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Let’s be honest. Making ethical travel choices isn’t always easy.

And it’s often the least sustainable means of travel which come in the cheapest, while companies who champion positive ethical values and responsible travel are slightly more expensive.

Responsible and ethical travel will require you to do your research before you visit a place. It will cost time, money and effort. But it doesn’t have to be overwhelming, and you can often make an individual impact by being willing to make a couple of simple lifestyle changes.

We can’t all live in the mountains and eat only what we have grown in our vegetable patches, however part of our duty as travellers is being aware that our decisions (yes, even on holiday!) have a significant impact on our natural surroundings.

I genuinely believe that we can explore the world and discover new cultures and places, while honouring and respecting the planet. Here are a few of my suggestions for how to travel in a more ethically conscious way.

How to Travel in a More Ethically Conscious Way

Walk and Cycle (Where and When it is Possible)

London RF

Walking and cycling are the most environmentally sound travel options. Both will not only keep you healthy and fit, (allowing you to work off your evening meal from the night before) but will also help you to attune and connect to nature and your surroundings.

When you’re ambling through a city and absorbing its architecture and culture, you are more available for conversations and encounters with locals or to stop at a food market and try traditional dishes.

Have an up-to-date map on hand, and get to know the language enough that you can understand street signs or possibly ask for directions if you have to.

Responsible Walking Tips

➡ If you’re traveling with new shoes and know you’ll be doing a lot of walking, make sure you wear them in before the trip. Otherwise you’re likely to come out of it with blisters.

➡ Carry a drink bottle with you to refill throughout the day. You’ll need to stay hydrated if you’re doing a lot of walking, and a drink bottle cuts down on the amount of plastic waste from plastic bottles.

➡ When choosing your hotel, opt for a central location which means you can actually walk everywhere. Ask yourself if that attraction 50 miles away is really all that better than a similar spot that is right around the corner?

Cycling

White bike with flowers

The same can be said for cycling. Cycling is SO easy these days!

Most major cities have services where you can rent bikes as you go, or for longer, and cycle lanes help keep you safe as you navigate around. In capital cities like London or Paris, I would even go as far as to say that cycling is quicker than public transport.

Cycling is also brilliant for giving you a sense of space, perspective and a better understanding of the geography of the city. Everything always seems closer than it does on a map!

Why not take a guided bike tour around the city to get your bearings and tick off some sites from your bucket list at the same time?

Photo credit: Roman Boed (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

Responsible Cycling Tips

➡ Familiarize yourself with the road rules of the country you’re visiting. For instance, are you legally required to wear a helmet like in Australia?, must you only ride on the pedestrian footpath?, which way should you look when crossing the road etc.

➡ Travel with a bike chain and lock just in case one is not provided with your rental. Don’t forget the combination; keep it somewhere you can easily find again, like sending yourself a text.

➡ Check with your hotel before you book a bike rental. Some hotels offer free loans for guests.

➡ If you’re interested in taking this one step further and actually cycling around the world, read this post.

Sailing

Sailing RF

Naturally, we can’t always get to our dream destination by foot or bike. If you are serious about reducing your carbon footprint but still want to go somewhere a bit more exotic, I would suggest giving sailing a go!

Of course, sailing is not a totally ‘green’ mode of transport, but it generates significantly less carbon than plane travel.

Just like walking, sailing also gives you the opportunity to be more flexible because you are not bound by restrictive bus or train times. You have the freedom to decide where and when you want to head.

However, I would still suggest that you sail with a purpose and make sensible decisions; that means planning your boat rental in an efficient way, so that you are using the least amount of energy and fuel possible.

For example, during a sailboat charter in Greece, you wouldn’t sail from Mykonos to Milos to Poros to IOS because these four islands are scattered throughout the archipelago, but you would instead choose a logical itinerary.

You can still island hop, while choosing direct routes that save both time and fuel.

Responsible Sailing Tips

➡ Book through reputable sailing companies (the same also goes for flying) which uphold ethical and sustainable values.

Do they treat their workers well? Are they relatively energy efficient? These are questions you should be asking when you’re booking a sailboat charter.

➡ Think about carbon offseting your travel time. This means calculating the amount of carbon your individual journey will create and donating money to remove the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

You could donate to an organisation which plants trees to fight deforestation, for example.

➡ Make sure your travel insurance covers you for sailing activities.

Your Thoughts

What are your thoughts on sustainable travel? Can travel ever have a positive impact on the local environment and culture? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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Megan is an Australian Journalist and award-winning travel writer who has been blogging since 2007. Her husband Mike is the American naturalist and wildlife photographer behind Waking Up Wild; an online magazine dedicated to opening your eyes to the wonders of the wild & natural world.

Having visited 50+ countries across all seven continents, Megan’s travels focus on cultural immersion, authentic discovery and incredible journeys. She has a strong passion for ecotourism, and aims to promote responsible travel experiences.

    

    42 Comments

  1. Kelli and I follow close to 100% of the time Meg. Until we need to go really far in places; motorbikes then. Even when we moto, I drive like an old man. Saves gas and my life LOL. Walk, jog or run everywhere. Plus ample cycling too. Go green. Trim your waist too.

    • Fabulous to hear Ryan! Sounds like you’re all over sustainable travel, and it’s great to hear that you’re conscious of saving gas when out riding. Absolutely on trimming down the waist from cycling and walking … and I find I overindulge when I’m traveling so it probably evens itself out nicely lol!

  2. Travellers should also check the accommodation being booked is operating legally and therefore improving local economic development.

    Global OTA’s are marketing thousands of illegal short term rentals in Thailand and underming the Government with blatant disregard of the law.

    This is going on in many countries purely in the pursuit of profit and power.

    Global OTA’s have a responsibility to trade ethically. They are not.

    • Absolutely, thanks for sharing your insight. It’s a very good point that we should be aware of that I think people just take for granted. We assume that third party websites and OTA’s are operating within the lines of the law, so it’s really sad to hear that they are not. Any tips on how you can tell?

    • @MegJerrard We are currently developing a unique travellers tool to ensure accommodation bookings in Thailand are legal.

      It will be a direct challenge to OTA’s and their current unethical business practices.

      If they are listing accommodation that is KNOWN to be operating illegally they should be financially responsible for the travellers expenses, if any problems arise.

      Just because a HOST ticks a box in the registering of a listing, to say they are operating legally, is not enough. Especially when the OTA knows the listing is ILLEGAL.

      Would any travellers KNOWINGLY book ILLEGAL accommodation for their family holiday?

      With the risk of having to re-locate, be questioned by authorities, pay their own addittional costs and then be told by the booking agent.

      “Nothing to do with us. The HOST ticked a box”

      If these global platforms are allowed to continue unregulated they will sell you anything THEY want in the future, and always avoid taking any responsibility.

    • Fabulous to hear that you’re developing a tool to help identify which are legal and which are not. You’re right, I don’t think that any traveler would knowingly book into a property which isn’t operating within the law.

      Out of curiosity, what are some of the things that mean a property is breaking the law?

    • In Thailand we have strict laws with regards to minimum stay, immigration registration and building types.

      With a Hotel Licence you can offer daily rentals. Licence valid for 5 years.

      Without a hotel licence or exemption you can only offer a minimum of 30 days.

      There are many good reasons for the short term accommodation rental laws in Thailand, and regardless of the reasons. They as a country have the right to have any laws they want, to suit their country.

      NOT FOR THE OTA’s to choose which ones they want.

      We hope ovet the years we can help different countries take back their tourism industry.

      To enable local registered hosts and agents to provide a better service to travellers, and provide governments the opportunity for better local economic development.

      Rather than the current model of total globalisation of the travel industry and the profits not providing any benefit to a country, as the OTA’s operate from tax havens.

      These global OTA’ really only offer travellers a convenient classifieds listing site with lots of property choices and a third party payment gateway.

      We will launch the new FREE online travellers booking check service in about 2 months.

      I will happily send you a link.

    • Thankyou for sharing your insight 🙂 Sure, feel free to send the link once it launches 🙂

  3. Love the responsible tips that go along with each, it’s nice to see some practical advice on top of the generic ‘walk everywhere’ that so many people seem to recommend.

    • So glad you enjoyed the post Anastasia, thanks for reading 🙂

  4. I really do think that individuals can have an impact. If everyone thought about their own behavior and changed it just a little it would have a monumental global impact.

  5. I would add to forget animal tourism. Animal tourism is so harmful, and tourism dollars supporting it makes issues like poaching and wildlife trade that more difficult to solve.

    • An excellent point Bethaan, I think we’ve seen a lot of awareness around animal tourism recently, and people are really starting to try and make a difference by not riding elephants, not supporting zoos or dolphin experiences etc. We can only hope that this trend towards favoring responsible wildlife experiences continues 🙂

  6. These are really great tips, especially on planning your route to minimise carbon emissions. I would love to head out on the water for a sailing adventure at some stage. Train travel would be similar I would think, in terms of your note about not being a totally ‘green’ mode of transport, but generating significantly less carbon than plane travel.

    • Thanks Williams, absolutely, train travel is a great method of transport too, I’ve done many trains throughout Europe and it was a really great way to get around 🙂

  7. This is a great post. It’s all about changing our mindset to be aware and make ethically sound choices.

    • Thanks Neva, I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. You got it, it’s all about just changing our mindset 🙂

  8. Explore your own country before venturing further afield. Most people jet off to destinations far away and do so in the most comfortable (read: irresponsible) way possible. Not a lot of people decide to stay in their own country and get to know it more intimately. This way you can choose more environmentally sound travel options like walking and cycling — depending on where you are located — and gain a much deeper appreciation for what you have close by.

    • Great tip Dan, we’re actually really focusing on that this year, putting a priority on local travel throughout our home State, and home country. I figure people on the other side of the world pay thousands of dollars to visit, so why wouldn’t we also want to see what it’s all about! And as you said, local travel is a lot more environmentally sound 🙂

  9. Eating local is a great way to support local economies too. I notice you’re only focusing on transport here, but once you have your transport sorted, try to aim for small mom and pop shops as opposed to famous restaurants or whatever you saw in Lonely Planet. It’s usually cheaper too 🙂

    • Absolutely Naira, I often find that local food usually tastes better too! 🙂

  10. REMEMBER THAT ANIMALS ARE NOT TRANSPORT. Don’t ride elephants, don’t ride donkeys, don’t support animal tourism.

    • Granted, horses, camels, and the likes have been used as transport for hundreds of years, and there’s nothing ethically grey about this, so it’s a bit tough to make a sweeping statement about all animals, but yes on not supporting animal tourism, or establishments that treat animals cruelly. On that we 100% agree.

  11. We try to do as the locals do, and put this not play when we’re choosing how to get between places. For instance in Bolivia, yes, you can fly between the various cities, but most locals can’t actually afford this, so they take buses for overland travel. It often leads to many interesting adventures when you do it this way!

    • I love this approach to traveling, a lot of the time too if you ask around for local advice once you arrive they may have better insight into your transport options 🙂

  12. I make an effort to tick the little Offset Emissions button when I book a flight. I like the idea to plan your actual route responsibly though. Grouping destinations that are closer together and not criss-crossing just because it makes our schedule better – will try and do this in future. Cheers.

    • Fabulous to hear Paulene, and I’m glad we could inspire you to think about your route in a more sustainable way 🙂 Happy travels!

  13. Ask for local advice on how to get between places, as you might not yet be aware of the best way 🙂

    • Love this Susan, absolutely 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  14. Remember to leave no trace.

    • Absolutely Phillip 🙂

  15. I’ve always thought that travel was the best strategy for weight loss, because I’m always walking everywhere and don’t even notice the weight falling off 😀

  16. Whenever I get to a new city, I walk around for hours. It’s not only environmentally friendly, but it is also one of the best ways to get your bearings in a new city and learn how to navigate it.

    • I do the same Mimi, sounds like we’re on the same page 🙂

  17. Save paper. Instead of grabbing maps from every city you visit, take a picture of it from your phone and refer to it from there!

    • Love this advice Bel – thanks for sharing 🙂

  18. Cycling is a great way to get around. It can be a really nice experience. You get a glimpse of what is to live in the city and how to get around.

    • Absolutely Lewis, glad to hear you enjoy cycling too! 🙂

  19. It is always responsibility as a world travelers to care about our planet and the environment. The best way to educate each other, is to talk about it. Thanks for your article, it is great! ❤️

    • Absolutely Paula, so glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

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