Want to travel ethically and have no idea where to begin?
Start here! This is your ultimate guide to ethical travel!
1. Research, research, research!
2. If you are booking an organised trip, make sure you know what you’re signing up for- what are their responsible tourism practices?
1. Pack a reusable bag and keep it in your day bag! They come in handy for anything- and are a must when you go shopping.
2. Pack light!
3. BYO reusable drink bottle! This is a huge one. It's so easy to buy a plastic bottle whenever you run out of water. Bringing your own saves your money and the planet!
4. If you’re travelling somewhere that you can’t drink the tap water, buy a Life Straw or a water bottle with a filter- and if you can’t do that, buy a huge case of water that will last you days.
5. Pack eco-friendly toiletries!
6. This is a great one- remove all of the packaging from new products before you hit the road.
1. If you go hiking, stay on the path.
2. Use the transport you were born with- walk where you can! It is the cheapest and easiest way to get around, and has literally ZERO negative impact on the environment. If you don’t want to walk- get a bicycle!
3. Public transport is your friend. It can be tricky to figure out the system at first, but stick with it! Use apps like Moovit to help!
4. Do as you would at home and save electricity! Act as if you’re the one who will pay the power bill. Turn off the lights when you leave a room and keep your showers short.
5. If possible, don’t print out your tickets. Instead, keep them downloaded and on your phone.
6. It should go without saying, but do not litter!
7. Opt for low-carbon activities when you can such as swimming, trekking and snorkelling etc.
1. Consider your options and analyse your individual situation. For example, if you planned to do a solo road trip, it would generally be more eco-friendly to fly, despite air travel emissions being notoriously high.
2. Try to book non-stop flights (where possible), as the most emissions from a plane are created by take-off and landing.
3. Make use of carbon offset programs! Check out this post for your ultimate guide.
4. If you’re renting a car, consider a more eco-friendly vehicle that uses less fuel.
5. If you can, choose a bus or train. They impact the environment far less.
1. Use the greenwashing guide here! Make sure your tour company lives up to their eco promises.
2. Go for smaller tour operators. These guys are usually more eco-friendly and employ local staff.
3. Avoid tours that promise hands-encounters with wild animals. Personal encounters with wild animals generally reflects unethical practices. Wild animals should remain wild.
Note: while the majority of wildlife encounters are unethical, there are a handful of reputable companies who maintain an ethical standard with their rescued wildlife.
1. If you’re up for it, staying locally can be one of the most ethical and worthwhile parts of your trip!
There are tonnes of websites out there that can help you do that including Airbnb, Tripping.com VBRO etc. In some destinations, it’s easier to just walk around and see what happens!
Please note: there is a lot of discussion surrounding the ethics of sites such as Airbnb. While it is true that Airbnb has a largely negative impact on some local communities, I also believe it is possible to stay ethically on Airbnb.
2. If you don’t want to stay in the home of a local, aim to stay at a small family owned B & B or something similar. Your tourist dollar will go directly to people who deserve it.
3. Use Couchsurfing or sites such as Workaway. It's one of the BEST ways to meet local people and get to know a place, and it’s entirely free (in terms of dollar value). If you do it right, it can be an amazing way to give back to the locals.
1. If you don’t enjoy staying with locals (or you're simply feeling fancy), there’s a lot of ways to make your hotel stay more ethical.
Don’t take the hotel for face value. It's common for accommodation to falsely advertise their stance on sustainability.
2. Get to know their sustainability initiatives and code of conduct. Do they employ local staff? Do they recycle? Do they use a lot of electricity?
Ask a lot of questions, look for the red flags and think outside the box.
3. Leave the Do Not Disturb sign up. This cuts down on water, electricity and chemicals.
4. Try to avoid using a hotel laundry service (unless you know they do it in an eco-friendly manner. Hotels usually wash every guest’s clothing SEPARATELY).
Otherwise, get yourself one of these and have a washing machine on the go!
5. If you use the hotel toiletries, take the leftovers with you. The leftovers will get thrown away.
6. Check if there’s a certificate of approval from certification programs like Earthcheck in Australia, Green Globe, Rainforest Alliance (Latin America) etc.
7. Try to find out what percentage of the hotel resources are local. Do they hire locals? Do they serve local and in-season food?
The wildlife tourism industry has mastered the art of duping, so this can be one of the trickiest elements to ethical travel. They key here is proper in-depth research and common sense!
1. Research your little heart out! Be 100% certain that there is no negative direct or indirect impact on wildlife in your tour.
Research the impact and sustainability policy of the organisation and ask them questions. If they have nothing to hide, they will be transparent and give you straight answers.
2. Go with your gut- if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
3. Consider your own welfare. Visitor safety should be a priority!
4. Don't support hotels, bar or venues that display captive animals. I know what you’re thinking - HUH? This happens more often than you’d imagine. Let them know you disapprove.
5. Don’t use animals as props for your photographs. Most of these animals have been harmed and abused so they can be around tourists.
Take tigers, for example. They are drugged up to assure tourists aren’t harmed.
Then we have the Slow Loris (an endangered animal), who is captured as a baby and subject to having their teeth pulled out so they can’t bite tourists.
6. Don’t give into your morals for culture’s sake.
All over the world, animal cruelty is excused for being an integral part of cultural heritage.
For example: cockfighting and bullfighting.
Determine what is more important to you.
7. If you are using a tour operator for part or all of your trip, choose a responsible one.
Responsible operators won’t offer activities that involve animal welfare issues.
This is definitely one of the most important elements of making your trip successfully ethical.
Depending on what kind of trip you take, integrating is a great way to respect a local community.
If your trip is shorter and more of a getaway, you can definitely still ensure your connection to the local community and culture is respectful.
Again, research is key here!
1. Do your research! What are the local customs and how can you respect them?
2. Learn basic phrases and greetings in the local language. This goes a LONG way. You don’t have to become fluent, but it shows respect by attempting to communicate in the native language.
3. Ask for permission before you take a photo of somebody. It's common courtesy in general, but in some cultures, taking a person’s photo is like stealing their soul.
4. Immerse yourself in the culture as much as possible. Don’t just observe it, participate! A brilliant way to do this is by staying with a local.
5. Figure out how to dress appropriately for your destination. Honouring and respecting the dress customs lead to better engagement and simply show respect.
6. Though it’s tempting and heartbreaking, don’t give money to child beggars. It not only perpetuates the cycle of poverty but can contribute to organised begging (where children are kidnapped and forced to work as beggars for organised criminal groups. They aren’t allowed to keep their earnings and don’t go to school. Also, disabled beggars often get more sympathy, so it’s not uncommon for them to cut out a child’s eye, scar their face with acid or amputate a limb. This happens EVERYWHERE, not just in places you would suspect it.)
The simplest way to assure you are eating sustainably on your travels is to eat as the locals do.
While eating plant-based is the most common way to eat sustainably in the western world, remember to assess other contributing factors too (like where your food COMES from! Imagine the carbon mileage of eating Australian beef in Mexico for example).
1. Don’t eat endangered species or animal products associated with welfare issues (foie gras, kopi luwak coffee etc).
2. Eat in-season and locally farmed!
3. Enjoy a locally brewed beer if possible! Not only will it be delicious, but it will also cut down on carbon mileage!
4. Hit the local spots. Guaranteed to be tastier, cheaper and an all-around better experience. Your dollars will go to the people who deserve it most.
5. Know your own morals and ethics if you adhere to vegetarianism or veganism. Know your reasons for choosing that lifestyle and make your own decision on what is most important to you (see below).
Disclaimer: in no way, shape or form am I suggesting veganism is not sustainable or an honourable lifestyle. It is simply important to consider every facet of every situation.
Veganism in a warranted reaction to the horrific western animal agriculture industry.
But as for developing countries, it can be a different story. The connection between killing an animal for food has the potential to be a lot less automated and heartless in a lot of cultures.
(again, I do not condone the killing of animals for food)
Being sustainable also generally means being privileged, something we take for granted.
Eating how you do at home can impede on your connection to locals and withhold your money from the community.
Figure out what is important to you and go with it.
For example, I much prefer to eat vegan while I am at home in Australia, where I have the amazing privilege to buy non-dairy cheese, rice milk, even fake chicken schnitzels.
While travelling, I go a bit easier. I don’t like meat so I won’t eat it, but I eat the local cheese and milk and honey and try to adhere to local customs as much as possible without breaking my own set of morals/ taste buds and causing too much inconvenience.
1. If you do choose to travel completely vegan (which 1000% go you, it’s your choice) try to understand that a lot of cultures are built around animal products.
Depending on where you are travelling, you might not always have access to wonderful vegan food.
People are kind and will always try to cater to you, but make peace with eating food that is often much less exciting than your omnivore travel buddy (I know I have!)
2. Take the time to explain to your hosts and the locals WHY eating this way is important to you (if it comes up). It’s the least you can do!
Try to do this as soon as it seems likely food will be served.
3. Be open - minded. Leave your black and white rules at home, research before you get there, ask lots of questions and know when morals overlap.
4. Remember WHY you are a vegan. If it's for ethics reasons, try to understand that sustainability is about the big picture. Veganism does not always equal 100% ethical, so analyse your situation and try to figure out your best plan of attack for sticking to your morals.
5. Remember: vegan eateries does not automatically mean ethical. Get as much information as you can from the restaurant. Is a vegan eatery in Bali ethical if the staff are expats, the owners use their paychecks to rent a huge beachside condo and the food is overpriced? What are the locals getting from this establishment? Likely nothing.