Travel is a beautiful thing. It teaches you so many life skills that you could never be taught in school. It’s allowed me to have some of the most spectacular experiences some people could only ever dream of having. With that being said, it’s really opened my eyes to the effects that climate change is having around the world. I’ve began educating myself little by little about the environmental issues we face and while it can be overwhelming to say the least, they’re many things YOU can do as an individual to travel more sustainably. So here are my 15 responsible tourism tips to get you started!
1. Pick up plastic
You can pretty much find plastic littered around any place you’re travelling through. Whether it’s on the side of the road or in the ocean, it’s not where it should be. Sadly, a lot of poorer countries don’t have proper recycling programs in place.
When I was in Sri Lanka I had never seen so much plastic in the ocean and there were no garbage or recycling cans to dispose of anything along the beaches. If this is the case, you may have to go a little out of your way to find a proper place to ditch the plastic but a little goes a long way. Cleaning up plastic is a great start practicing some of these responsible tourism tips!
2. Use reusable bottles
Once again, plastic is a huge problem when it comes to the environment. While travelling, it’s easy to fall into the habit of using single use plastic bottles. In many Asian countries, plastic bottles are the norm because the water isn’t very clean or drinkable.
The first thing you can do is make sure you have a reusable bottle on hand at all times. During my last trip I brought a reusable stainless steel water bottle and would fill it up whenever there was a water filling station at airports or hostels rather than buying a new plastic bottle each time.
Secondly, assess how harmful the water may be. A lot of time the water in other countries that are known to be ‘unsafe’ aren’t really as bad as you may think. They may not necessarily be as clean as the water in North America but locals have no problem drinking it. To avoid getting sick from the water in other countries, many travellers will brush their teeth with the tap water. This will often help the body become accustomed to the water in the area they’re travelling through and avoid any sickness caused by water.
If you are travelling in places where the water is of very low quality, there are many water bottles that easily filter 99% of harmful bacteria from any water! That means you don’t need to worry about continually grabbing for a plastic bottle. The most recommended brand I found was GRAYL.
3. Adopt a plant based diet
A touchy subject to some but don’t worry, I’m not going to try to convince you to go vegan. With that being said though, trying to adopt more of a plant based diet is a great way to start changing the way you care for the environment. Did you know that it takes 100 times more water to produce 1kg of animal protein than 6kg of plant protein on average? If you find the idea of cutting out all animal products too difficult or a bit extreme you can always start by cutting out red meat. Beef has the largest carbon footprint in comparison to all other animal products, so by cutting out beef, you’re already off to a great start!
It may be a little more difficult to work around a plant based diet in some countries that are very meat intensive but as a vegetarian myself, I haven’t ran into too many issues avoiding meat during my travels.
4. Rethink your method of travel
While a flight is most often the easiest and fastest way to get to your next destination, it’s much more environmentally friendly to travel by land or sea when possible. So if you have some time to spare, why not catch a train, bus or boat instead of plane. Not only will it be much better for your carbon footprint but you’ll often save a lot of money as well!
Using public transportation rather than cabs to get around while you’re exploring a new city is an easy way to practice being a little more sustainable. It can also be a really fun experience where you can interact with locals and experience things you typically wouldn’t in a private car.
5. Look into carbon offset programs
In the past I was fairly ignorant when it came to sustainable travel. I had no clue what carbon offset meant until the past year or so. If you’ve never heard of a carbon offset or don’t know much about it, let me fill you in!
Whenever you fly, you’re contributing to the greenhouse gases that are polluting our environment. There are many programs in place that work to offset the carbon you’re putting into the air when you fly. They put your money into a range of things depending on which one you go with. It can be anything from certified global projects in developing nations to emission reduction projects.
There are heaps of different resources to use for carbon offsets. Here are some of my fave:
- Less – A Canadian company that utilizes projects that “produce Certified Emission Reductions (CERs) following the United Nations’ Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) protocols and also meet the Gold Standard Foundation’s sustainable development criteria”.
- Climate Friendly – An Australian company that has plantation and regeneration projects on the go to help individuals and businesses to offset their carbon output.
- My Climate – This Swiss based company makes compensating for any carbon emission easy. They also have a carbon footprint calculator which allows you to see where you’re at and how you can cut back.
6. Thrift your travel gear & use reusable bags
Thrifting travel gear may have never crossed your mind until now. Although it’s slightly unorthodox, you can find so many people selling backpacking backpacks after their one summer spent roaming around Europe that are in fantastic shape! You’ll get it for a much cheaper price and will add to its lifespan, keeping it out of the landfills for a little while longer.
Backpacks aren’t the only thing you can thrift! You can find a lot of gently used activewear in almost any second hand shop. See some of the awesome piece’s I’ve thrifted in the past here.
If you’re not on the reusable bag train by now, it’s time to get on board! Whenever you go to a market or shopping during your travels whether it’s for food or other items, make sure to have a reusable bag handy. I often have a backpack on me or I’ll bring a large purse that I can put everything in so that I’m not contributing to adding more plastic bags rolling around on the streets or in the water.
7. Don’t promote exploitation of animals
We all have that one friend who’s posted pictures riding on the back of an elephant in Thailand, or maybe it was you? So many animals are being treated poorly just for tourists to get a cool picture. It’s easy to say no to activities that put animals at risk of being harmed so do it!
With so much awareness surrounding these issues and lots of information about ‘animal sanctuaries’, I think progress is being made. Although things have improved, there are still many places that call themselves ‘humane’ when in reality, they are still torturing animals so be careful when you do research beforehand.
There are so many other ways that you can enjoy wildlife! Look for safari’s that allow the animals to roam in their natural habitat with little human interaction. This will ensure that you’re not contributing to the horrible world of animal exploitation.
8. Pack light
If you take anything away from my responsible tourism tips, let it be this! Easier said than done, but when done right you will contribute less to carbon emissions. This is because you’ll skip out on private transportation (you can get around easier on public without a massive bag) and save money at the same time!
When you bring less gear with you for your travels, you’re bringing less weight aboard the plane, which means a smaller carbon footprint. Therefore, bringing a carry-on bag seems to be the move. Just bring a few staples that you can wash while you’re on the go and worst case, you can always buy something you may need!
9. Eat local food
Not only is this an excellent way to immerse yourself into the culture of the place you’re visiting but it also helps support local businesses. Eating locally always reduces your carbon footprint in comparison to eating goods that are imported.
If that wasn’t reason enough, it’s also always more cost efficient than eating at tourist hot spots. Try heading to the markets to find the most sustainable options and often some pretty unique souvenirs. Talk about a win-win-win!
10. Walk/Bike short distances
This is probably one of the easiest responsible tourism tips you can adopt! Why put more carbon into the air when you can get there on your own? It’s get for budget travel and an amazing way to implement more exercise into your daily adventures!
Walking or biking to your destination also allows you to take more in and truly experience the place you’re visiting. Many cities have bike sharing programs where you can pay a few dollars to bike around for the day! Watch the locals go about their everyday routine and see the place you’re in from a new perspective.
11. Embrace hostel life
Sure, multi person dorm rooms are the most cost effective, but have you ever thought about them as sustainable before? As a broke backpacker I can only ever afford to stay in multi-person rooms rather than a hotel for myself. It turns out that my budget travel habits are one of the best responsible tourism tips I could give to other travellers. Hotel rooms or private rooms take more energy per person to power than a multi-person dorm room.
Hostels can actually be a lot of fun! While the thought of sharing a room with strangers may be a bit scary, it’s one of the best ways to meet other people if you’re travelling alone. See how I make friends abroad while staying in hostels here!
12. Try out a guesthouse/homestay
Every once in a while, try staying at a guesthouse/homestay. You can find plenty on hostelworld and other booking apps that make it easy to have a local experience. This will help support local business while giving you the experience of a lifetime!
Did you ever think about how much water is used when doing laundry? When it comes to responsible tourism tips, this is another easy one. When you travel you’re inevitably going to have to do laundry at some point but there are ways around doing commercial laundry that subsequently use more water.
Try bringing detergent with you or getting your laundry done at your hostel where they use less water while washing by hand and hanging to dry. If you have the opportunity to wait for your laundry to dry, it’s always best to skip out on using the dryer if one’s available.
14. Do your research
If you choose to travel with a guided tour group, do your research prior. Smaller groups tend to have a smaller environmental impact and there are many tour operators that focus on sustainability.
A quick search online will help you find the most eco-friendly tour operators if that’s how you like to travel!
15. Ditch airplane headphones
While this one may seem a little pointless, try to see the big picture with me. Almost all long haul flights hand out headphones to use while watching movies/shows on the screen in front of you. It’s also a known fact that most airlines don’t recycle. So in order to combat the millions of headphones that are being thrown out each year, just keep the adapter that comes with the headphones for future flights or get the adapter on amazon for yourself ahead of time!
You can also just bring your own form of entertainment for the flight (books, music, download Netflix on your phone etc) and skip the airplane headphones altogether.
16. Download Ecosia
A super easy way you can implement sustainability into your everyday life is by adding Ecosia to your browser. Ecosia is just like Google but instead of simply searching for whatever you’re looking for online, they plant trees in at risk areas around the world for each search! Seems like a no brainer to start using Ecosia instead of other search engines.
So that concludes my top 16 responsible tourism tips for the time being! If you have any other tips that are easy to incorporate into budget travel, I’d love to hear. Leave a comment below or connect with me on Instagram!