10 ways to be a responsible traveler and help protect our planet

04.11.24 by Travelex Insurance
Image credit: Getty Images
Want to know how to make a positive impact on the world while exploring it? Discover more about ecotourism and sustainable travel, plus get useful tips on how to embrace responsible tourism.

Travel is more than a passion for many people; it’s a way of life. That's why the concept of being a responsible traveler is so important to many of us — including the people who live in the places we love to visit.

But what does it mean to travel responsibly, and how can you combine the excitement of exploration with the ethics of sustainability and respect for local cultures? Our guide not only explores the essence of responsible travel, but it also provides practical advice to help you make a positive impact on the environments and communities you visit.

Here are some key details you need before learning how to be a responsible traveler:

  • What is responsible travel? Exploring while being conscious of the environmental, economic, and social impact of your travel footprint.
  • What is ecotourism? A movement aimed at sustainable travel that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people. Ecotourism encourages travelers to look beyond the beaten path, engage with local communities in a respectful manner, and contribute to conservation efforts.
  • What is sustainable travel? Finding a balance that allows us to enjoy the world's beauty while preserving it and enhancing the destination for the future.

What can I do to be a responsible traveler?

Ready to make a difference while enjoying your vacation? Here are some ways to practice responsible tourism.

10 ways to travel responsibly:

1. Choose eco-friendly transportation.

2. Support local businesses.

3. Be mindful of wildlife.

4. Reduce, reuse, recycle.

5. Respect your destination’s cultural norms.

6. Contribute to conservation.

7. Use water wisely.

8. Travel during off-peak seasons.

9. Educate other travelers.

10. Choose sustainable accommodations.

10 ways to incorporate sustainable travel into your trips

1. Choose eco-friendly transportation options

Many forms of transportation increase gases like carbon dioxide in the environment, which accelerates climate change. So, how can you reduce your carbon footprint and emissions? When you’re able, opt for public transportation, bicycling, or walking while exploring your destination. For longer distances, consider travel options like trains and electric vehicles for more sustainable travel that lessens carbon emissions.

"So much research online will tell you it’s practically impossible to experience Italy without a car. I’m here to tell you otherwise! I've been to Italy six times and never rented a car. I've explored the north, center, and south of Italy — Lake Como, Milan, Pisa, Florence, Rome, Amalfi Coast, Cinque Terra, Carpi, Sicily, the Puglia region, and more — and I’ve done it all via train, bus, and ferry. On the rare occasion public transportation hasn't been available or is just too inconvenient, I've taken a cab or used a ride share app like Uber, Lyft, or FreeNow. Cab fares are often much cheaper than car rental costs for the entire trip!"

Cherie H., Travelex employee

Our vacation idea using eco-friendly transportation:

Why not take in the sights of Amsterdam, Netherlands in an electric vehicle if riding a bicycle isn’t your thing? The city is a prime destination for a responsible traveler seeking to rent an electric car, thanks to its extensive network of charging stations and bike paths repurposed for eco-friendly vehicles. Plus, with its commitment to becoming carbon neutral, Amsterdam provides an ideal backdrop for environmentally conscious tourists to explore its rich history and vibrant culture sustainably.

2. Support local businesses

Not only does supporting local businesses help you immerse yourself in your destination’s culture, but it also makes you a more responsible traveler. From where you stay and shop to what you eat and the activities you experience, choosing local businesses helps to keep the economic benefits within the community. Plus, you’ll love the more authentic experience that most local businesses are proud to offer.

"If I travel ..., I try to support local businesses, such as eating at street food vendors and buying local art directly from artisans.”

Heidi H., in response to our Travelex responsible traveler survey

Our vacation idea for supporting local businesses:

Visiting Spain and stopping at El Rastro, Madrid's iconic flea market, offers an unparalleled opportunity to immerse yourself in the city's vibrant culture and history through its variety of stalls and items. By purchasing unique, locally made products, visitors directly support small businesses and artisans, contributing to the preservation of traditional Spanish crafts. This bustling market not only promises a memorable shopping experience but also allows travelers to connect with the local community, making every find a treasure with its own story.

3. Be mindful of wildlife

Planning to swim with pigs in the Bahamas or interact with monkeys in Bali? You can coexist with wildlife responsibly by following guidance from officials and staff, maintaining a safe distance, choosing ethical sanctuaries, and avoiding attractions that exploit animals.

“Caring for animal populations and their habitats is a solid step toward a better planet.”

Lindsay C., in response to our Travelex responsible traveler survey

Our vacation idea to be mindful of wildlife:

Planning a visit to Thailand but don’t want to ride the elephants because some are subjected to animal cruelty during training and everyday life? You can visit an elephant conservation center in Thailand to help support the conservation of the species instead. You can walk through the jungle and watch elephants wade through rivers, or even volunteer and help feed the elephants.

4. Reduce, reuse, recycle

Reducing waste while traveling is the essence of being a responsible traveler. You can help by packing light when it comes to items in plastic bottles and containers, as well as bringing multipurpose items to help minimizes unnecessary consumption and the need for single-use products.

Then, try to reuse your items by carrying and consistently using things like reusable water bottles, fabric shopping bags, and refillable toiletries instead of opting for disposable versions.

When you’re finished using items and ready to discard them, separate recyclables from other waste and dispose of them properly, even if it means carrying them until you find a suitable recycling facility.

“Using a filter water bottle on vacation is not only a cost-effective choice but also an environmentally friendly one. It lets you safely refill your bottle from various sources, reducing the need for purchasing single-use plastic bottles and contributing to the effort against plastic pollution.”

Margot L., Travelex employee

Our vacation idea that supports reduce, reuse, recycle:

Visit Bali, Indonesia to learn more about protecting the environment. The island has banned single-use plastics like plastic bags and straws, so you can relax by the beach knowing you’re supporting reduce, reuse, and recycle practices.

5. Respect your destination's cultural norms

The beauty of travel is that you can embrace new experiences, cultures, and languages — but with that comes cultural norms you may not be used to. Whether you’re getting ready to spend Day of the Dead in Mexico or meet locals in Japan, it’s important to take time to learn about and respect the local customs and traditions.

Some ways to be a responsible traveler with respect for your destination’s culture is to dress appropriately, ask for permission before taking photos of people, and learn local etiquette and potentially offensive gestures.

“To preserve parts of each culture is what makes travel so intriguing and fun. This includes culinary, architectural, and local customs. Responsible tourism should be focused on preserving these.”

William G., in response to our Travelex responsible traveler survey

Our vacation idea for discovering and respecting other cultures:

Book a trip to Mexico during Día de los Muertos (or “Day of the Dead”) celebrations, when communities come together to honor their relatives that have passed away. You’ll be immersed in Mexican culture, from the music and dancing to the costumes and cuisine.

6. Contribute to conservation

At the heart of sustainable travel is conservation, which means protecting our natural environment — so future generations can enjoy their travels, too! To practice responsible tourism, you can participate in or donate to conservation and reforestation projects. This can also be a rewarding way to get more deeply involved with the places you visit.

“When taking care of the environment, we're also taking care of the health and well-being of the people.”

Nicole M., in response to our Travelex responsible traveler survey

Our vacation idea for supporting conservation:

Visit Costa Rica for an opportunity to engage directly with some of the world’s most dynamic and diverse ecosystems. The Central American country is famed for its commitment to sustainability and conservation, with over a quarter of its territory protected as national parks or wildlife reserves. By choosing Costa Rica for a conservation vacation, you can support these efforts by participating in eco-friendly tours, volunteering in reforestation projects, and experiencing wildlife conservation programs firsthand.

7. Use water wisely

Water is a precious resource, especially in arid regions. Before you book your accommodation, do your research and try to choose a place to stay that implements water conservation practices for more sustainable travel. Once you’ve arrived, conserve water by taking shorter showers and using water-saving devices when possible. Little actions can contribute to a large impact on our environment, so remember to turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth and reuse towels at your accommodation.

“Basic resources such as shelter, [water,] and food are essential for everyone. Those of us who have the luxury of travel need to be mindful of those who don't even have the basics.”

Suzanne C., in response to our Travelex responsible traveler survey

Our vacation idea for water conservation:

Take a trip to Seoul, South Korea and learn about urban water conservation practices like rainwater harvesting. The city uses groundbreaking technologies and community efforts aimed at sustainable water use, so you can enjoy exploring the area knowing you’re helping to conserve water.

8. Travel during off-peak seasons

Want to support the planet and have fewer crowds at attractions during your trip? A responsible traveler can help alleviate over-tourism by traveling in shoulder or off-peak seasons. This not only reduces impact on local resources but can also enhance your experience by avoiding crowds and higher prices.

“The most important aspect of [traveling] for me is a chance to immerse myself in ... another culture. If it could also result in an opportunity to contribute and help those welcoming us [into] their country, it makes the experience twice as rewarding.”

Gala M., in response to our Travelex responsible traveler survey

Our vacation idea for traveling during off-peak seasons:

Travel to Oahu, Hawaii during the off-seasons, which usually fall between mid-April and early June and September and mid-December. You’ll be able to explore Oahu's stunning beaches, hiking trails, and historical sites in a more relaxed and intimate setting with mild weather. Plus, you can participate in local events and festivals not typically showcased to the mass of tourists.

9. Educate other travelers

What is ecotourism worth if not enough travelers embrace it? Everyone can make a difference, so it’s essential to share your responsible travel experiences and tips with others. Education and awareness are key to spreading the principles of sustainable travel.

So, how can you help get the word out on how to be a responsible traveler? By sharing personal experiences and tips on social media, blogs, or even through casual conversations, you can inspire others to adopt more sustainable and ethical travel behaviors.

“I firmly believe knowledge is crucial for the positive development of the world as a whole.”

Pedro C., in response to our Travelex responsible traveler survey

Our vacation idea for educating other travelers:

Venture to the Galápagos Islands with friends and family for a distinctive opportunity to educate both yourself and others on the principles of responsible travel and sustainability. Through guided eco-tours and voluntary participation in conservation projects, travelers can actively contribute to the preservation of this UNESCO World Heritage site while gaining invaluable insights into the practices of sustainable tourism.

10. Choose sustainable accommodations

Sustainable travel has been gaining attention over the past couple of decades, which means many accommodations are adopting conservation practices to promote responsible travel.

Look for hotels and lodgings that have sustainable practices in place, such as energy-efficient lighting, water-saving techniques, and recycling programs. You should also consider booking a locally owned accommodation to support the economy in your destination.

“Preserving the natural world in a multitude of ways keeps those places beautiful for future generations.”

Dianne C., in response to our Travelex responsible traveler survey

Our vacation idea for using sustainable accommodations:

Book your stay at Svart, positioned at the Arctic Circle in Norway. It’s acclaimed as the world's most sustainable hotel, setting a new standard in eco-friendly travel. Designed to be energy positive, it produces more energy than it consumes, thanks to innovative solutions like solar panels and geothermal wells. Svart’s commitment to preserving the pristine natural beauty of its surroundings and minimizing its carbon footprint offers guests a unique, guilt-free luxury experience.

Enjoy your destination as a responsible traveler

By following our 10 tips for sustainable travel, you can help ensure that the world remains an incredible place to explore for years to come. Whether it's choosing an ecotourism adventure, supporting local artisans, or simply being mindful of your consumption, every action counts towards a more sustainable and ethical way of exploring our planet. Keep traveling, learning, and adapting to make the most of all your vacations.

Ready to protect your responsible travels?

While you try to protect the planet, make sure you also help protect your vacation. It’s the responsible thing to do! Get a quote online now.

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