Your Travel Spending with Your Values
Audrey Scott & Daniel Noll from Uncornered Market
“When it comes to the economic impact of your travels on the local community, it’s not just about the amount of your travel budget you have to spend, but about how you choose spend it. What are some of the ways that we can spend our money locally so they are aligned with our responsible travel values?
One easy way to do this is by patronizing a variety of restaurants and shops in order to spread the economic benefit of your visit around the community. Look for places that are locally owned and family-run, as the money will go directly to the community in that way. An added bonus of this approach is that it affords you variety, such as the opportunity to try different foods and to engage with different people.
Another great alternative is to seek out social enterprises wherever you are traveling. These are organization that are run like businesses, but the focus is on community development and the profits usually go to supporting that. Often an organization will train disadvantaged members of society for skill development and better futures (e.g., hospitality training for street kids or single mothers). Our experience is that the quality of the food, crafts, and services is often above average. And, you have another connection to the community to learn about socio-economic issues. Next time you travel, consider checking out the social enterprise listing at Grassroots Volunteering to doing to see if social enterprises are at work where you are headed.”
Educate Locals about Environmental Issues
Barbara Ann Weibel from Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel
“No matter where I am in the world, I refuse to allow any purchase to be placed in a plastic bag. When grocery shopping, I use a cloth bag I carry with me or just put the items in my daypack. I always explain to the clerk that I do so because plastic bags are very bad for the environment.
I also make sure products are not made from endangered species, ivory, rare hardwoods, or are antiques that should not leave the country. This extends even to food; for example I would never consider eating Shark fin soup or taking a supplement that contains Rhino horn.
I always try to educate the person who is serving me about the implications of selling such merchandise; how it encourages poaching and senseless, brutal killing of animals for their organs. Unfortunately, these explanations usually fall on deaf ears. If there is demand for a product, shops will keep selling these things.It is our responsibility to stop buying such things so that there will no longer be a market for them.”
Make Your Exhaust Pipe Smell Like French Fries
Yara Coelho from Heart of a vagabond – A vegan travel guide
“I might be one of the very few travelers who hates flying. Not just because standing still in a tiny little seat for many hours feels absolutely claustrophobic, but because airplanes pollute a lot. Because traveling by train within Europe costs a fortune, in 2004, I decided to save some money and buy a big van which I later transformed into a mobile home. I found a place where I could buy DIY biodiesel, made with recycled old vegetable oils and for a long while, my dogs and I traveled all over Europe, causing zero impact on the environment.
Traveling by land can be one of the most fulfilling and memorable experiences with absolute freedom to visit the most off the beaten path spots. If you have a diesel car, you can use biodiesel and turn your trip into an Ecological adventure and instead of toxic smoke your car can smell like french fries.“
Be Responsible, Be Local
Franca Calabretta & Dale Davies from Angloitalian, Follow Us!
“No matter if you are a tourist on holiday or you traveling is your lifestyle, it’s very important that you do it responsibly. What we learnt personally is that when it comes to responsible tourism is essential to do your research before reaching your destination so you are sure you choose the right activities and accommodation that are environmentally friendly and that don’t use people or animals as tourism attractions. We personally prefer to use home-stays if we can instead of staying in hotel chains to support the local families.
We try to avoid flying when possible to reduce our carbon footprint but if it cannot be avoid it’s important to offset them. Walk to get to places, use public transport or cycle instead which is even better. Also in Europe we have been using car sharing a lot which is incredibly good for the environment, five people in the same vehicle is better than only one driving alone.
We also think that volunteering is another way to support local communities, no matter if it is to help animals, children or any other project.
Ultimately we think that traveling responsibly will really give you the chance to have a more real experience, to get to know the local culture better in order to respect it and blend into it.”
The True Cost of Water
Alesha Bradford and Jazza Nomadica from NOMADasaurus
“2.4 million tonnes of plastic are used to make bottles to store drinking water every year. In developing countries most of these end up in landfill or scattered across the landscape, polluting waterways, oceans, mountains and plains.
To combat this there are ways that a traveller can help minimise their footprint. By carrying steel water bottles we can make use of the ability to refill from large filtered water jugs that are available in many guesthouses and restaurants. When planning on staying in one place for more than a few days consider buying your own 20L water vessel and return it to the shop you buy it from afterwards so they can refill it and sell it to the next customer.
Taking it a step further, purchase a water sterilisation tool such as portable filters or a ‘SteriPen’. These allow you to take ordinary tap and reservoir water that may be polluted and eradicate bacteria that is harmful to our health.
As an added bonus this also saves you money. In SE Asia a 1.5L water bottle costs between 50c and $2. In comparison a refill is usually 25c or less and to purchase your own 20L jug is about $5.
Clean water is a limited commodity, and those of us lucky enough to be able to travel have the ability to reduce the amount of waste and resources required to provide us with this necessary sustenance. Not everyone has this luxury and we need to remember this next time we go to buy a bottle of water from a convenience store in a developing nation.”
Being a Responsible Tourist in SE Asia
Diana Edelman from D Travels ‘Round
“Southeast Asia offers so many opportunities for experiences travelers can get only in this magical part of the world. Unfortunately, there is a dark side to tourism in SE Asia (and many other parts of the world). People come here and want many things, including that selfie riding an elephant or posing with a tiger, monkey, snake and more. Sadly, this demand for exotic animal experiences drives the illegal trade of these animals, sub-par living conditions and abuse.
When planning a visit to animal tourism attractions, take the time to consider the following questions:
1. Are the animals chained when they are not working?
2. Are they being forced to perform in any manner?
3. Are there babies without mothers?
4. Are these animals endangered? And if so, are there true conservation efforts being made, or does it just appear to be a game of smoke and mirrors? There are many resources out there about endangered species.
5. What are their living conditions?
Take the time to research the places with animal experiences before going. Check out Care for the Wild and their Right Tourism program for a checklist regarding responsible animal tourism.
Skip user-review sites like Trip Advisor. It is easy for reviewers to project their own human emotions on animals. Instead, investigate a place and get a better idea of what money is being used for, how the animals are. It is easy to fall into the trap in SE Asia, thanks to green washing and PR campaigns. And remember, these animals aren’t here for tourists. They deserve to live their lives without having to work for Facebook photos and bucket list tick marks.”
Learning from a Local Guide
Margherita Ragg & Nick Burns from The Crowded Planet
“Ecotourism by definition involves immersing oneself in nature, often visiting natural environments such as forests, mountains or deserts. Sometimes it also means getting in touch with other cultures that may follow customs and habits different from our own. For these reasons, we believe travelling with a local guide is a great idea when talking about ecotourism. Penny pinched travellers may be unwilling to fork out and prefer going solo, but a local guide can offer a wealth of information that no guidebook can match.
During our recent trip to Madagascar we travelled for a week with a local guide called Jimmy, who not only acted as our escort and translator, but also introduced to us the nature and customs of the territory, enriching our river trip with folklore, tales and legends.
Not to mention, travelling with a local guide is also better in terms of security. Local guides know their way around the land, and may also know medicinal plants and natural remedies to treat ailments, invaluable knowledge when travelling off the beaten track for extended periods of time.
Hiring a local guide also supports their communities. When hiring a local guide, it is important to deal with them directly, or choosing a cooperative that pays them a fair wage and prevents exploitation.”
Think Green When Planning and Packing
Charli Moore & Benjamin Jones from Wanderlusters
“You know that saying ‘there’s an app for that,’ more and more apps are coming to market with sustainable and ecologically friendly solutions to reduce the impact of our international travels. From green mobile guides helping you to travel the world and leave a positive footprint, to apps that search for the best cafes and eateries using locally sourced produce, there’s a wealth of technology out there to help you stay green when you travel.
Hate packing? Why not Pack For A Purpose and carry much needed aid to positively impact the communities you visit. By donating just 2.27 kilos/5lbs of your checked luggage allowance, you could carry a stethoscope, a blood pressure cuff and 500 band-aids, or five deflated footballs for local children.
On average, one woman will use over 11,000 tampons or pads in during the course of her lifetime, all of which will end up in landfill or the ocean. Using Mooncup negates 100% of this waste and can help to protect your natural balance. As a traveller I find that the Mooncup also removes the stress of trying to find organic cotton and bleach, latex, and BPA free products in more remote parts of the world. For a rather lyrical insight into the benefits of a Mooncup check out this wicked rap battle.”
Respect the Dress Code of the Local Culture
Dani Heinrich from Globetrottergirls
“A big pet peeve of mine is when travellers completely ignore the dress code of a local culture. In my opinion, it is completely disrespectful to disregard a culture’s dress code, especially when it has a religious background. Women in Muslim countries shouldn’t show too much skin for example, and not wear tank tops or super short shorts.
In countries like India where women are dressed moderately, travelers should do the same: make sure to cover your legs and your arms, and carry a scarf or sarong to be able to cover your head and shoulders before entering a temple / sacred site. Skirts and dresses should always cover your knees. In my experience, you are usually given a long robe before entering a Muslim temple – but not all of them allow women to enter.
If that’s the case, you should also respect that – I have seen women peek into a temple where the doors were open more than once, only to be yelled at by angry men from the inside. It doesn’t just put you in a bad light, but travelers in general.”
Reduce Your Waste, Shop Local, Eat Local and Stay Local
Katie Lutz from From Shores to Skylines
“One of the best ecotourism tips we’ve learned is to shop, eat and stay at locally owned establishments. Not only do you generally get a more authentic and memorable experience with higher quality goods, food and service, but you’re also putting money directly back into the local economy. This benefits the local community way more than giving your money to non-local places will. I’ve found that creating that connection with local people amplifies our experience as well.
We also try to be aware of the amount of garbage we dispose of while traveling. Many countries don’t have adequate waste disposal and its polluting environments and water systems. One of the easiest things to do is reuse water bottles. It’s a necessity to drink lots of water, and those plastic bottles pile up fast.
We also try to avoid getting takeout at restaurants and eat in whenever possible. By eating in the restaurant, you use dishes and utensils that are washed and reused. Even though our contributions are small, if everyone takes small actions like these, it can make a huge difference.”
Do Your Research and Be Mindful
Linda McCormick from EcoTraveller Guide
“If you are genuinely interested in making responsible choices while you travel, it’s important to do a little research and investigate whether the place you’re staying or the tour you’re going with carries any accreditation. Businesses will often share their sustainable practices when asked, if they don’t already have them displayed.
Be warned though, just because a company or hotel says it’s eco-friendly doesn’t mean it is. There are too many unscrupulous people out there quite happy to jump on the ‘eco’ bandwagon, touting their practices as green when they’re far from it, so make sure you dig a little deeper to discover their true intentions.
Respecting local customs and culture is vitally important, especially in highly religious or conservative countries. Dress appropriately, especially in and around sacred sites, and think before you strip off on a beach – check if it is allowed.
Try not to be too intrusive when taking photos – it’s good to ask permission beforehand as some people don’t enjoy being photographed, particularly in touristy areas where they might be subject to the lens twenty times a day.”
Which of the tips would you like to implement into your travels? Do you have any other suggestions on how to make travelling more meaningful and responsible?
42 thoughts on “Ecotourism and Responsible Travel: Useful Tips from Expert Travel Bloggers”
Wow! What an incredible post guys! Stunning photos (like always) and very original and important tips that can radically change the negative impact we have on the world, specially as travelers!
Thank you so much for inviting me to take part on this amazing article!
Thanks to you, Yara! We are very grateful to be able to share all these tips, as we are confident that the more we all encourage the others to travel responsibly, the more good actions will be performed.
I just wanted to thank you so much for including a shoutout for Pack for a Purpose in your well-written blog. Making all travelers aware of how easy it is to assist community projects around the world is our goal and you have helped us accomplish this.
With warm regards and appreciation,
Thanks goes to Charli Moore from Wanderlusters, who mentioned you in her tip 🙂 It’s always a pleasure to support any community with mindful concept behind, online or in real. Best of luck, Rebecca!
What an amazing collection of tips on responsible travel, there is always more to learn from others. Some things might seem common sense (maybe to us) but they are not for everyone, that ‘s why is always good to encourage to be more responsible whilst travelling 🙂
Thanks again for letting us contribute to something so important and that we really care about, hopefully this article will be inspiring for others to be more mindful and respectful on the road.
We do appreciate your contribution, Franca! We believe spreading the word is as good as doing conscious steps ourselves.
Some very simple “local actions” have a great global impact and we are very grateful that you and other travel writers were willing to share the thoughts and inspire those who are willing to learn something new.
Great tips from everyone and some that we wish we’d know at the very beginning of our travels (in reference to ‘green washing’).
One part in particular that I really connected with was Barbara’s piece which said, “It is our responsibility to stop buying such things so that there will no longer be a market for them”, and I couldn’t agree more. Purposefully we’ve never bought any souvenirs during the past two years as so many of the items on offer are adding to the neglect of nature or abuse of animals. By buying items related to bad practices we encourage people to keep doing them. We as tourists must be more mindful of the effects even the smallest purchase can make on the bigger problem.
I can hear you, Dale. Unfortunately, so many street vendors try to sell the products which involve more pain than pleasure. Literally. The path to educate local communities to make their living sustainable and with respect to the nature is long, but not impossible.
I’ve just finished reading the “Looptail” of Bruce Poon Tip and for a few times I found myself with tears in my eyes when I read his stories about how he started some great, long-term projects in “developing” countries based on random meetings with locals and pure observation of the environment where he traveled. Great reading about responsible & sustainable tourism.
What a fabulous collaboration, I loved learning about everyone’s tips. Thanks so much for letting us contribute to helping getting the word out about how important responsible travel is! 🙂
Many thanks to you, Katie. We’re happy to get to know you more through this post.
Brilliant tips guys. I have never even thought of using biodiesel, but it sounds like a great idea. Plus, french fries smell a lot better than exhaust fumes! I also love Barbara’s idea of educating the locals about environmental issues. We did something similar in Mongolia, telling locals that it was very bad to burn plastic bottles to dispose of them. Thanks for a great rundown of green travel tips, I’ll try to employ as many as possible over our upcoming travels.
Thanks for taking part, Margherita, so much appreciated! Ohhh, my idea of pure Mongolian nature has just become more realistic…
Great write-up everyone. There are some great tips from everyone!!
A very useful resource for people that want to reduce their carbon footprint when travelling but aren’t sure how to do so. I practice a lot of these tips myself already but now have picked up a couple more!
Excellent post and I completely agree with all of the points raised by these awesome travellers! I always try my best to do these things – though admittedly I haven’t fuelled a van with cooking oil before! but you never know! – and as a vegetarian traveller also try to support local vegetarian/vegan businesses who often have a very niche clientèle. Thanks for sharing everyone!
Thanks for stopping by and reading, Charli. Hope these tips can be a mini guide for responsible travellers!
Hey again guys, I loved this post so much that I’ve added it to my list of recommended reading for responsible travel. I hope you don’t mind! http://charlieontravel.com/responsible-tourism-blog-posts-traveller-reads 🙂
Thanks a lot for this, Charli, much appreciated. We’d love to spread the word as much as possible.
Some incredible tips on here guys. Thanks so much for inviting us to be a part of this hugely important collaboration with some other amazing bloggers. We are strong believers in respecting the local culture as well. Nice work!
A big thanks to you, Jazza! Being mindful about water resources is the way to go. Have a blast in Vietnam, guys!
I absolutely love this post and having met you guys recently at TBEX Athens I know how much it means to you too. Thank you for putting it together, I try to be a responsible traveler but there are some good points in here that can make me so much better. I will be sharing it in the hopes that it will spread like wildfire and help to make the world that much better.
Hey, Sarah, so nice to hear from you! Thanks so much for sharing, we all can create a better world by supporting each other and reduce our environmental footprint while travelling. Hope you are doing better and better, guys!
Ivana, you are right that being responsible while travelling becomes more and more important with a raising number of tourists. Unfortunately the mare fact of travelling is often times not eco-friendly unless you would go on foot or use a bicycle. But when we do hit the road in a bus, car or even plane, at least it would be good to do it responsibly.
I personally like to travel and stay locally, have my own cloth bags, coffee mug for take-outs, re-usable water bottle, my own cutlery and many other little things. It seems to be a constant work in progress to be travelling with the least impact possible, but it’s a good path to be on, especially because it raises your level of awareness in regards to your surroundings… 🙂
Thanks for joining the discussion, Dennis. As you’ve mentioned, you are doing many small things like using re-usable bottles etc. so there are more ways how to travel “eco”. Although, Yara can tell you the best how to travel by car and smell like French fries, with minimal harm to the environment 🙂 Thanks for spreading the word and happy eco travels, Dennis!
Great collection of tips! I especially like the one from Yara about the French fries. I’m not planning to get a car any time soon, but that’s a great mental image. 🙂
We have our own water bottles and bring our own bags. Especially in Thailand the latter seems to bring a lot of amusement. But I think a major thing as well is to research the tourist attractions you frequent, especially anything to do with animals. We just visited an elephant foundation here in Hua Hin where it’s really nice to see how people do things right. But you know what? The only signs you see all over town are those for a couple of outfits where animals are rented in from owners or where they are kept in little cages. Often these are the most popular sights for tourists solely because of the advertising (which a foundation most often times can’t afford). Even basic research, like reading about the outfit on Tripadvisor, will tell you a bit about the facilities and how the animals are treated. And I’m surprised, even in this day and age, how people are ignorant about things like elephant rides.
I can hear you, Frank. It’s a long way to explain to travellers that cheaper & “funnier” option is not necessarily a better option. But I would say that one of the ways how to change this is to educate locals about more sustainable and responsible ways of tourism and explain them that the model that they are using to attract tourists can be changed and everybody would still make a profit of it. So often locals try to make us all comfortable and amused, not understanding that fun and comfort are not the only things we are looking for whilst travelling.
With TripAdvisor I’d be careful and use more common sense rather than believe all what I find there. But what I totally agree with you is to do a research before joining any tour or paying for an animal attraction.
Really great, informative post. I visited the elephant nature park in Chiang Mai too, a few years back. It was an enriching experience and I learned so much about elephant tourism in South East Asia. You highlight some important questions travellers should be asking themselves. It’s so important that people become more culturally aware and responsible as the world becomes more mobile!
Thanks so much for reading, Dannielle! Kudos go to all travel bloggers who were willing to share their tips. We’ve heard so much about ENP in Chiang Mai, I’m sure you were at the right place to learn about responsible travel there. Happy travels!
An excellent article… It’s important to follow these tips when travelling.
Really Great post and Important for everyone Travelling to the New World.
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Hi Harinder, thank you for reading and sharing your tips, too. I guess all advice the bloggers contributed with can be easily applied to all countries in the world, since tourism industry is growing in each continent.
Fantastic post everyone. I think that all the tips are definitely important to take with you while travelling. I really connected with the section on water bottles as we just finished travelling through Africa and it is disgusting to see the amount of plastic waste that is just everywhere. Great tips guys 🙂
Thanks a lot for reading and commenting, Ross! Apparently, it’s a long way to educate people about littering and recycling, especially after having seen the situation in SE Asia and some European countries, too. Safe travels!
Those are all some wonderful tips – especially the one about doing research prior to visiting a location. It’s also great more apps are promoting sustainable travel.
While I still won’t be using a mooncup any time soon (the idea freaks me out, sorry!), I second the other tips! A wonderful list on how small things can make a big impact. And while I don’t want to sound like a missionary I like Barbara’s tip of actually explaining to people why you won’t take a plastic bag or eat certain foods. Baby steps…
Totally agreed, Annika! Baby steps lead to the giant ones 🙂
Really great article – well done! We are totally on board, but also not ready for the mooncup yet! 🙂 Our passion is connecting travelers with local guides directly, even during the initial travel planning stage, and then staying completely out of their way and leaving the business transactions up to the guide themselves.
Excellent advice from some great bloggers! We recently enjoyed a wonderful eco – tour in the country on bikes and was a fantastic experience!
Thanks for the kind words and your sharing on Twitter, Rob! Do you remember which area in Vietnam you biked through?
Absolutely agree. EMBRACE A DRINKING BOTTLE!
A great post! It is so important to do your research and travel responsibly. All of us want to see the world but we should always strive to leave a place better than we found it. Some fab tips here, thanks 🙂
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