What is responsible travel

Responsible travel is to be socially, culturally and environmentally aware when we travel. This includes awareness during the travel period as well as our destination. By using responsible practices we can make a positive impact in local communities, wildlife and the environment. Being a responsible traveller isn’t easy. Even in our every day lives we need to make a conscious effort to remind ourselves to buy local produce, use public transport more often, bring your own bag… No one goes green in one day, and obviously, no one becomes the ultimate-responsible traveller overnight. Changing the way we operate is a continuous process that requires both practice and research.

You can start being a responsible traveller at home by doing a clean up day
We spent a day cleaning the river in Ulaanbaatar

How can irresponsible travel be harmful?

I think it is best if I explain this with an example:

We go to a souvenir shop in our holiday destination and we buy a souvenir. This souvenir is made out of animal skin of an endangered species, but we don’t know that. If a lot of people continue to support this kind of business, the consequences can be devastating in the long term. Two examples that come to my mind are:

Ecosystem imbalances – animals losing their source of food, other species multiplying uncontrollably because of lack of predators, forced migrations because of lack of food.

Poaching – cruel animal hunting, people engaging in illegal activities which could result in negative consequences for an entire community.

Most of us don’t really think about these things when we are looking at souvenirs. After we learn about the negative consequences of our purchase, we probably feel bad about our actions, but there is little that we can do about it. (Well, we can still warn others!)

a responsible traveller will visit animals in natural parks and from a safe distance rather than visiting animals in captivity
Rhino at Chitwan National Park in Nepal

Working towards responsible travel

When our understanding of a certain topic increases, we gain more clarity on the bigger picture and our attitude towards it can change. In my personal opinion, most people in the world have good intentions and want to do the right thing. So, to come back to the example, had we read about the problems of animal poaching at our travel destination we would have chosen something different to buy. And even where to buy it. We could have bought hand made items by an artisan and promote local business or go to a certified fair trade shop.

If we research the place we are going to visit beforehand, we will be more prepared to make better decisions.

buying local handcrafts will help and promote local economy and become a responsible traveller
Handmade pottery in Nepal

Ways in which you can become a responsible traveller

Let me share a few ideas to think about. You can reflect on how they apply in a place you will visit and what it looks like when we put them into practice.

– Hire tour operators that promote responsible tourism.
– Support local businesses, like accommodation, restaurants.
– Learn about local culture and practices and be respectful.
– Say no to non-humane wildlife activities and practices.
– Minimise your waste.
– Consider how you spend money: don’t over-bargain, don’t give to beggars.

learning about foreign culture can help you understand the way others view the world and become a more responsible traveller
A young man playing traditional music for a group of guests at his ger in Bayan Olgii

It looks daunting…

I know… I´ve been there. All I can say is start simple. Start at home, then the habits you develop will be easier to practice when you travel. For example, carrying a reusable bottle of water so that you don’t have to buy a plastic bottle every time. Before you know it, you will be carrying your bottle with you everywhere. Simple actions when you travel can be, for example, choosing activities that don’t disturb wildlife. Starting with something little is the biggest step.

I hope my posts about ethical travel will give you useful information to make an educated decision during your travels.

I share what responsible travel looks like, why it is important and what actions we can take to take care of the environment and support local communities.

My question to you: What do you do to be a responsible traveller? What are you working on to become a better responsible traveller? Let me know in the comments!

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34 Comments

  1. I love this post. So necessary and informational. I know we all hope we can be better travelers but just a little more effort and we can get there. Thank you for the tips and for an honest post

  2. Great post! Responsible travel is something that is becoming more and more important to me. There are so many little things that all of us can do to help protect the Earth and it is everyone’s responsibility. Since I am a big nature person, hiking frequently, I always try to follow the Leave No Trace policies.

  3. I loved the ‘death of a poacher’ story. Not because someone died but because karma won out. That might sound terrible, but sometime we get what we deserve!

    1. It is my understanding that poachers are just part of a larger system that takes advantage of poor communities and families who would do anything to get some money. I understand where you are coming from, I initially felt the same, but on second thoughts that man was just probably trying to survive in a world where he and his family will always be poor. The poacher story is a sad one, and it should make us reflect on how complex these topics can be, and how important it is that we do not support animal-related economic activities, not only because of animals but because of people too. 🙂

  4. I really enjoyed reading this post! This is never something I actively think of while traveling but I need to start. I remember when I was traveling in Iceland they were selling seal pelts and it shocked me to see them in a store since I’m used to them being endangered.

    1. Animal furs are a tricky topic at times. Some communities have traditionally benefitted from animal furs because of extreme weather temperatures like Iceland, Mongolia and the whole Siberia to name a few. Rural communities do not have the means to buy expensive Patagonia synthetic materials and they need to keep warm. When it comes to such dilemmas I encourage lots of research beforehand and definitely would ask myself the question of whether I really need that or not. Perhaps it is okay for people who live there but not for yourself as a souvenir.

  5. These are very important points. Responsible, ethical and mindful travel is very important especially nowadays. Thanks for shedding light onto this topic.

  6. Great advice and I attempt to adhere to this credo. I believe in supporting the local economies where I travel and respecting the local traditions. I believe that I should minimise my footprint wherever I go.

  7. Very important topic given how we travel to enjoy the world but the world can’t sustain us indefinitely. Keen reminder that we definitely need. Thank you for sharing!

  8. Yes!! Responsible travel is so important. I just love how you break it down into small baby steps of being informed and making slight changes that eventually lead to new habits. I think educating oneself about the area is one of the first steps to being a responsible traveler.

  9. I try to learn as much as I can about local practices, culture, and expectations before I go so I do my best not to inadvertently cause offence. But you’ve made me realise that there’s so much more I could be doing.

    1. I find that if you have basic knowledge of local practices it will be greatly appreciated. For example, in Mongolia people shake hands if they accidentally step or kick someone’s foot. If that happens with a foreigner they will likely disregard the situation because they understand you wouldn’t know how to proceed. Imagine you offered your hand… they will respect you a lot.

  10. Great post! Responsible travel is something we can all do to try to make our travels have less of a negative impact. Good ideas on some things travelers can do to be more responsible.

  11. This is SO important!! Thank you for writing this post. I especially love that you wrote “say no to non-humane wildlife activities and practices.” So many people go on trips and partake in activities that are clearly harmful to animals, or to the environment and it needs to stop. Also limiting waste while traveling is key – we need to be sustainable and save the planet.

    1. Thanks for the words, it is very important to do research to be a more responsible traveller to avoid non humane activities that we may not be aware of.

  12. Thank you for raising awareness about responsible travel. I think it is SO essential that all travelers start thinking about and prioritizing this when they travel. Otherwise, tourism can have such bad impacts on the world (I know, I live next to an Airbnb party house which is destroying my neighborhood). We all need to protect one another!

    1. Thanks for the words, hopefully we will become mindful travellers so that we can keep on visiting places without leaving a negative impact.

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