Join sustainable tourism.
A simple mantra that I have applied to my daily life for a while is:
Fewer excuses. More action. EVERY DAY.
Because in recent years, in my continuous trips, I have been able to enjoy wonderful landscapes, I have met exceptional people and I have created many memories, enough to last me until I am old.
But during this time, I have also seen first hand the impact of pollution, mass tourism, and cultural destruction on our planet.
I have seen beaches in Bali – and in the Mediterranean – full of plastic and garbage. Heavily polluted cities, drowned in smog (smog) as they try to fight to cope with overpopulation. Quiet villages on paradisiacal islands that became party places for drunk backpackers, elephants who were tortured to transport tourists … And I could mention a thousand and one more situations.
Worst of all: I’ve come to realize that what we all value so much, TRAVEL, is playing a huge role in destroying the planet that we love to explore so much.
So you don’t have to store your bags and never get on a flight again
What can we passionate travelers on this incredible planet do about this growing problem?
Fortunately, there is a lot we can all do: you just have to know where to start.
In recent years, I have become increasingly aware of the footprint we leave when we travel (and also when we are home!). I am committed to taking positive action whenever possible. Ecological tourism has become a great focus for me and I am passionate about traveling in a way that is “Good for everyone” – for myself, the places and of course for the people I visit (know them or not!).
It is not always easy. I admit that there are times when I have also been wrong – but I really believe that traveling ethically is about staying informed, showing a good attitude and improving in the choices made during the trip.
I have put together this guide to responsible travel with all the tips that I have discovered in my travels and tourism; not to preach on how things should be done, but to report what I discovered and suggest. I hope you consider many of these little acts for your next vacation – and your daily life.
No action is NEVER too small.
We all have the power to change our perspective, impact and reality.
Guide to responsible tourism
What is sustainable tourism?
Sustainable tourism, or sustainable travel, ethical travel, ecological travel, etc., have become one of the most important buzzwords in the travel industry right now.
But what does tourism sustainability really mean?
Sustainable tourism is the general term for dozens of ethical problems such as wildlife tourism, travel and volunteer tourism, conservation issues …
Any subject you consider how to protect and improve the world we live in – and travel.
In a nutshell, sustainable tourism is about having an active awareness of the effect travel has on destinations and cultures around the world. Both positive and negative.
It’s about considering your own impact and that of the travel providers you choose, and taking responsibility for ensuring that every facet of your travels, from the transportation you take, the way you interact, the places you stay, and the companies and the governments you support are as sustainable as possible.
It is not about
feel believing you are superior or telling others that the way they do it is wrong. It’s also not about making drastic changes or getting all the fun out of your travels.
In any case, it is about traveling with conscience, kindness and mutual respect for the world around you, making small decisions that have great impacts and at least trying to leave as little trace as possible of your adventures.
Tips to be a more responsible tourist
1. Be a good person
In general, I don’t like to speak ill of people, but a few years ago I ended up traveling in Sri Lanka for a couple of days with a Belgian couple who, frankly, were terrible people.
At every step of the way, they were negative. They complained about everything, argued with drivers to save Euro cents, even directly accused him of trying to scam them. They looked down on many people, treated the waiters with contempt… Every interaction I witnessed with them made me want the earth to open up and swallow me whole.
It may seem simple and obvious that you should treat people with respect.
To be a responsible traveler, you simply have to be a good person. Start with a smile, listen patiently, and respond politely to those around you.
Treat those in your way with respect and kindness, even those pesky dribblers who just asked you for the 12th time this last hour if you want a tuktuk.
If you are not interested in chattering or buying, say goodbye politely and continue on your way. The old proverb about treating others as you would like to be treated will be reflected many times on your way,
You will be amazed at the kindness you will receive in return!
2. Talk to the locals
Getting involved and talking to the locals can lead to many positive experiences while traveling, and best of all, it’s free.
While I traveled through Colombia, I met a boy who was studying at university and was on vacation in the coffee axis (where we coincide). When I visited his city, he invited me to eat at his house with a family included. It was a very pleasant day to learn about the history of his family, and they gave me a fascinating and personal vision of the city.
An experience like this would not have been possible if he had not smiled and greeted as we passed him on an excursion in the coffee axis – where we ended up walking – and chattering – for more than 4 hours.
In Albania, while I was having coffee, the waitress came up to talk to me, as I was curious why she was there alone. The conversation went through many topics, we spent hours laughing and chatting between client and client. It helped me understand much more the people of Albania, and discover truly wonderful places, that if the girl had not told me, I would not have gone.
3. Supports family and local businesses
Your choices about how you travel can have a major impact on the health of our planet and its communities. By choosing to sleep, eat, and travel like a local, you will support local economies, dramatically reduce your carbon footprint, and help keep our planet’s lungs clean and healthy for centuries to come.
Support families by staying at locally owned guest houses rather than large, energy-consuming hotels. Take local transportation instead of renting a private car or driver.
Buy from talented local vendors and artisans to help keep those centuries-old traditions alive, and also give money back to local people at the source.
Also, who wants another tacky “made in China” object when you could have a nice unique souvenir that really reflects where you are?
In the photo, helping a boy who worked in a remote accommodation in Punta Gallinas (Colombia) to practice English. I was the only Spanish speaker in the group and the boy wanted to improve his English in order to better serve future guests. It is one of the most beautiful moments I remember from the trip.
4. Ethical photography
Photography is an amazing way to remember your trip long after your tan has faded. But for some reason, the usual photography behavior labels that people tend to employ in their own country often seem to fly out the window the moment they step on another.
Responsible travel photography is all about putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and wondering if you would consider it appropriate if they took the same photo of you.
- Would you take this photo in your country?
- Would you be happy if someone took that photo of you?
- Could you consider yourself an exploiter in some way (is it for children or less fortunate people)?
- Have you obtained the person’s consent?
- Is photography considered culturally acceptable here?
There is absolutely nothing I love more than going to a bustling market or busy street on my travels, and being able to capture the people who are there with my camera. But you will hardly ever see me take a picture of someone without first interacting with the subjects I intend to photograph.
Instead of taking a photo right away, I’ll try to get involved in what the person is doing, whether it’s sharing a joke with them, buying something at their booth, or just smiling and pointing at my cameras to ask if I can take a photo.
Making it a two-way interaction is not only important to me, but generally leads to much more comfortable and less engaged photography.
5. Do your research before volunteering
For those lucky enough to be able to travel the world, wanting to volunteer is something that often appears on their list. While it’s great to want to do something good while traveling, and it usually always comes from the best of intentions, sometimes volunteering actually does more harm than good to local communities.
Successful volunteering is when you help and empower a local community to grow from within, and a unique set of skills is offered to help them achieve that goal. Volunteering is pointless if you simply want to appear as the “white savior”.
According to the world organization Save the ChildrenUp to 80% of the eight million children in orphanages worldwide are not real orphans. And “children are bought or leased to their parents with the promise of a better life and a better education, when the orphanage operators simply try to meet the high demand.
The more “orphans” they need, the more tourists will donate or pay to volunteer at their orphanage, and the more profitable the operation will be. ” Simply
Likewise, unless you have a very specific skill set, say as a doctor, midwife, or teacher and can commit to a long-term program (over 6 months), it’s not worth it.
If you are simply going to teach English and hand out notebooks for a few weeks (or hours) and then leave again it is extremely detrimental to the education of children.
With that said, there are amazing organizations that do wonderful things, but worth investigating.
If you want to volunteer, consider the following:
- What will be the result of your volunteer adventure?
- Are you doing it for the right reasons?
- What skills can you offer developing countries to empower and grow their next generation to be self-sufficient?
6. Respect the locals and their culture
When you visit a foreign country, it is important to remember that you are a guest; so behave like one.
You may think that strolling through the main town square of Hvar in your bathing suit is fine, or taking photos of market workers in Malawi is fine, or that speaking aloud in Cambodian temples is acceptable, but locals may see it in a totally different way.
Respect that other people and places can see the world in a way that is very different from yours. And that their customs can make you feel uncomfortable while experiencing them.
But just because something is different or you don’t agree with it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong or your shape is better.
Much of the beauty of travel lies in discovering that rich tapestry of religion, language, and customs that make up our world. Respecting each of them for their uniqueness is the key.
Treat the locals as you would like to be treated as a guest, take note of how they behave and dress, and always travel with respect in your heart during your adventures.
7. Dress with respect
In many Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu and Orthodox countries, a fairly strict dress code is applied, especially when visiting places of religious importance, such as temples, or within some local villages.
A few years ago, I was horrified to see many backpackers flaunting their abs or wearing shorts and tank tops in sacred places like the Stretched Buddha Temple in Thailand. I get it, it’s hot, and the idea of wearing long clothes can seem horrible. But we are all in the same boat.
Whether you agree or not, showing so much skin in places like this is simply disrespectful.
In most cultures, covering the shoulders and knees will be sufficient for entering holy places / going on the street. In many others walking in a bikini or swimsuit is also frowned upon – as in the Maldives. Adapt to the “unwritten” dress code.
8. Search and enjoy cultural experiences
I am fully aware that many people travel very differently than I do. While I enjoy adjusting to a place and enjoying its cultural and local experiences, many love to relax by the pool and have cocktails. Both forms of travel are fine, but I also recommend expanding your experiences to a new place beyond the all-inclusive resort.
Take a tour of the place, visit museums, markets and local restaurants. Talk to the locals to increase your understanding and broaden your vacation experience.
After all, what’s the point of leaving home and traveling if you don’t want to at least try to experience your destination?
9. Learn the local language (as much as you can)
My French is barely acceptable, my horrible Vietnamese … well I can say Xin-Xao! But one thing I always try to do when I visit a new country is to learn some key phrases of the local language.
Only a small amount of effort turns into very positive results (anywhere in the world).
Some key phrases that I try to learn for my trips:
- Hello how are you doing?
- Thank you
- You’re welcome
- Do you speak English?
- I’m sorry I do not understand
To learn, Google Translate is a wonderful application. I always look for those phrases and write them down.
I assure you that, even if you don’t “understand” yourself (you always end up understanding yourself), you will provoke more than one smile.
10. Haggle Respectfully
Trading in a local market is part of the fun when you travel. Haggling for food, transportation, and souvenirs is common in many parts of the world.
In general, have fun and haggle hard but fairly. What might seem like a small price difference game to you could actually mean the difference between a full day’s salary and a bad work day for the seller you’re dealing with.
It positively supports the livelihoods of merchants considering that the goal is to pay the fairest price for all, not the cheapest.
Furthermore, negotiation is not standard practice in all countries. Make sure you know whether it is considered acceptable or not to haggle before you start to do so to make sure you don’t offend when trying to haggle where you don’t haggle.
11. Eat at local places
Let’s be honest, there really is nothing better than eating local cuisine. Food is not only delicious, but you also support the local economy through the use of local ingredients and products, workers, restaurant owners and food culture.
So when you visit a destination, eat at local restaurants, street food stalls and markets, and forget the typical chains. Not only is it more delicious that way, but you are helping local communities support themselves.
Plus, eating locally also lowers carbon emissions to transport those McDonalds fries we all know.
It is a winning situation for everyone.
12. Find humanitarian companies
If you want to support humanitarian projects and support the locals in the place you are visiting, research the social and non-profit organizations in the destination before visiting it. Request their services, reserve an experience or buy any product they produce.
In Punta Gallinas (Colombia), I bought an artisan backpack from the mother of a Wayú family in order to support her family and send the girls to study. The experiences when you support a craftsman, wherever they are, are always truly authentic. Know the story behind, see how they make the product … It is priceless.
I love to contribute, even in a small way.
13. Slow down
Quite often, our travel instinct is binge-eating, just like when you’re in front of a bag of chips (you don’t just want one…).
We constantly want to see more, do more, eat more, listen more, go to more highlights, have more kilometers traveled, more countries crossed off the list, as fast as possible, and all with the excuse of maximizing our time. Many people use tour buses, spanning as many cities as they can on two to four weeks of annual vacations, and “see” everything – without even scratching the surface.
This world is a bigger place than any of us can explore, and you will never really appreciate your experiences or a destination if you try to run too much.
Slow down your trip, see fewer places but better.
Take the time to discover the rhythms of local life, buy food in the markets, observe what happens in the neighborhood where you stay. Develop your cultural understanding and be present wherever you are.
Traveling should be about seeing and doing things in the most authentic way possible, not as fast as possible.
14. Respect for the environment
I cannot tell you how many times I have been in the middle of wonderful nature and looking around me I discovered heaps of garbage. Sadly, it is becoming so common to see pieces of trash on hiking trails, beaches, and national parks.
It seems that we are all becoming callous, and that is just sad.
Regardless of whether it is your country of origin or you are somewhere to visit, respect the environment and take your trash with you until you can find a recycle bin or trash to leave it.
15. Offset your carbon emissions
Air travel has never been more popular or more dangerous for the planet. In fact, I am more aware than ever that my choice to travel is having a major impact on the environment.
Air emissions represent 2% of the world’s human-made carbon emissions, and it is not something that will change in the short term, since air travel will continue to increase between 2 and 8% per year until 2030 .
A simple way to offset your inevitable carbon footprint is to offset your emissions. This can be done by calculating their emissions and then making a donation to respective projects around the world aimed at reducing carbon in the atmosphere.
Many airlines do not have the ability to offset their emissions directly, so the best way to do this is through Carbonfootprint , a website that allows you to easily calculate and offset your emissions through reputable organizations or global projects.
Alternatively, travel closer to home and save those emissions entirely.
16. Use public transportation
Whenever I can, even traveling, I strive to take public transportation, whenever possible. Not only is it exciting, it’s a great way to meet the locals and see more of the country you’re visiting.
Your carbon footprint is also reduced. By choosing existing ground transportation (trains, buses, etc.) and minimizing your short-distance internal flights or private taxis, you are reducing unnecessary emissions, so the next time you’re in a country, take the subway, the train, the bus, or the tuk-tuk, you can even rent a bike!
17. Walk whenever you can
IMHO, the best way to discover a city is on foot.
Walking the streets and getting lost is not only a fun way to get closer to exploration.
In addition, it is the best for the environment. There is no contamination here!
18. Reduce or stop eating meat
While I don’t expect everyone reading this article to become vegetarian / vegan, simply cutting down on meat and dairy can have a positive effect on the environment.
Livestock production contributes, today, with almost 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions, which is even more than the transport sector.
Here are some statistics that may surprise you:
- Compared to crops like potatoes, wheat, and rice, beef requires 160 times more land and produces 11 times more greenhouse gases.
- Of the land that is not covered by ice, livestock occupies 30% of our land.
- by 2050, emissions from the agriculture and food production industries are estimated to account for approximately half of the total available ‘carbon budget’.
- to produce a kilo of meat requires between 4,000 and 15,000 liters of water (depends on the type of meat)
A billion people go hungry every day, yet livestock now consumes most of the world’s crops.
Throughout my travels, I have come across beautiful unspoiled pastures that have already been designated for cattle farms. You’ve seen extreme poverty and hunger first hand, I’ve also seen animal abuse in many of the places I’ve visited.
I decided a long time ago that I don’t want to support the meat industry.
My journey to vegetarianism started as “flexitarian”, stopping eating meat little by little. Now I am almost exclusively vegetarian, and I have also almost completely eliminated dairy. I say “almost”, because on rare occasions I could still eat some fish, or I will try a piece of the local delicacy they offer me on my travels if it is really rude to refuse to eat it.
By becoming a vegetarian, you will discover an incredible world of flavors that you never believed existed.
19. Choose responsible tour operators
If you are going to choose a tour, research and choose a travel brand that reflects your own values and beliefs.
Ask yourself, before hiring:
- What type of transportation do they use?
- Do they care about the communities they visit?
- What attractions do they visit?
- Do they condone cruel practices – like elephant rides or lion walks -?
- Do they have any deal / agreement with any wildlife protection agency?
In addition you will have to ask yourself, do they really live by those values, or are they just words on a page?
During my trip through Colombia, to do the trekking to Ciudad perdida, I spent several weeks looking for a sustainable tourism company in Colombia. I found one where the guides were local, (with translators also local or from countries with less resources than Colombia) and decided to bet on them. I like to know that the money is distributed in the community, even if it is a little more expensive.
20. Conserve water and use less when you shower
I love long, hot showers, but I know that water is such a rare commodity worldwide.
I have been to many places where there are no toilets. I have had to bathe with water and buckets in some paradisiacal islands (to which I would return without thinking), and I have also visited several places where they do not have a water faucet, but rather that you have to go find it in the river or find it in some other way .
To this day, I can’t justify a long shower.
Remember that while you can have access to clean and fresh water, many do not, therefore, limit your showers to a maximum of 2 minutes and never, never, leave the water running while you brush your teeth or wash dishes.
21. Choose green accommodation
As the tourism industry evolves and moves towards a more sustainable model, it is becoming easier to choose sustainable and eco-friendly accommodation.
Research is a key piece, since many ‘eco-lodges’ are the furthest from ecology that can exist. With an analysis of their websites, it will help you understand their credentials. If you have questions about anything, always contact the accommodation for clarification.
22. Do not print your tickets or tickets
If you buy a bus, train or plane ticket … Try not to print the tickets.
Nowadays you can have almost all your tickets and tickets on your mobile. In many cities, such as London, Porto or Taipei, there are rechargeable cards for public transport that you buy and recharge. Use them! It is much better than buying individual tickets in the machine and printing a different ticket each time.
Normally, these transport cards are plastic and rechargeable, so, to make the most of it, give that card to another person when you leave the place to extend the life of the card. There is always someone who can use it.
In many low-cost airlines, you are required to carry the printed / digital plane ticket if you do not want to pay a penalty. Opt for the digital version. Normally, there is a web application where you can have your ticket stored. If there isn’t, you can simply save a copy of the pdf to your mobile and take it there. Check with each airport / company that you can do it, since surely there are still places that will not be accepted, but increasingly the digital format wins the printed one.
23. Don’t take seashells from the beach
On your trips, do not take shells, take trash with you. I know it is tempting to take the shells, shells, and other objects that we find on the beach, but please, leave them where they belong.
I recommend that you take everything that does not belong to that world: butts, floating plastics …
If we all change that habit, we can help the sea a little more to continue maintaining life for longer.
24. Do not support animal tourism
On my way, I have found that almost all animal attractions are negative, so my solution is simply not to support any of them. This includes riding elephants or elephant safaris, elephant ‘sanctuaries’, tiger temples, swimming with dolphins, animal performances, hunting… the list is endless.
If you are absolutely determined to get up close and personal with a wild animal, please do a thorough research through Google, Tripadvisor and travel guides before visiting any animal attractions and support only those who are truly ethical.
25. Limit your wildlife encounters
Some of the best experiences I’ve had as a traveler are witnessing a herd of elephants walking freely around Sri Lanka at sunset, a buffalo stopping to drink in front of me during my journey in Vietnam,… all these casual activities with free-roaming animals around the world. street are beautiful and leave you, without a doubt, breathless.
Avoid wildlife zoos and parks, and keep an eye out for animal watching in their natural habitats (at a safe distance for everyone).
You will discover many animals and insects if you just open your eyes on the way.
26. Don’t touch animals
On my trip to Vietnam, on a beach full of starfish, my heart broke into a thousand pieces.
Many people touched, manipulated … the starfish to take that perfect photo for their Instagram.
I don’t want to think how many little stars of the sea die every day …
Please do not touch the animals / insects that you come across. Let them live.
Don’t do to others what you don’t want for yourself. Including animals.
27. No skinny, thanks
“No skinny / straw, please”! It is a simple statement but with widely positive implications on the planet.
More than 8 billion cubic tons of plastic have been produced on the planet, of which 91% is not recycled. Much of it, like the cañitas / pitillos, ends up in our oceans, with serious consequences for marine life.
Parémonos a pensar un minuto: las cañitas/ pitillos tienen un uso de aproximadamente media hora antes de que sean arrojadas directamente a la basura. Multiplica eso por la cantidad de bebidas que se pueden tomar en un bar, y vuelve a multiplicarlo por todos los demás clientes que hay allí. Empieza a darte cuenta de como es de grande realmente el problema.
La cosa es, no es tan fácil. Me acuerdo que al inicio de mis viajes se me olvidaba decir al principio que no quería la cañita, y las bebidas venían con el pitillo… Ahora, enseño mi pitillo/ caña, que llevo a todas partes, y añado que no me traigan ninguno adicional.
Recuerda, la próxima vez que ordenes un cóctel, batido o café helado, utiliza esta frase al ordenar tu bebida.
«Sin pitillo/ cañita, por favor»
28. Cambia tus productos de higiene
Mira dentro de tu neceser y te darás cuenta que el 99% de las cosas que tienes son de plástico. Botellas de champú, cepillos de dientes, peines para el cabello, maquinillas de afeitar, maquillaje… Casi todo lo que usamos para nuestra higiene personal está envuelto en una capa de plástico. Muchas veces innecesaria.
Afortunadamente, marcas internacionales como Lush – y otras marcas locales- están comenzando a ofrecer a las consumidores alternativas a las botellas de plástico, como barras de desodorante, jabón, champú y acondicionador, pastillas de enjuague bucal…
Yo voy cambiando poco a poco mis productos. El cepillo de dientes por uno de bambú, jabones líquidos por sólidos… Todos los pasos suman.
29. Di no al plástico
Una bolsa de plástico para esto, una bolsa de plástico para lo otro… Así es como me sentí al viajar por primera vez por el sudeste asiático. Fue abrumador.
¡La forma más fácil de reducir el consumo total de plástico es simplemente decir NO!
Evita comprar productos de plástico si es posible. Di no a las bolsas de plástico. Yo llevo siempre en mi mochila un par de bolsas para ir a comprar, porque sé que voy mucho a mercados locales.
Cuando sea posible, intenta educar suavemente a los locales sobre las consecuencias negativas del plástico. No necesitas ser una predicadora. Un simple «No, gracias, no me gusta el plástico, ya que es malo para el medio ambiente» será más que suficiente.
30. Utiliza botellas reutilizables /purificadores de agua
A nivel mundial, los humanos consumen un millón de botellas de plástico cada minuto. Cada minuto. El plástico tarda 400 años en biodegradarse.
En muchos países el agua potable está disponible de forma gratuita. Con lo cual, la idea de utilizar una botella de plástico es totalmente absurda. Compra una botella de agua reutilizable y llévala contigo allá donde vayas para evitar comprar botellas de un solo uso.
Y… ¿Qué pasa cuándo el agua es «sucia»?» Bueno, estamos de acuerdo en que encontrar agua potable limpia puede ser un problema en muchos países en vías de desarrollo, pero como viajero no tiene que significar que tienes que comprar infinitas botellas de plástico donde quiera que vayas.
Invertir en una botella con filtración de agua o esterilizador, que proporciona agua potable limpia y segura de cualquier fuente de agua no salada, es una solución simple.
Resumen sobre el turismo sostenible
El viaje responsable es importante. REALMENTE IMPORTANTE. Me gustaría saber que has visto que no es tan difícil hacer el cambio, aunque sea poco a poco, para unirte aun turismo más ético y sostenible.
Si no quieres verlo por la parte de la responsabilidad, míralo por la parte egoísta. Contra más conserves el planeta, más tiempo podrás viajar.
¿Quieres leer más sobre vivir sin plástico? Aquí tienes una guía para vivir sin plástico.
Como he dicho, esta guía no es para predicar cómo hacer las cosas. En estos ejemplos de turismo sostenible, puedo incluso no tener razón en algunas de mis sugerencias. Eso es lo que son, simplemente, sugerencias desde mi experiencia y vivencias.
Espero que consideres muchos de estos pequeños actos para tus próximas visitas o vacaciones – y que también intentes aplicar acciones más éticas y sostenibles a tu vida diaria.
Te incito a que te preguntes qué puedes hacer para viajar de una forma más responsable y ética, y colabores en la conservación del planeta, ya que solamente tenemos uno.
— Guarda y comparte —