How To Travel Sustainably (50 ways to try!)

Table of Contents

Introduction

We like to think of ourselves as responsible travellers. If you’ve never heard of the term ‘Responsible Travel’ (full blog post coming soon!), the Global Sustainable Tourism Council defines it as being environmentally, socially and economically conscious when you travel. Put really simply, this means, looking out for the planet, looking out for the locals and ensuring your money goes back into the economies of the places you are visiting. When we talk about responsible travel, we mean how to travel sustainably.

To be responsible means to be sustainable: to travel in a way that is good for absolutely everyone. Unfortunately, very little about traditional travel is responsible. Travel is often associated with the jet-setting lifestyle – lots of flights, lots of sights and very little thought for impact. We say: this needs to change.

We are firm believers that travel can be a force for good. It enhances the mind, soothes the soul and opens our eyes to new cultures and new possibilities, without which we cannot empathise with or learn from other people around the world. In order to keep travel sustainable, we actually don’t need to change many things (in our opinion). With a few small adjustments, we can ensure that travel is available for years to come and more people can enjoy the connections and benefits that come with it. So the questions remains, how to travel sustainably? here are 50 ways to get you started.

Also, we turned this into a handy checklist for you, which you can download by subscribing to our newsletter here. We sent a once a month newsletter (that’s it!) with some unconventional Social Media engagement tips and some responsible travel tips, plus the occasional freebie to go with it!

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Accessibility Disclaimer

Everything in the list below is important. However, some of these things are more important than others, and some of these things matter more to some people than others. As with every responsible travel post we do, this is a disclaimer than we completely understand that responsible travel is not accessible to everyone, and some people need to make difficult choices owing to various factors including: access needs, age, weight, gender, race, group size etc.

The list goes on. It’s really important not to judge others for the choices they make, even if they do not align with your principles as we don’t know the reasons they are making them. This equally goes for local people in countries different from our own, who may not have access to the same information we do and therefore may make choices we perceive to be less responsible than our own.

So let’s get to the list!

A shame to see so much garbage in the beautiful country of the Comoros!

How to travel sustainably

1. Use sustainable toiletries

When you travel, it matters more than ever that you ensure you’re using sustainable/natural cosmetics. Since many countries do not have suitable water filtration systems to make water safely drinkable, and shower and drain water flows directly into the sea, lakes or rivers, it’s vital that we give consideration to what we are putting into our waterways. Not only do local people and animals often drink from these water sources, but the toiletries you are using directly impact the local ecosystem and marine life.

We highly recommend cosmetics companies like Ethique, Zao (make-up) and Peace With The Wild for responsible cosmetic purchases. In general, be wary of greenwashing as it is rampant in this industry! Look for clear website statistics of environmental impact, short ingredient lists with natural products and labels such as BCorp or the leaping bunny sign (which signifies cruelty free).

2. Scrap the Deet

Something you can immediately bin from your washbag is any mosquito repellents or bug sprays containing deet (yes, that does include Jungle Formula). They are so full of chemicals that they are seriously harmful for the planet and honestly, in our experience, they don’t actually work! The way deet ‘protects’ you from mosquitoes is by putting another scent over your own, which doesn’t actually help much, as it’s not physically possible to cover your whole head and body (thus entirely masking your scent).

Natural insect repellents such as citronella and crushed mint mixed with water are generally more effective as they contain scents the mosquitoes don’t like without the harsh chemicals of deet. If you’re after a branded repellent, we use Incognito bug spray and we absolutely love it. It actually covers your smell entirely so you become odourless to bugs and it works brilliantly – much better than deet in our experience.

3. Reduce your use of sun cream (instead cover up!)

Did you know that the term ‘reef-safe’ is not protected? This means that it can be used by any brand who wants to put it in their marketing, even if they are not actually safe for usage on reefs and contain many harmful, marine-life damaging chemicals. For us, this was as heart-breaking a revelation as it was shocking, but we want to spread the information to stop the greenwashing in its tracks and help other responsible travellers make the right choices.

Though no sun cream has yet been 100% proven to be truly reef-safe, the best ones are non-nano zinc oxide and titanium dioxide based creams, we use Amazinc and it works great! Plus it comes in a metal bottle so it’s easy to recycle after use. To be on the safe side, it’s best to check the ingredients list too for any chemicals lists on savethereef.org.

Checking your sunscreen is actually reef-safe is a vital step

4. Travel with collapsible containers for your food waste

Food waste is a huge problem worldwide. Sadly, it is much more prevalent in developed countries than elsewhere and therefore when people from these countries choose to travel, they can unknowingly take bad habits with them. Food waste is responsible for nearly 10% of global greenhouse emissions, as when organic material is disposed of in landfill, it cannot break down and releases methane gas. Whenever we travel (even to places where food waste is less common), we should be responsible for our own food wastage and try to avoid it wherever possible. If nothing else, it can usually go to someone who really needs it!

If the country you are visiting has a compost system widely available, of course you can make good use of it, but sadly this is rarely the case, as so few countries have set this up. We like to bring takeaway containers with us so that we can eat our leftovers the following day if there is too much food – what’s brilliant is this also saves us money! The trick is in remembering to pack them in your day bag so they’re not forgotten about. It’s better to have collapsible containers which don’t take up too much space too.

Alternatively, you can also give it to houseless people, feed it to domesticated animals (if the owner allows you and you know it won’t damage their health!), or else bury organic waste to create compost yourself.

5. Pack reusable cutlery and a reusable cup

Just like the Tupperware, this is an absolute must on our packing list – the amount of times it has come in useful is actually quite hard to count! Whether it saves us needing to use plastic or wooden cutlery from a fast food restaurant, or having cutlery when we need to eat in our hotel or guesthouse.

The coffee cup is equally important for us since most disposable coffee cups contain an inner plastic lining and therefore are extremely difficult to recycle. If you need it, you can also invest in reusable straws and take reusable bags. We always pack a reusable bag, but we usually just go without the straws these days!

6. Take a filtered water bottle

OK so let’s talk filtered water bottles – they are SO important and (aside from the fact that they are on the pricey side) I don’t understand why more responsible travellers don’t carry them at all times! We use this bottle from Life Straw. After the initial investment, the fibre filter will last around 5 years and the carbon filter only needs to be replaced every few months at a very small cost. It comes with instructions so you can easily work out what you need to do.

You can drink literally any water once you have this bottle (including airport bathroom water – non-filtered, lake and mountain water on hikes, water abroad from any country) – it’s brilliant! The filter is powerful enough that all water will be rendered totally drinkable, which means not only is there eventually going to be a cost saving from all the plastic bottles you won’t need, but there will also be a huge environmental benefit.

7. Invest in a solar powered phone charger

If you’re visiting somewhere that has an abundance of sun, it makes complete sense in our opinion to make use of that natural energy. We have found our solar chargers to be especially useful in places where the infrastructure is not great or electricity is not in abundance.

We take two solar chargers with us: a battery pack (which is OK – it struggles to recharge using just solar energy, but it is useful for long journeys or short periods without electricity) and an Elecaenta solar panel charger. It doesn’t store any energy, so can’t be used to charge outside of full sun, but it’s fantastic when the sun is really bright and you have some time outside. We’ve actually found it especially useful on boat trips! You can also hang it onto your backpack when hiking with the very useful carabiner and charge that way.

Reducing emissions helps avoid air pollution in big cities

8. Pack a capsule wardrobe

Packing light is a really great way to be a responsible traveller. Not only do you use less fuel on board a plane, but it’s a good way to make sure your bags are less bulky, so it’s really a win-win! We have also found space-saving to be really useful for example on bus journeys in many Asian and African countries, where they are often packed very full of people. The last thing we want to do is take up a person’s space with our bulky backpacks! So packing a capsule wardrobe is really key for this.

If you haven’t heard of it before, a capsule wardrobe is basically a few mix and match items that can be used to create numerous different outfits. The way to do it is to choose a few tops and bottoms that go together, no matter what is matched with what. It’s an amazing space saver, alongside packing cubes!

Tips: pick neutral-coloured clothing (black, white, beige, navy) and a mix of skirts, shorts and trousers so it feels like you have more options.

9. Pack a sewing kit and learn to fix your stuff

Honestly, having a sewing kit has probably made me look a bit weird a few times (probably didn’t help that I kept whipping it out in restaurants and coffee shops!), but it has saved me SO much money over the years, as well as helping me keep beloved clothes, bags and other things that might have otherwise bit the dust a long time ago. Many travellers feel they don’t have an option for fixing things, so they will just toss them or maybe give them away, even if they might have tried to fix them at home.

As responsible travellers, mindless consumerism is a huge no-no, so we do need to fix things as we go. For this reason, two things we always pack when travelling are a sewing kit and duct tape; the sewing kit is for me, the duct tape for my husband who takes a more rudimentary but no less effective approach to fixing things. If you can’t sew yet, try this free online sewing for beginner’s course.

Alternatively, if you really feel this is a skill you can’t pick up, you can often find tailors and repair shops in many places. Always take a look and see if you can find a tailor before giving up on a beloved item of clothing.

Additionally, we found that cobblers are actually really easy to find in many places so we can get our shoes fixed. Many cobblers will be happy to try and fix even shoes that we might consider well past it! In the UK, a cobbler might have taken one look at shoes that are falling apart and sent you packing, but we found, for example, in Tanzania that the cobblers were very happy to practically rebuilt our shoes, and for an extremely reasonable price.

Keeping green spaces green is best

10. Reuse what you have instead of buying a new wardrobe

This plays into point 9, but if you’re someone who generally looks to travelling as an opportunity to update your wardrobe, then a great opportunity to be more responsible with your travel is to cut this step out, or at least cut back. We love to analyse our wardrobe before a trip to work out what we can wear that we might not have thought of. For example, on a recent trip to the Socotra, I was worried I wouldn’t have enough long-sleeved tops that would be cool enough, but I was actually able to use some of my lighter professional shirts, and they worked brilliantly!

If you can’t find exactly what you need in your wardrobe, do you have anyone you can borrow it from? Or could you rent it? As a last resort, we look to vintage, second-hand and charity shops, but always try to avoid buying new if possible. If you really do need to buy something new (which we understand is sometimes a necessity), make sure you buy to last so you can save yourself a purchase on your next trip.

11. Travel more slowly

Of course we all love to see as much as possible of a place or country in as short a time as possible, and for those of us who don’t have unlimited time off, it can sometimes feel necessary to travel quickly. Taking multiple day trips or taking a whistle stop tour of a country can feel like the only way to ‘see everything’. We do completely understand this, and think day tripping can sometimes be necessary, but the sad fact is that this just isn’t a sustainable or responsible way to travel.

Rushing around trying to see as many sights as possible often involves multiple flights or car journeys, and gives little back to local economies. Day trippers often arrive at the busiest time of day and put a lot of strain on local people, without offering much back financially, since they don’t stay over and sometimes don’t even buy anything in the place they’re visiting.

Slow travel doesn’t mean travelling for months on end, nor does it mean not seeing anything a country has to offer, but it does mean slowing down a little, perhaps removing one or two things you would have tried to see otherwise, taking public transport instead of flights or cars, and staying longer in one place to ensure that your money goes back into local economies.

12. Cut out at least one flight on every trip you take

A great way to start travelling more slowly is to try this technique! By cutting out at least one flight, you might start to realise that flying isn’t actually as necessary as we once used to think. For our part, we definitely used to consider flying a much more convenient way of getting from a to be.

Nowadays, we look at our itinerary and, if it includes multiple flights, we cut one out and try to figure out how we can overland it instead or get there another way. For any short haul flights where the overlanding time would be 6 hours or less, this is a no-brainer to us, as getting to and from the airport tends to add this much time anyway! These days we actually tend to overland for any journeys of 15 hours or less, and only fly if we really don’t have an alternative, but you can work your way up to that point if you’re not at that stage yet!

We’ve also heard other techniques, where people will not take flights within a continent (only between continents!), or will only take direct flights. These are maybe more hardcore solutions, and cost is always a difficult factor, but all we’re saying is being a sustainable traveller involves re-evaluating your relationship with flying, and assessing how you could possibly do it differently.

Note: if you need to take flights, in our opinion, this does not make you a less responsible traveller, sometimes they are just unavoidable, but trying to cut them out where possible, flying direct or using our tips below is a good start in the right direction.

Could you cut out one flight on the next trip you take?

13. Travel with carry on/hand baggage only

If you do need to fly, try to pack as light as possible. Lighter planes use less fuel, so the more you can reduce what you bring, the better it will be for the planet. Our main tips on trying to get everything into hand baggage:

  • Use sturdy and reliable 30-40L backpacks with lots of pockets, and ideally one that opens from the front so you can organise your things
  • Use solid cosmetics (such as Ethique) to limit your liquid allowance
  • For liquids, buy small reusable containers, you can get them in pharmacies or online
  • Packing cubes! They are such a lifesaver for squishing down your clothes
  • A capsule wardrobe is key and skip things like pyjamas unless you really need them
  • Wear your bulky clothes and shoes for the flight
  • Check the hand baggage allowance with your airline. Some allow a large bag and a personal item (such as a handbag or laptop case), some only allow a larger bag, so don’t get caught out! You can always find this on your airline’s website.

14. Refuse flight meals

Flight meals come with an astronomical amount of wastage, whether its disposable cutlery and containers, plastic water bottles or the huge amount of food that is left. Unfortunately, most airlines do not allow the cutlery sets to be reused on a different meal, even if in unopened packaging, so even if you bring your own cutlery or cups, the staff will still be obligated to bin the cutlery and water bottle – it’s super frustrating!

The best way to avoid it altogether is to skip the meal if this is a possibility for you. If you are diabetic or need food on board the flight, you can buy your meals/snacks at the airport before you go, or you can pack a lunch, as most airports will allow you to bring food through security.

Again, we do understand that this is really difficult for some travellers, especially those with medical needs or children.

15. Walk!

We love walking. We have a reputation amongst or friends for being the weirdos who will walk everywhere (actually, I do, my husband is a bit more normal and would probably not walk as much without me). If there is an option to walk, personally I will always take it, whether that’s around a city (I love using it to orient myself since my sense of direction is genuinely terrible), or going hiking in nature.

Why?

Well for one thing it’s free and I love that! Secondly, it’s great exercise. Thirdly, I see more this way (I think) and finally, it really is the most sustainable way to travel. Hiking is a great option too for travellers on a budget since it’s usually free or very cheap, and it means you’re not spending your money on other activities.

We tried scooters in the last city we went to!

16. Limit taxi usage in cities

When visiting a new city, it can be tempting just to grab a taxi to your hotel and figure it all out later but why not try the public transport system? If you have hand baggage only, this suddenly becomes a whole lot easier too, so it’s nowhere near as stressful! During the day getting around, as we said above, we find walking a great way to orientate yourself in a city. If it’s a bigger city, you can try a metro system if available, or try to figure out the bus system.

Additionally, many cities now have some great sustainable options for public transport, such as rentable bikes and scooters. Not only are they sustainable and normally pretty cheap, they’re so much fun! Of course if you are in a location where you feel you might be in danger (such as arriving late at night) or you have access needs which require private transportation, it doesn’t make you any less responsible to put your own safety first. We have noticed that in most cities, Uber now offers ‘Uber Green’, which are electric vehicles. If you do need a taxi, these are a good back up option.

17. Ditch cruises

I guess this is a tricky one for people who love cruises but personally, they’re not for us, so we don’t find this difficult at all! I do understand that cruises are great for nervous travellers, and those who find travelling intimidating or overwhelming, but they NEED to get significantly more sustainable before we would ever consider taking one.

Firstly, taking a cruise for a week works out around 3 times worse than taking a flight and staying in a hotel. They often dump huge amounts of waste into open sea water and are extremely wasteful in terms of food, resources, fuel etc. They are the poster child for fast travel without actually seeing a place. For example, Caribbean cruises tend to go to the same seven ports in the Caribbean, trot the travellers off for a few hours to spend money on the same few cruise-selected excursions and port-side bars and restaurants, meaning that they rarely actually benefit local economies in any way.

These activities are rarely environmentally or ethically vetted, meaning you have no idea where your money is going, except directly into the pockets of huge corporations. Yes, I do understand that cruises help nervous travellers feel more comfortable, but to that I say: please consider a group tour (for example, G Adventures, Intrepid Travel, there’s are loads of ethical tour companies) instead.

18. Try public transport

We mentioned avoiding taxis in cities, but this is equally (if not more) important for longer journeys! If you can try public transport (even on a few journeys), the benefits generally do outweigh the negatives! On the plus side, it’s better for the environment, it’s usually cheaper, you’ll get to see a bit more local life in the country you’re visiting and the money you spend generally goes back to the local economies (which is more economically responsible). Of course on the negative side, it can take longer and can be intimidating if you’re not used to it, so here are our top tips for public transport for first-timers:

  • Take short, local journeys first to practise
  • For the shorter practise journeys, try to avoid taking valuables or keep them stowed away
  • Ask your hotel or hostel for tips: bus pick up points, metro maps, directions etc. They are usually very happy to help.
  • Have both cash and card ready in case you need one or the other. For cash, try to have small change (or exact change if you know the amount)
  • Look up information about the local system via blog posts online so you are prepared (for example, do you need to pre-purchase tickets via machines, online or otherwise? Do you need to negotiate price? How do you pay? What kind of ticket do you need? Etc.)
  • Leave yourself plenty of time in case you go wrong or get delayed
  • Enjoy! Public transport can be a real adventure so go with the flow and try not to get too stressed
Find new ways to get around cities

19. Try hitchhiking and better still, pick up a hitchhiker

Hitchhiking is, I guess, a form of public transport. At the very least, it’s carpooling! It does save more petrol vs hiring a car and is a fun way to get to know locals so it definitely deserves a spot on our responsible travel list. However, of course it comes with risks, so here are a few quick guidelines for first time hitchhikers and hitchhiker helpers:

  • Wear bright clothes, especially if hitchhiking at night so cars can spot you easily
  • DO NOT hitchhike in an area where you feel unsafe
  • Even if you do feel safe, try to always do so during the day time and avoid stopping at night
  • If you have to wait a long time, consider a different mode of transport instead to avoid making yourself vulnerable
  • Keep valuables to a minimum
  • If you feel unsafe at any point, ask the driver to stop the car, get out and get yourself to safety
  • Make a clear sign for where you’re going and hold it up so it is visible
  • If picking up a hitchhiker, make sure you are doing so in a country where this is recommended (for example, stopping for any reason in many Southern African or South American countries is not recommended to avoid car jackings)
  • Likewise if you ever feel uncomfortable, stop the car and ask them to get out where it is safe

20. Get off the beaten track

I feel like this one also needs a safety warning, but it isn’t intended to lead you into any danger! Getting off the beaten track can, of course, mean heading to wild, remote areas where no one else ever goes and that’s great if you’re bold enough, however it can also be as simple as visiting a hidden gem or going to an underrated cafe.

Why is it beneficial, I hear you asking?

Well, places that receive a high influx of tourists year on year often really struggle. It can be tough for them to stay environmentally responsible (i.e. clean of litter, safe for wildlife etc.) and frustrating for locals. This is especially difficult for places that don’t have the infrastructure to support such large numbers of people. Additionally, places that receive a really high number of tourists often have drastically inflated prices which can really negatively affect local economies.

Conversely, places that receive very little tourism often really need it and can struggle economically! By distributing the spread of tourists (both globally and locally), you can help ease these symptoms and stop places becoming overwhelmed. This could be as simple as instead of going to the restaurant where you see all of the other tourists, walk 10 minutes round the corner and there might be a much quieter place offering similar things. It could also be as big as choosing a really undiscovered destination and seeing what you can make of it!

21.Take a tour with a local guide

Though we don’t take tours everywhere we go, this is one of our favourite ways to experience a new place. In cities, we love walking tours with Guruwalk, Sandeman’s and GetYourGuide, who all use tried and tested local guides to lead groups. We have always found them to be really reliable and impressive and we’ve had some amazing tours through them.

Nowadays we tend to stick to the day tours with local guides, but if you’re taking a more extended tour then our two favourite responsible travel providers are G Adventures and Intrepid, who are both really leading the way with responsible adventure travel. Responsible Travel itself is also a great company, but they do tend to be more expensive.

What we love about local guides is that they always have a real passion for their home, which usually helps us fall in love as well, they always know the best local spots to go and the money we pay them generally goes straight back into the local economies. Don’t be afraid to use their knowledge as much as you can – ask loads of questions and recommendations and if they helped you, always tip (after checking this is in line with local tipping custom).

We love booking tours with local guides like this one in Paraguay!

22. Avoid helicopter flights

Much like cruises, helicopter flights are one we can never really justify any more – sorry helicopter lovers! In our book, the fuel used for such a small amount of time doesn’t justify the experience and photos we get out of it. Personally, to get these photos we use a drone instead and while we recognise that still isn’t the most responsible and we always try to limit our drone usage where possible (especially in natural areas with lots of birdlife), to us it is preferable to taking a helicopter because of the fuel consumption. In the long run it’s also better for our wallet. We also say the same for hot air balloons… just too much fuel.

As a small proviso to this, I’ll add: we know for many people hot air balloon and helicopter rides are once in a lifetime bucket list activities for some people and to be completely honest, we actually think this is a justifiable reason to take them if you truly have your heart set on it. We always want to be up front so for the sake of transparency, these are things both Murray and I have done in the past (I believe only once or twice each but still we have done them).

What we mean by the above paragraph is that we wouldn’t now choose to do them again, or promote them, and it is something we would discourage others from doing regularly. We would instead encourage other activities which are less impactful.

23. Try local dishes

I will go to my grave swearing that eating local and in-season food is absolutely the best way to eat, no matter where you go. There are genuinely so many benefits that I don’t even know where to start! Firstly, the food is pretty much guaranteed to be fresh, thus tastier, better for you and just generally better.

Secondly, it’s so much better for the environment: the food doesn’t need to travel as far to get to you, or be grown in unsustainable conditions such as large heated greenhouses, and it’s never imported from other countries which can sometimes create a shortage. As a vegan traveller who travels with a meat-eating husband, I get questions all the time about whether I mind that he eats meat when we travel and honestly, I still think he’s being very sustainable. Firstly, he reduces his meat significantly at home and eats almost entirely vegan with me and secondly, when we travel, he always chooses local, in-season options which is actually something that can be quite tricky for me!

For example, in many countries we visited in Africa (such as Mozambique and Namibia), vegan and even vegetarian options were in very short supply because not much can be grown in their climates. However, what they had an abundance of was locally-raised cattle, chicken, goats and other livestock, which made trying local dishes very easy for my husband. In my opinion, it’s about balance: we always try to visit locally-run restaurants and cafes or market stalls, and try local dishes where we can. It’s also a lot more fun that way!

24. Stay in locally owned accommodation

This is a big one. One of the biggest stumbling blocks to global responsible travel is chain hotels and franchises, which make giving back to local economies really difficult. With ‘trusted’ names like Hilton, Radisson, Marriott and Accor dominating nearly all of the global market between them, it is truly difficult, even as a responsible traveller, to find locally-run accommodation with the same assurances of safety, service and standards.

Often, the assumption is that having chain hotels is good for a local economy, since they hire local staff. While this is sometimes true, unfortunately most chain hotels are owned by international companies, and hire expat and international staff in management positions. This can make the distribution of wealth within the country itself pretty minimal.

We wrote a full guide on finding amazing guesthouses here, so we’d suggest starting with that if this is something you struggle with. Otherwise you can do much worse than checking reviews across a range of platforms and asking for local recommendations (or previous travellers you trust).

Locally owned accommodation always has more character

25. Choose initiatives that empower and lift up the local community

This is a fun one, but sometimes quite tricky to find. One of our favourite things to do when travelling has been to seek out small community led initiatives that really make a big difference to local communities. They can be difficult to find but we have some helpful techniques: firstly, you can try looking up projects supported by trusted tour providers (such as Intrepid, Responsible Travel and G Adventures), or else those supported by charities. Alternatively, you can ask at guesthouses and hostels if they know of anything. A few of our favourite examples are below:

Our favourite community projects worldwide (so far!)

  • Chaca Tours Chacarita Tour in Asuncion Paraguay – a local initiative (which was actually recommended to us by Guruwalk) run by Mariah, a local woman and her business partner, and aims to showcase the beauty of the Chacarita of Asuncion (which is their answer to a Brazilian favella), and support the local community there. You can read more about it here.
  • Nyamirambo Women’s Centre Rwanda – this is an absolutely incredible project in Kigali, set up by 18 women aiming to end gender discrimination and violence in the country. They make beautiful hand-crafter souvenirs for tourists and it is well worth a visit.
  • Themi Living Garden Arusha Tanzania – this is a seriously awesome project, basically a fully vegetarian kitchen run by local women, who create a space for local artists to come and sell their work. They sell great-value and tasty local food, cooked in house, every day and also run their shop with a zero-waste mentality, reusing everything they can so it doesn’t go to waste
  • Fitó São Paulo – this is a Michelin Bib Gourmand (but don’t worry, it doesn’t show in the price tag!) restaurant in São Paulo, run entirely by local women. The aim is to serve local food and give back to the community, with a zero-waste concept of using food that might otherwise go to waste. Plus it’s SO tasty!
  • Amal Non Profit Marrakech – this project aims to empower women from difficult background and teach them how to make income through cooking. There is even a cafe in Marrakech run entirely by women who are deaf or hard of hearing, which is amazing!

26.Implement Leave No Trace Principles

‘Leave No Trace’ has become a popular phrase (rightly so) within the hiking community. As the name suggests, the basic aim is to leave a place exactly as you found it. When hiking, this means: pick up your trash, pack up your tent and camping gear and leave nothing behind. In our opinion, this really extends to every single aspect of travel. This is why we think reusables are so important, as are things like filtered water bottles, solar chargers, the list goes on. Where you can, always limit your use of disposable items and take care not to impact the environment around you, even if you’re in a city.

27. Limit your plastic usage

A key feature of Leave No Trace is: never litter. As we have mentioned above, many countries do not yet have fully developed systems for waste disposal, therefore we can never really know what is happening to the plastic we consume when travelling. Some of it will be burned, some of it will be buried. One thing is for sure, very little of it will be recycled.

Even in the UK, which has quite a well-developed recycling system, only 9% of our plastic is usually recycled, so it’s vitally important that rather than just relying on recycling systems to solve the problem for us, we first reduce our use of plastic, and only use it as a last resort. In our opinion, the best way to do this is to bring reusables with us (water bottle, straw if needed, cup, carrier bag, containers etc) and limit our plastic with cosmetics and toiletries.

If we need to buy food out, we try to get it plastic free where possible too (such as groceries from local markets) or if this is not possible, carry our rubbish until we can find somewhere to recycle it or dispose of it properly. It is super hard and of course carrying around a sack of rubbish with us is far from ideal so like we said, we always choose to reduce first, rather than having to deal with the consequences!

Organising a beach clean up can be really rewarding

28. Leave nature in nature

Sadly, many travellers think they are being responsible by taking home natural souvenirs rather than commercially bought, such as sea shells, pretty stones, dead coral, animal bones etc. In reality, this is not very sustainable, as the shells and stones on the beach are actually part of the local ecosystem and it can be damaging to remove them.

Crabs and sea creatures often use small shells as homes, so removing them can decrease their choice and become problematic if sustained. Over a prolonged period of time, you can also potentially increase the rate of shoreline erosion. You can read more about this here.

29. Join a volunteering programme that helps a local ecosystem

In recent years ‘voluntourism’ has really gained in popularity. As with everything, there are both ethical and unethical ways to do this. Volunteer tourism done right is a fantastic thing – it’s a benefit to locals through gaining valuable international support without the cost of labour and it’s a benefit to tourists often with free accommodation and a chance to immerse yourself in a local culture and gain a truly unique perspective on the country you are visiting. To keep your encounters ethical, here are some things to be mindful of:

  • Try to avoid short-term volunteering programmes that involve children. Children get attached quickly, especially when they are vulnerable and it is not fair to subject them to a rotating cycle of volunteers who will not have the chance to get to know them properly before leaving. Children gain the most from longer term relationships, so if volunteering with kids, choose longer projects around a year or more
  • If volunteering with animal sanctuaries, do not assume they are ethical because they’re asking for volunteers. Follow the same checks you would when seeking a sanctuary to visit yourself: an ethical sanctuary will be hands off for visitors and will not usually allow you to post pictures of yourself holding or feeding the animals in case it encourages tourists to want to do the same
  • If in doubt, aim for a project that benefits the ecosystem, such as tree planting or small scale farming

Our favourite site to use to find both short and long-term volunteering prospects is Worldpackers. This link will give you a $10 discount for signing up, or you can use code: THAT_TRAVEL. Enjoy!

30. Join or organise a beach clean up

A fun thing to do on shorter trips, which isn’t quite as much commitment as a volunteering stay is a beach clean up! You can often find these organised by beach hostels or restaurants, but if in doubt, head out and do it yourself. All you need is a bag to carry the rubbish and ideally a pair of gloves to keep your hands safe (and maybe some anti bacterial hand gel).

We often find that locals will join in (which is super sweet) or be very grateful when they see what you’re doing, so it’s always a good feel-good boost too! Make sure you leave all the natural stuff there and a separate bag for anything that can be recycled (if the country you’re visiting has recycling) is always a good idea.

Wild animals are best observed from a distance

31. Don’t ride animals

It seems to be common knowledge these days that we shouldn’t ride elephants, but for some reason the same logic doesn’t seem to apply when it comes to other animals. This needs a small disclaimer which is that many animals, such as camels, elephants, donkeys and horses, are used in many countries as labour animals or for transport, and locals will ride them and use them for farm work and labour purposes. This is very, very different from tourists opting to ride them for photo opportunities and is a totally separate issue. Where locals are using these animals out of genuine necessity, this is not the case for tourists.

Here are our reasons for choosing not to ride ANY animal when travelling:

  • Animal welfare standards vary enormously from country to country. There is absolutely no guarantee that any animal you ride abroad will be treated perfectly even if cared for by well-meaning locals. There may be (and often are) things going on behind the scenes that you don’t know about. Note: unless you are an animal behaviour expert, you cannot be sure if an animal is ‘happy’
  • Many countries use extremely cruel techniques to force animals to be accepting of being ridden by humans. Being ridden is almost always painful for any animal (we suggest a read of this article here on horse riding which explains this point in a really open minded way) and just because an animal accepts being ridden out of fear does not mean they are not in pain
  • Safety standards vary from country to country and it can be dangerous for both you and the animal
  • Quite simply, we do not need to do it. We can get photos (that are just as good) of the animals with no tourists on their backs and we can still see animals and get close to them through ethical wildlife encounters.

32. Don’t feed or pet wild animals

If a sanctuary offers tourists the chance to feed or pet wild animals, it’s generally a huge red flag. There are occasional exceptions to this; for example some sanctuaries in South East Asia may offer feeding as their only hands on activity (but otherwise be hands off) in an attempt to compete with the huge array of other sanctuaries in the area who unethically offer feeding, bathing, riding or other hands on tourist activities.

Sadly this still does not make the practice of feeding the animals ethical, but it is understandable, and the rest of the good the sanctuary does shouldn’t be dismissed just because of this. In general however, any sanctuaries which offer feeding or petting should be avoided. There is no need for a tourist to feed or pet a wild animal and, if this needs to be done by a volunteer, it should be either for educational purposes or in private away from tourists, not for the purposes of drawing tourist crowds for pictures of animals.

The reality is that wild animals can get their own food and if we feed them (with the exception of sick animals who need our help), we encourage them to be dependent on and used to humans, which could harm them, put them in danger or impact their survival later on. We know this one is a real bummer as it seems like a fun and harmless way to engage with a really cool animal, but it really is best left out of your itinerary for the wildlife’s sake.

33. Choose an ethical, hands off wildlife sanctuary

The good news to all of this is that ethical wildlife encounters do exist, and they’re really amazing! If you are able to support a wildlife sanctuary or experience that actually benefits the animals, this is a wonderful thing. Here are the signs you need to look for and some questions you can ask:

How to find an ethical wildlife sanctuary

  • Websites mentioning ‘hands off’ or ‘keeping a distance’ from the animals. If they give a specific distance you need to keep, this is great!
  • Phrases such as ‘our animals are wild and therefore we can’t guarantee you’ll see them’ are great. Any mention of ‘guaranteed sightings’ should be a huge red flag. Wild animal behaviour is unpredictable and no sanctuary should be able to guarantee you’ll see them
  • There shouldn’t any photos of tourists touching, holding, feeding or bathing animals at all. In general, the sanctuary shouldn’t be showing photos of tourists posing with wildlife or taking selfies with them unless they are really far away and not in the animals’ space
  • Check for rehabilitation statistics. If it isn’t a rehabilitation centre but they keep animals captive, they should clearly state why, and if they do rehabilitate animals, how many per year? How do they do it? Do they breed the animals and if so, why? They should clearly list all of this information and more on their website
  • Look out for clear language with no gatekeeping – if you contact them for questions, they should be open and give you straightforward answers. Fancy language generally indicates they have something to hide.

If in doubt, ask for more information.

Questions you can ask to find an ethical wildlife sanctuary

  • Do you allow tourists to touch or feed the animals? (The answer should be no)
  • Can you guarantee we’ll see the animals? (The answer should be no)
  • How many animals have you rehabilitated in the last year and how have you done it? How many total?
  • What accreditations do you have? Support from associations such as World Cetacean Alliance and WWF shows they follow through on their promises!

If you accidentally visit an unethical sanctuary, feedback and review. Try not to beat yourself up about this, what matters most is trying to help them change their behaviour and letting others know.

We need to protect our reefs and oceans

34. Be careful around coral

If you’re snorkelling, this is one you need to be really careful of. Did you know coral is actually a living organism? As such, standing on it can cause it to die! Not only is this of course really sad for the sake of the coral itself, but entire ecosystems or marine life depend on coral for survival and habitat, so when snorkelling always try to stay well above coral reefs or steer really clear or coral. If you’re not a strong swimmer and will need to stand a lot, skip the snorkelling or ask for floatation devices.

35. Reduce your meat intake

OK, so we’re not going to be preachy vegans here. Besides anything else, it’s actually not always the case that eating vegan is more helpful for the planet (see our note on eating local food above). As I have previously mentioned, my husband, Murray, is a meat-eater and as such does eat meat when we travel, often enabling him to be more sustainable than me.

All that aside, there is no denying that in most countries, meat is more impactful to the environment than a plant-based diet. Particularly in developed countries, mass agriculture accounts for a staggering proportion of carbon emissions worldwide and if we can reduce our meat intake when travelling (or otherwise), we are doing our part to reduce this impact. No one is asking anyone to go vegan overnight (or even at all, as this might not be the best solution globally), but the truth is that if everyone in the world swapped one meaty meal for a vegan or vegetarian meal one night a week, our overall reduced impact would be really incredible.

36. Never eat apex predators

If you are eating meat and trying local food abroad, the one thing we would caution you never to eat is an apex predator, such as bluefin tuna or whales. An apex predator is the predator at the top of the food chain that no one else eats (except humans), for example whales, blue fun tuna, crocodiles, some bears, and some octopus and squid.

Not only can doing so cause a wealth of issues for local eco-systems, since these animals are often endangered, but it can also make you sick, as these animals often contain more toxins than those lower down the food chain. Predators are always smaller in number than those lower down the chain, so eating them already removes a vital member of the ecosystem that could be helping control numbers of its prey. If you steer clear of eating any animals while you travel, let it be apex predators.

37. Follow the golden rules for a more sustainable hotel stay

Of course the holy grail of a hotel stay is a true eco resort, where you can rest reasonably well-assured that your impact will be offset (at least as much as possible) by the hotel itself. You can (usually) rely on the fact that the hotel will have locally sourced ingredients, be minimising wastage as much as possible and giving back to the local ecosystem. If you can’t stay in an eco-resort, then don’t worry, there are still some things you can do to reduce your impact and make your stay just a little bit more sustainable, download our free checklist here.

Locally crafted souvenirs are always so beautiful

38. Take shorter showers

I won’t lie – water wastage was one I just did not understand for the longest time! I don’t know why but I couldn’t get my head around the fact that it was bad for the planet, didn’t make any sense to me. Something that helped enormously was realising that water is a finite resource and whatever we use it for, we’re taking it away from being used somewhere else. It really hits home when you travel to destinations like Cape Town and Mexico City, which often come close to running out of water completely!

These cities put restrictions on how much water can be used within a city by inhabitants and tourists are expected to comply. It works really well and there have been some amazing results for water usage reduction over the years.

How can you help then?

Reduce your waste water as much as you can – when you’re travelling, this usually comes from showering or bathing, so set a timer and make sure you get out by that time. Avoid things like running taps for ages to make water colder or leaving water running when brushing your teeth. If you can use fresh water sources like running rivers or streams, this is a great idea too, so ensure you have your filtered water bottle to be able to drink without getting sick!

39. If buying souvenirs, buy local crafts or produce

So often travelling is thought of as ‘going on holiday’ and that is totally fine! However, for many people, it’s pretty ingrained that when you go on holiday you should come back with presents for the whole family but, do we really need to do this? Especially for those of us who go away often, there is a danger that we could be accidentally subscribing to mindless consumerism and buying a load of things for our friends and family that maybe they don’t even want!

If you buy souvenirs and choose not to cut them out altogether, our best advice is to opt for locally crafted items, such as from market stalls or small local businesses. There are also some amazing women- and community-led initiatives out there in many places too, so always do your homework and try to find somewhere that is lending a real support to the locally community.

40. Learn at least 5 words in a local language

It’s so mind-boggling to me that people can go away and not be interested in learning any of a local language at all! When we go away we always try to learn at least the five phrases below:

Hello
How are you?
Thank you
Sorry
Good/nice (to compliment food etc.)

It’s amazing to see time and time again locals who are so used to tourists who genuinely know nothing and don’t learn any of the language be so amazed and pleasantly surprised just to see a foreigner learning any of the language at all. So many times, people have assumed we must be long term visitors or have visited somewhere multiple times just because we always try to learn a few words and it’s really such a shame. Learning some local language can be tough but it’s a great tool to help you communicate better with local people and gain a deeper understanding of local culture.

If sharing photos of locals online, make sure it’s a tour guide or someone who understands the implications

41. Get to grips with tipping in the next destination you’re visiting

Tipping can be so important. If you come from a culture that doesn’t tip, it can be really hard to understand 1) how much you should be tipping and 2) why exactly you should tip. We’ll write a longer post on this another time, but the main thing to know is that unfortunately, pay in the tourism industry isn’t as good as it could be in some parts of the world. As such, your tip can mean an awful lot to people in the industry and could be something they need to rely on. Of course it’s important to ensure you don’t tip too little, but it’s equally important to ensure you don’t too much.

If you give too much, you could accidentally cause issues for future tourists with inflated prices. Additionally, there are some areas of the world where tipping is actually considered rude (such as Japan). All of this to say, rather than assuming, make sure you look up the tipping culture wherever you go and get a gauge on how much an average tip should be for each service.

42. Learn how to haggle

OK, so we get it – haggling can be scary! If you’re from a culture where haggling isn’t a part of everyday life, it can feel super intimidating and unnecessary. In cultures that do haggle however, you need to embrace it if you want to get anywhere!

Vendors not only expect haggling but it helps them gauge prices that people expect to pay for goods and services and it helps to stop prices being inflated for local people. If you can learn how to haggle, you’ll generally have a much better experience when trying to buy from local vendors, and you’ll help stop the market becoming inflated with tourist prices. Stay tuned for our post coming soon on how to be a great haggler!

43. Be mindful when taking photos of locals

This point is topical at the moment and something we see mentioned a lot. With the rise of street photography becoming more and more popular through artists such as ‘Humans of New York’ etc., getting raw shots of daily life and local living can be super appealing. Honestly, we love street photography and capturing the nuance of a place through its people. That being said, it’s so important to remember the people behind the camera. Some rules and guidelines for taking photos of locals ethically and in a responsible way:

  • Don’t point your camera in people’s face – honestly this should be a given but we see it happen time and time again. Ask yourself how you would feel in this situation.
  • If you do want to take a candid shot of a local, ask. Better yet, strike up a conversation with them, get chatting and ask a little about them and what they do. This will make them feel more comfortable to have their photograph taken and is a good learning opportunity for you. This tip co-written with the amazing Sere Travels – check out her article on responsible travel here!
  • If you plan to post to social media, try not to show people’s faces and avoid close-ups. If you’d like to post someone’s face, use a tour guide who understands the implications of being shared online and whose business you could help support by tagging them.
Always be mindful of religious buildings and iconography

44. Call out bad behaviour from other tourists

This one doesn’t need much explanation, but if you see bad behaviour from other tourists, particularly with regard to the above point on photos, call it out!

Note: while it’s OK to call out tourists, we should avoid interfering with behaviour from locals, who may be acting with more information that we are. There is a tendency among tourists (particularly Western tourists!) to assume they know better than others when this is absolutely not the case.

45. Don’t subscribe to begging culture

What’s that? We hear you ask! Here’s an article we wrote which will help clarify. Now you’re up to speed, you’ll know this is definitely one to avoid when travelling. Rather than giving money or gifts to children or people you don’t know out of charity, try investing in local economies by staying in smaller hotels and guesthouses, using local guides and tipping if appropriate, and getting involved with community led initiatives that give back to local people.

46. Dress appropriately for the culture you are visiting

In many countries, conservative dress is a really important part of everyday culture, particularly for women travellers. For example, if you are visiting a country with a high percentage Muslim population, it is expected that travellers will not wear revealing clothing, which means: covered shoulders, covered knees and no low cut tops or exposed midriffs. This is especially important when visiting religious or sacred places, such as mosques or holy sites.

The rules are similar for a lot of strict Christian countries (especially in churches) and Buddhist societies, as well as many other religions, so it’s important to look this up in advance. Even if it is not especially linked to religion, many countries (such as a lot of countries in Africa) prefer women in particular to dress conservatively as they are not used to the dress standards of many Western countries. If it’s hot, opt for light weight clothing, such as cotton or hemp – it’s great for sun protection too!

Dressing appropriately for the culture you are visiting is so vital!

47. Look up local customs such as queueing, tipping and haggling before you visit

It can so often be the way that we assume small things like queueing are exactly the same when we’re visiting another country. Of course, it’s absolutely impossible to research everything before you visit somewhere new but the more research you can do to find out about this kind of thing the better! Asking local guides can also be a great source of information that will help you enormously.

For example, we found out recently while in Socotra that locals often feel uncomfortable when shaking hands with tourists (particularly of different genders) as this is considered inappropriate in their culture. We didn’t find information about this anywhere else online so we would never have known without asking! It’s the same with haggling and tipping. While these are things that are common in many places, they may not be everywhere. In some countries it’s very rude to haggle and to tip. Always look this up before making assumptions.

48. Be mindful of religious iconography

You may not be religious yourself, and that’s completely fine! However, if you choose to visit a country that does largely follow a certain religious, it’s important to be respectful of that. The same rule as we’ve mentioned before: you’re in someone else’s home, you need to follow their ground rules.

Religious sites, and religious iconography, such as statues of gods, prophets or religious icons, can be enormously important and sometimes even sacred to those living in the country you are visiting. Avoid taking photos near it if you are uncertain of the rules and never take photos mocking it or standing on it. When inside a religious building, always first ask if photos are OK and respect the authority if you are asked not to.

49. Visit in the off-season

OK, so some people cannot travel outside of peak season (i.e. teachers in school holidays, those with children etc.) – we understand. That being said, you don’t need to go to the popular places! If you know that somewhere is popular at a certain time, for example New York is very popular at Christmas, avoid that place and go somewhere else. If you can visit outside of school holidays (Easter, Christmas and the summer), of course this is much better and mid-week travel is better still than weekends!

Why?

When tourist spots becomes extremely popular, it can become very draining for local people and resources. Having the infrastructure in place to support huge waves of people is not always possible and this can lead to infrastructural problems like power and water shortages, excessive strain on the individuals working in the industry and overcrowding of residential areas. In the off-seasons, individuals within the tourism industry often struggle for work and have to rely on savings. Visiting outside of peak times can lend some much needed support to people who really need it, as well as help ease the bottleneck during busy periods.

Always feed back to encourage better resources and behaviour for others

50. Feedback

To finish off, we’ll keep it simple. If you want to see easier ways to contribute to responsible tourism, feed back to everything you do. Write to everyone: hotels, car hire companies, train companies, airlines, tour companies etc. If you can’t find a feedback form, tag them on social media in your stories or posts and call them out. Remember to also reward good behaviour with a favourable tag too (always being mindful of greenwashing)! The world needs to know that we want to see more done in the way of responsible and sustainable tourism and that we want to see more, so keep it going always.

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    Written by Emma

    Emma

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