When we travel, we impact the environment, communities, wildlife… Unfortunately, most of these impacts aren’t positive.

Should we reduce travelling for the sake of protecting the environment? 

I don’t think so. Travelling led me to meet people and see places that inspired me to have a more responsible lifestyle at home. Tourism is also a considerable economic incentive to protect some natural wonders and decrease poverty in some parts of the world. And it can be a major source of revenues for the population.


But there are things we can do to minimise the negative impacts of travelling and effectively increase the positive ones.

Our travel decisions are crucial for making a difference, and it’s not that hard to become a more responsible traveller.

When we talk about responsible travelling, we quickly think about the environment. It’s evident that flying and driving pollute or that big hotels on a beach have impacts on the surrounding nature for example. Eco-hotels and eco-tours are often the first ideas that come into mind to minimise our impacts. But travelling sustainably involves a lot more than just respecting the environment.

‘Tourism that is not only environmentally friendly, but also generates social and economic benefits”  (Solimar International)

My personal experience inspired me this article: I know I didn’t make all the most responsible choices in the past because I lacked education about my impact. With experience, it has become natural to make decisions that support sustainable tourism. The objective of this post is to educate about responsible options and inspire travellers to change their behaviours.

I understand it can be hard to follow all these tips. And to be honest, I don’t think it’s possible to support them all, all the time. This article has not been created to judge your choices or make you feel guilty. It’s here to help you make informed decisions.

Phase 1: Be Responsible during travel planning

Research during travel planning is crucial to learn more about the destination and the providers you are selecting for your accommodation, food, activities, tours or transport.

1. Consider local destinations

Travelling far is exciting and interesting. It’s an excellent opportunity to learn about a new culture, meet people from different backgrounds, find a climate and see natural wonders that are very different from what we have back home. Well… is it really? I’m not saying you should not travel far away from where you live. But sometimes, there are great alternatives not far from home that offer the same kinds of experience, and they’re worth checking out.

Positive impact: Reduce carbon footprint

2. Consider slow travel

mexico yucatan peninsula itinerary

Some find it tempting to visit ten countries in two weeks. Well, you actually only visit ten places. And you spend a lot of time commuting between them. Slow travel is the opposite: what about focusing on one small region? It is great to increase your local knowledge and visit out of the beaten track places for example.

We took that option during our trip to Mexico. We spent two weeks in the Yucatan Peninsula whereas we could have decided to try to explore as much as possible of the country. There was a lot to see in that region, and we had time to follow tips from locals. We loved it!

Positive impacts: Reduce carbon footprint, contribute to the local economy (reduce poverty), learn about the culture

3. Visit less touristy places

Touristy places are often touristy for a reason. I’m not saying you should skip them at all. But we all know how mass tourism can ruin the charm – and the environment – of some lovely areas. And that’s not only true for natural places. For example, authorities in Venice were considering to cap the number of visitors as the city gets overcrowded.

Sometimes, there are alternative options nearby that are less touristy and as pleasant. It can be gratifying to travel off the beaten tracks.

Positive impacts: Spread your money (reduce poverty), protect the heritage/environment

4. Pick all activities including wild animals very carefully


I wrote a full article about that topic. If you love animals, you need to be careful when you choose an activity that involves them.

Riding an elephant, visiting a zoo, swimming with dolphins, feeding crocodiles… Is it ethical to join these tours? Maybe they contribute to helping the conservation of the area. Or perhaps they’re just exploiting the animals to make tourists happy and earn money. Do some research before making a decision!

Positive impact: Protect wildlife

5. Be extra careful when children are involved (incl. when volunteering)

Children are not an attraction. It does not sound ethical to use them for tourism purposes.

In Tanzania, we visited a Masai Village that included a tour of their school. Although I didn’t like the idea because the approach was very touristy, l followed my group who was keen to do it. We all agreed at the end that the visit was weird. In the school, the children were reciting the same lesson over and over again for the tourists. It was terrible. And they dared to ask us for additional money to support the “school”.

Children are often linked to volunteer experiences. Volunteering during a trip comes from a good and noble intention. But as ‘voluntourism’ becomes a business, it does not always have a positive impact. Make sure you do extensive research:

  • Avoid orphanages because corruption is high (some children have been separated from their family!) and benefits for children low
  • Pick a volunteer experience that is suitable to your level of skills and expertise, so you don’t slow down the project and do bring something the locals need
  • Ask yourself if your plan is sustainable after you leave and brings long-term positive impact

Before you engage in volunteering, check this controversial article that will question your project and can help you organise it more ethically: The problem with little white girls (and boys), why I stopped being a voluntourist

And this one will give you great tips to find the right volunteer project: Does voluntourism do more harm than good?

Positive impact: Protect locals

6. Look for alternative accommodations

Our hut in the forest of Macario Gomez in Mexico

Big online booking websites are convenient; I use them a lot. But smaller local accommodation options are not always listed on these sites. These alternative options often have a more significant impact on the local economy and the local environment.

It’s not even an effort for travellers as the experience is more authentic and creates fantastic memories!

This hut in the jungle of Mexico where we had no electricity and an outdoor shower was a lot more than just accommodation. We shared quality time talking about interesting topics with the Mexican owners and discovering more about the local products and cultures. It was a lot better than staying at a resort in the touristy Tulum!

Positive impacts: Contribute to the local economy (reduce poverty), learn about the culture

7. Is your money staying in the local economy?

When you book your trip, keep in mind it is essential to support local businesses. Many destinations rely on tourism for their economic development and tourism can help the reduction of poverty in the country you’re visiting.

“Of each US$ 100 spent on a vacation tour by a tourist from a developed country, only around US$ 5 actually stays in a developing-country destination’s economy.” (UNEP)

Your decision can go against this “leakage”. To support the local economy, consume local products and avoid all-inclusive tours, cruises and international suppliers. You’ll probably have to lower your standards, but that’s part of the adventure and of making a significant impact.

Lilo reve - lifou - accueil en tribu
Our family hut in Lifou, New Caledonia

I remember talking to locals of Lifou, an island in New Caledonia. They draw our attention to the lack of sustainability of the increasing cruising tourism there. First, it brings too many people at the same time which is a threat to the environment. Second, these tourists would mostly eat and drink on their boat and not spend much money on the island itself. I read in a publication that a tourist from a cruise in New Caledonia would spend on average 30% less in the country than any other tourist. Imagine the difference between a tourist from a cruise and a responsible tourist…!

Positive impact: Contribute to the local economy (reduce poverty)

8. Consider transport alternatives

Whenever you want to fly or drive, have a look if buses and trains can take you there instead. It can be cheaper and even more beautiful!

  • When in Tanzania, we chose to take the bus from Dar Es Salaam to Arusha rather than another flight. It was a great way to see another facet of the country, out of the touristy destinations. I thought I would sleep a bit but couldn’t because I was too fascinated by what was happening out of my window!
  • In France, we have high-speed trains that can take you from the heart of a city to the centre of another city without the security check hassles of airports. Again, take a window seat, and you won’t be bored as you pass through the beautiful countryside.
Bus trip from Dar Es Salaam to Arusha in Tanzania

Walking is another alternative and environmentally friendly way of visiting a place. It seems everyone who visits the world’s largest sand island (Kgari/Fraser Island) do it with a 4WD. I was thrilled when I found out there was a great walk on the island and had a very different experience as we avoided the crowd and had all these very touristy places just for ourselves!

And what about cycling? I once visited Brittany – the region where my family is from – by bike. My friend and I cycled 200km along the coast. It was challenging but a great experience and a different way of experiencing this region!

And kayaking? You can explore Katherine Gorge or the Noosa Everglades on a noisy motorboat full of other travellers. Or you can hire a kayak and go at your own pace to discover more secluded places and approach the wildlife, only using your body energy!

Positive impact: Reduce carbon footprint

9. Rent a car that does not consume too much

If you’re planning to drive a lot, it’s good to have a look at your rental car’s petrol consumption. With our car, we can drive up to 1,200km with a full tank. Bonus: it’s great not to worry about taking petrol, and it saves money too!

Bonus: it’s great not to worry about taking petrol, and it saves money too!

Positive impact: Reduce carbon footprint

10. Learn key words in the language

Maybe I’m biased here because I’m French, but we do take it as a form of respect when a foreigner says “bonjour” and “merci”. I don’t expect travellers to speak French, but knowing greeting words is polite.

I learnt Turkish during my stay there. Every time I spoke Turkish, I was welcomed like a princess. It creates a different connexion with the locals.

Positive impact: Respect local culture

11. Don’t fall for the “green” claim

Green has become a marketing and sales claim. Some businesses use this term only to appeal to travellers. A few signs to ask tourists to reuse their towels or take shorter showers is not enough to be “green”. When you dig a little bit, you realise quickly they have no environmental or social policy in place. If you fell for one of these and understand it too late, go online and leave reviews to make research easier for other travellers.

The hotels or tours which are serious about being green will publish information about their initiative on their website to show how they help to conserve natural resources, protect the local environment and contribute to the local community.

Positive impact: Conserve natural resources, protect the local environment

12. Read about the culture and the rules

Although travelling to a country is the best way to learn about a culture, it is essential to be informed of local customs before you leave. It can be an excellent opportunity to learn about traditional events. Most of all, it can avoid embarrassing and confusing moments.

Positive impacts: Respect local culture


Phase 2: Be Responsible during Packing


13. Bring your water bottles, cutlery and shopping bags to avoid plastic ones

Every bit of plastic that was once produced is still on our planet. Plastic does not disintegrate, and it’s everywhere.

With your water bottle, you can avoid buying plastic bottles. What if there is no safe place to refill? It was the case when I visited Bangkok, but I still managed not to waste too much single-use plastic. Just buy 10L or 15L and refill your bottle instead of buying ten bottles!

Also, I can’t believe plastic bags haven’t been banned everywhere yet. They’re a great source of pollution, and in coastal areas, they’re a disaster for marine wildlife. Some reusable shopping bags are very convenient as they are rolled into a tiny pocket that you can carry everywhere you go. And if you forgot yours at home, they can make excellent ethical souvenirs!

Positive impact: Reduce plastic waste

14. Avoid pre-packaged travel-size toiletries

Although you need to travel light, the small travel-size toiletries are a bad idea. The packaging for such a small quantity is not sustainable at all. If you can buy toiletries in the country you’re visiting, it’s a great solution. Otherwise, think of having small recipients that you refill instead of buying a new one every time.

Positive impact: Reduce plastic waste

15. Pick long sleeve rash tops to swim and snorkel

The long sleeve rash tops are ideal protection from the sun. And by wearing them instead of sunscreen, you will not pollute the water!

Positive impact: Protect the local environment

Phase 3: Be Responsible During Your Stay

16. Be clever with air conditioning

In your room and the car, you can minimise your air-con consumption. Our electricity bill doubles when we use air-con or the fan at home. When you have to pay for it, you’re often more careful: you turn it off as you leave, you close the windows, the shades and even the doors to focus on one room only… Even if we don’t pay for it, it should be the same when you’re at the hotel. Did you know a ceiling fan often uses only 10% of the energy of central air-con?

Also, if you do need air-con… do you need it that low? We never put ours under 26 degrees, as recommended by the French ADEME agency. Every degree counts to save energy. Often, it won’t cool down the room faster if you put it low as many air-cons work with an on/off system.

Positive impact: Reduce energy consumption

17. Be clever in the shower

Many hotels will now offer you to keep your towels for a few days. Don’t forget to put them in the right place.

I know it is fantastic to enjoy a bath or a luxurious shower that we may not have back home. It’s sometimes even the reason why we pick this particular room. And that’s ok to treat yourself once in a while. But it is still necessary to realise that tourists use more water than local populations. The difference is even more shocking when we’re talking about places where fresh water is scarce. As water is a precious resource, shorter and colder showers can make a significant difference.

And if like me you tend to take with you all the free toiletries, think twice. Leaving the unused ones for the next visitor sounds like a better idea…

Positive impacts: Reduce energy consumption, save water, reduce plastic waste

18. Leave feedback to the hotel about things they could improve

I’m a firm believer that consumers hold power. Businesses adapt to trends and demands. If all travellers wanted sustainable hotels, more hotels would make changes in the way they operate to attract more clients.

So, what if they receive several times feedback about what they could improve to be more sustainable? It’s a way to catch their attention on small and bigger improvements they could put in place.

Positive impact: Develop sustainability awareness

19. Say “no” to straws in your drinks

The last time I cleaned up the Brisbane River mangrove, I had my end full of straws in a couple of minutes. How sad is that?!

It’s again plastic we don’t need, and we can easily avoid. I remember picking up straws on Akumal Beach in Mexico which is reputed to swim with wild turtles. With a bit of wind and inattention, the straw from your cocktail on the beach ends up in the ocean… and injuring wildlife.

Straws shouldn’t be automatic. Double straws should never happen. And the change can come from the consumers!

Next time you order at the bar, don’t forget to say: “no straw, please!”

Positive impact: Protect wildlife, reduce plastic waste

20. Drink tap water

Of course, that advice is not suitable for any destinations. Do your research.

For example in Japan, Western Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand, it’s possible to drink tap water (unless stated otherwise, of course). It will save you money, and you’ll avoid using plastic bottles!

Do you find the taste weird? Try to let the water rest, exposed to the open air, for a few hours.

Positive impact: Reduce plastic waste

21. Pick up trash (and not only your own!)

Clean up australia day boondal wetlands elo
Picking up rubbish in Boondal Wetlands

We often hear “Take only photos, leave only footprints”. That’s obvious, but, unfortunately, it’s not always respected. Or you may be visiting a place that catches rubbish left somewhere else (because of the tides, or with the mangrove). On my blog, I’ve been trying to inspire travellers to clean the places they visit. In just a few minutes, you can make a difference in the local environment. I know that one individual picking up rubbish won’t clean the planet. But what if we inspire more to do that?

Positive impact: Protect the local environment

22. Talk to the locals, learn about their life and culture

You are not only visiting beautiful places. You are visiting someone’s region. For tourism to be sustainable, it is essential to keep that in mind.

During our trip to New Caledonia, spending two days with the young people of a tribe was a highlight. Although we visited amazing and beautiful places, our exchange with them marked us profoundly and remained the best moment of the trip. There is so much to learn from one another.

Positive impacts: Respect local culture

23. Carefully choose your souvenirs and look for the fair price, not the lowest price

Grand Bazaar - Istanbul
Grand Bazaar in Istanbul

What do you want to bring back from your trip? To be a responsible traveller, you should put some thought into this decision.

First, some souvenirs are made with local animals parts and plants. These are often not appropriate as they can be a threat to the local environment.

Second, try to support the local industry. Common souvenirs (t-shirts, shot glasses, magnets…) are likely to be mass-imported with a minimal impact on the local economy but a high impact on carbon footprint.

Authentic souvenirs are often the best choice. Look for artisanal products that don’t threaten natural resources.

In some countries, bargaining is part of the buying process. No one in Marrakesh souks expects you to pay the first price they announce!

Haggling is a funny game. I remember the good experiences we had in Tanzania with some sellers. But when you’re bargaining, do it with the objective to keep a win-win situation. Do you need to bargain for five more minutes to take an extra $2 off this scarf? In developing countries, a small amount of money for you could be a significant sum for a local.

Positive impacts: Support the local economy, reduce carbon footprint, protect the local environment, respect local culture

24. Ask for permission to take photos of people

Rumeli Kavagi Fishermen
Rumeli Kavagi Fishermen

I don’t like the idea of strangers taking sneaky pictures of me. What about you?

I’m not talking about crowded places or having people in the background. I’m referring to a portrait and photos when a person is clearly the main subject. Some travellers just shoot these photos without asking for permission. Worse, they would even publish these shots. I know it’s not always easy to ask someone if you can take a photo – especially if you don’t speak the same language. But from my point of view, it’s a form of respect. And the experience can even become more interesting as you engage with that person!

Positive impact: Respect local culture

25. Don’t give to beggars

It’s heartbreaking and hard to resist when a starving kid comes and ask for money. But you may have seen in movies (I’m thinking of Slumdog Millionnaire) how begging in developing countries can be organised by criminal individuals who use children or families to make more money. Human trafficking is not behind every beggar, but it’s been found all over the world. It’s often said that you should not give money directly as you don’t know how it will be spent.

In Morocco, the kids were asking for food and pens, not for money. It’s still a problem to give anything that could be resold. Instead of saying no, we offered them to eat an apple with us, instead of taking it away. They were happy with that. Was it a good alternative? With more experience, I don’t think it was the right thing to do. But it is so hard to say no when the food is just there; it feels cruel. Will the apple they ate with us give them an incentive to skip school? Did we encourage them to beg again and again? If all tourists were giving away apples, what would happen to the local fruit store in the village; what would be the impact on the economy?

If you want to help and give money, I suggest selecting a trusted charity to make your donation.

Impact: Protect locals

Are you ready to be a more responsible traveller? Do you have extra tips? Leave a comment below!

Did you like these tips? From now on, I will be inserting tips to be more responsible inside my blog posts. It’s sometimes hard to keep these things off the top of our heads when we organise holidays so that it will be a reminder!

Do you want to spread the word about responsible travel? Add this to your Pinterest board:


This Post Has One Comment

  1. Linda

    Very good tips! I realized that I am already following quite many of them and I’m glad about it. I’ll be even more aware next time when I’ll be traveling 🙂

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