10 Travel Tips to Become a More Responsible Traveller

Author: Ruby Helyer


backpacker in natural landscape

There are always social justice movements hitting headlines, whether it is protesting human rights, animal rights, or climate change, they tend to inspire and enact change in peoples’ lives. Greta Thunberg and the world’s anti-climate change movement have been in and out of headlines for years and there are many ways to help by being more responsible in your daily life and travelling habits. Many habits you undertake can simply help the planet revolve a little smoother.

I’m going to share the top 10 tips on responsible tourism. I know you’re as excited as I am to be discussing travelling, so let’s begin.

1. Do Your Research

My first tip seems, to me, to be the most obvious one. When you’re looking at holiday and travel destinations, it only seems natural to research about the place.

While I don’t simply mean just Googling the best beaches in Spain, but more rather learning about the country’s culture, even if you think it’s the same as your own - you may be surprised.

As a sustainably conscious traveller, there may be some habits you have to let go of in order to respect the country you’re visiting, such as many cultures where it is deemed rude to eat all of the food on your plate when eating at a guest’s house, or countries where it is normal to leave glass bottles on the floor next to the bin, rather than inside of it.

Learning a few words in a local language not only shows locals that you respect them and their country, but also shows them you’re not just a typical English-speaking tourist who is too stubborn to learn, it shows respect.

Putting in a little bit of effort in your research may help you make friends with the locals and be shown a much better experience than someone who refused to learn anything beforehand.

2. Pack It In, Pack It Out

No matter what country you’re travelling in, or what budget you’re spending, ensure that whatever you take with you, comes back with you (or is thrown away appropriately). This is especially important if you are camping.

While in some countries it is the norm for local communities to throw their waste wherever they are, that doesn’t mean you should join in. Part of being a responsible traveller is to hold on to good ethics and lead by example - pick up your waste and take it with you. For brownie points, you can even pick up others’ waste and keep the scenery looking beautiful.

By this logic, if you’re in a country where it is safe to drink the tap water, try to use one refillable bottle instead of buying countless plastic water bottles. Not only will this save you money, but it also rids the waste bins of pointless plastic waste.

3. Use Public Transport

I have travelled in many countries, and in almost all of them I have used public transport to get around, or simply just walked.

This is much easier to do if you’re taking a city break; cities like Berlin or Copenhagen have extremely easy and affordable public transport.

In your research phase, make notes of the distances of tourist attractions, public transport availability, or even band together with a group of new friends and get a group taxi together for somewhere further afield.

While I have experienced in Austria how great it was to have a rental car and see multiple cities in as many days, I definitely prefer using public transport and not dealing with the stress of parking, irresponsible driving in a foreign country, the abhorrent cost of a rental car, and worst of all, needlessly adding to pollution.

Many cities now also offer public bikes and scooters for rent if you have a smartphone and internet access. This allows you to travel with an eco-friendly vehicle and is much faster and less tiring than walking. I also think this is a great alternative between a car and public transport as it gives you so much flexibility.

santander public bikes lined up

Public bikes to rent in London, UK

4. Consider A Staycation

One of the biggest global burdens of travelling are the carbon emissions created from flying.

In Europe it is so cheap and quick to fly to another country that it’s very hard to pass up, but if you’re really serious about being a more responsible traveller, then you may have to stay grounded for a while.

While EasyJet is one of few European airlines offsetting their carbon footprint, the best way for you to personally offset your own is by having a staycation instead of flying anywhere.

There are plenty of ways to stay in your home country and still feel like you’re abroad, or far enough away from home to truly call it a holiday.

In the UK alone there are Center Parcs villages up and down the country, camping grounds, beachside AirBnBs or simply going to visit friends and family who live the opposite side of our small island. All of these options are better for the planet than flying anywhere abroad.

Since the pandemic lockdown, the UK needs a boost in the economy more than ever, so not only are you keeping a smaller carbon footprint, but also boosting your own country’s economy, thus helping in the long run and being a wise traveller.

There are plenty of places in the UK, or any person’s home country, that are easily overlooked by locals. Whether those are famous tourist attractions, or little beachy hideaways, but now is the time to explore and you may even forget that anywhere abroad even exists.

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5. Eat Local Produce

Whether you’re travelling or staying at home, eating local produce is a great way to stay sustainable. By eating local, you’re lowering the carbon footprint of the food, helping local economy, and often, using less packaging.

Eating locally in other countries allows you to explore foods you may never have heard of or that don’t export to your home country.

During a trip to India in 2014, I ate sugar-apples for the first, and only, time; they tasted so similar to British rhubarb and custard sweets. They were delicious and always bought from the side of the road, freshly harvested from a local farmer.

6. Pack Light

As a socially responsible traveller it is best not to be too disruptive of the places you’re exploring. There are a few reasons why you should consider packing light in order to be more responsible, but one is simply that bring large roller suitcases isn’t always great for a lot of delicate streets.

Not only is bringing large luggage annoying for yourself and your travel partners, but it can be loud, inconvenient, and damaging of streets or other things. Small streets in places like Rome have tiny cobbles that don’t withstand roller suitcases too well. A lot of countries don’t even have paved paths or streets, making it difficult and annoying you for you bring too much luggage.

Now, I’m not saying there’s a right or wrong way to travel or pack, but I always think packing minimal is best. Reuse outfits, be less materialistic, challenge yourself with how small you can pack.

Along this vein, I also suggest making your bathroom or beauty packing as sustainable and low-waste as possible. Not only does it mean you’ll be packing less, but also that the things you do pack have less packaging (ie, weight and size) and less chance of spillages in your suitcase or bags.

luggage on a halway

Example of over packing

7. Buy Experiences, Not Things

Most people like to buy a beautiful, or even tacky, souvenir from their trip; many people even buy plenty of souvenirs for family and friends back home, too, but if we’re all being honest, these are pretty bad for the planet.

Souvenirs are often cheaply made tat that don’t hold much sentimental value due to usually being made in China and being sold in overpriced tourist shops that take advantage of excited visitors to major landmarks.

As a socially responsible tourist, buying experiences or authentic value items, rather than cheap non-sentimental rubbish will give you a much more authentic view of the country you’re in and much more valuable memories.

On top of authenticity, buying experiences will also help boost local economy and support traditional lifestyles.

Spending time taking photos (free and zero-waste if they stay digital) will help keep your memories of a place at the forefront of your mind, without affecting your pocket or encouraging the selling of badly made tourist traps.

8. Buy Authenticity

If you do opt for buying material items from your travel destination, then do your research and spend a little more time buying from local sellers where the profit will directly, and positively, affect the community you fell in love with.

Be wary of famous tourist attractions where stores may sell fake “authentic” gifts (I mean, are they still really selling parts of the Berlin Wall?). Do extra research or get certificates of authenticity if they’re available.

Supporting local economy, tribal traditions, and sustainably sourced and made products will show your personal ethics in a way that helps a lot more than you might realize.

9. Open Your Mind

One of the biggest responsibilities of ensuring you get the best trip you can is holding an open mind.

An open mind allows you to explore opinions, experiences, and lifestyles from other ways of living that you may never experience in your hometown or country.

Living with a free mind will bring you the most change from your travels and ensure you take less things for granted upon returning home, but also may inspire you to change certain ways of living and to live more sustainably or responsibly overall.

As a responsible tourist, you need to respect other cultures and mindsets and accept that not every culture or person will think the same way you do.

10. Be Respectful

The final tip, and arguably the best one, is to be respectful.

How do you travel? Let me know in the comments and if you liked this article, don't forget to share it!

About the author

Ruby is a Brit lost in space. She enjoys travelling the world, having lived in a handful of different countries she now lives and studies in beautiful Tennessee, US. When she isn’t fighting the environmental battle against climate change, she can be found walking her dogs, creating illustrations, or experimenting in the kitchen.

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