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How To Be A Responsible Tourist (23 Practical Tips & Info)

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I’ll be the first to admit my husband and I have made mistakes when travelling. But now that we’ve spent the best part of a decade travelling to all kinds of places around the world together, we’ve learned a lot about how to travel responsibly.

Not just from our own experiences – but also through noticing what other people get up to when they travel.

Things like people taunting the monkeys at the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud, Bali – and then wondering why the monkeys attack them.

Bali Monkey at Ubud Monkey Forest
This monkey might like cute… but they’re technically wild animals and can be vicious when they want to be

Or people taking what feels like a million photos of themselves while all you want to do is see the view that’s behind them.

And don’t even get me started on the chained-up monkeys we saw in Morocco that are only there so tourists can get “a cute picture”. 

Even though these things anger me, I won’t turn this post into a rant. At least, I’ll try not to anyway.

Instead, I want to take the time to chat about all the different ways we can practice responsible tourism.

Because honestly? It’s not just about protecting nature and wildlife when we travel. It’s also about being considerate towards other tourists and the locals we meet around the world.

How To Travel Responsibly: 23 Tips & Things To Be Aware Of

Protecting Nature & The Environment

One of the biggest reasons why travelling responsibly is so important to us is because of how much we love nature and the outdoors

Not only do we love finding natural beauty spots around the world, but we also love watching the local wildlife. Yep, we don’t just people-watch! 

Here are some tips on how we can look after the planet while we travel…

Respect nature and the local wildlife

If you love beautiful views, natural beauty spots and wildlife as much as we do, then there are lots of ways how you can protect that by respecting nature and local habitats. 

A big one: avoid disturbing wildlife or getting too close to them. Take your photos from a safe distance and quietly observe them. Of course, some animals are naturally curious and might come up to you, which is different and not really within your control.

Read up on local wildlife protection laws and regulations. Some things might be obvious, such as no trophy hunting or poaching.

But did you know some countries have strict laws about how close you can get to marine life? This is certainly the case in Hawaii where various marine mammals, turtles and fish are protected by State and federal laws.

Dolphin watching in Madeira
Watching the dolphins from a safe distance

If you love walks and hikes (hey, us too!), then stick with the designated tracks and trails to help protect natural habitats and delicate ecosystems. When you stray from the path, you never know what wildflowers you might be stepping on, for instance.

Just as long as you know things like this ahead of your trip, you’re probably being a responsible tourist.

Don’t ignore safety protocols and signs

Speaking of sticking to designated trails, sometimes you’ll come across signs advising you (or stopping you) from getting somewhere you want to. 

These are in place to protect you from harm, but they might also be there to protect a fragile ecosystem. 

Please don’t be tempted to ignore the signs – even if you can see other people ignoring them. They’re usually there for a good reason!

Enjoy ethical animal encounters

While it’s tempting to try activities like swimming with dolphins or riding elephants, are you aware that many of these so-called animal encounters aren’t actually ethical?

Whether it’s because the animals are kept in small and confined spaces or because they’re treated badly to make them submit to humans, be careful which activities you book for your trip.

Usually, companies that adhere to ethical practices will make you keep your distance from animals – unless they come up to you.

In Madeira, for example, whale and dolphin watching tours usually stay a certain distance away from the animals. But dolphins are curious and often come and play with the boats or scratch their bellies along the side of the catamarans.

Nosy dolphins coming up to our catamaran in Madeira
A curious dolphin comes to say hello to us!

But there are also plenty of ethical companies around that also allow you to get up close and personal with animals.

For example, when we went husky sledding in Finland, we made sure to book with a company that treated the dogs well. And this showed throughout the experience – the dogs were happy to be there and seemingly raring to go. 

On a husky sled in Finland
These huskies were raring to go!

Take some time to do research beforehand – just to be sure. The PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) website is a great resource to have a look through.

Learn about the local flora and fauna

While you’re researching ethical animal encounters, you might also want to learn about the local flora and fauna of the place you’re travelling to. Especially if you love nature anyway. 

Not only will you know what to look out for during your trip, but you’ll also probably better understand how to respect and look after the local wildlife and habitats.

Wild Primrose in the UK
How much do you know about wild primroses in the UK?

Support national parks and protected areas when you can

Some national parks around the world charge an entrance fee. You might think that’s a bit strange because here in the UK, because usually, you can wander around various parts of our national parks for free. 

But the truth is that some parks and protected areas rely on entrance fees and donations to enable governments, councils, businesses and volunteers to look after them. 

If you’re able to support them in this way, please consider doing so. That way, generations for years to come can also hopefully enjoy these beautiful natural spaces.

Views of the Peak District from near Bamford Edge
We want more people to see and appreciate stunning landscapes like this, right?

Travel sustainably when possible

There are lots of ways to travel more sustainably – and while this point probably needs its own blog post – here are some quick and easy things to consider:

  • Carry a reusable bottle around with you to avoid using single-use plastics
  • Avoid using mini hotel toiletries (these also contribute significantly to plastic waste)
  • Reuse your towel (to save water)
  • Use public transport and tours rather than driving yourself everywhere
  • Catch trains rather than planes (when possible)
  • Use reef-safe sunscreen to protect marine ecosystems
  • Turn off lights and power outlets when you’re not using them (this obviously goes for when you’re both home and away)

Consider offsetting your carbon emissions by planting trees

Speaking of travelling more sustainably, have you thought about planting trees to help offset your carbon emissions? While this won’t replace companies dramatically reducing their carbon footprint in the first place, it is one thing we can do (as individuals) to try and help.

Carbon Footprint has a handy tool you can use to calculate what your carbon footprint is.

While you can physically plant trees in your garden (if you have the space!), various companies and organisations also help facilitate tree planting elsewhere. We personally use National Trust’s “Plant a Tree” campaign because we also want to support the work they’re doing generally.

Either way, it’s better if the trees are native to the area or country you’re planting them in because they’re much more likely to grow well there and for many years. Thus, greatly improving your chances of offsetting your carbon emissions.

Admiring ancient and gnarly trees in the UK
The magic of trees could help heal the planet’s issues… but first we need to plant them!

Follow the “Leave no trace” principles

If you want to be a responsible tourist, then one of the easiest things you can do is to not be these people! 

When it comes to respecting nature, enjoying it and allowing others to enjoy it, following the seven “Leave no trace” principles is so, so important.

If you’ve not come across them before, then you can read more about them here

While I think a company in the US came up with the principles, it’s a global initiative to ensure people are protecting nature by following these principles:

  • Plan ahead and prepare
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces (i.e. established trails, campsites, etc)
  • Dispose of waste properly
  • Leave what you find
  • Minimise campfire impacts
  • Respect wildlife
  • Be considerate of others

In my opinion, these principles are also a massive part of just generally travelling responsibly – whether you enjoy wandering in nature or not.

Camping by the side of Ullswater in the Lake District
By all means enjoy nature spots like this… but please, please, please take your stuff home with you!

Respecting The Local People & Customs

Travelling responsibly goes beyond protecting nature and the environment, though. 

It’s also about respecting the local people and their culture and customs – especially if you’re travelling to places in the Far East, the Middle East or cultures associated with Polynesian beliefs

Here are some things to keep in mind…

Read up on cultural etiquette and customs before travelling

Many places around the world have very different etiquette and customs from what you might be used to. 

For example, you’re expected to cover your knees and shoulders when visiting temples in Bali. While in Japan, you’ll never receive cash directly in your hand. Instead, it’s placed in a tray in front of you. 

Justine and Scott at Taman Ayun Temple, Bali
Make sure your knees and shoulders are covered when visiting the temples in Bali

To avoid offending anyone (or breaking any local laws), it’s worth reading up on etiquette tips before travelling somewhere new. Try searching for “things to know before visiting X” or “etiquette tips for X” before your trip and I’m sure you’ll find plenty of tips for wherever you’re travelling to.

Alternatively, we’ve also started a series all about this for places we’ve been to, such as:

Respect sacred sites around the world

One of the best ways you can respect local cultures and etiquette is by respecting sacred sites. The sad thing is that you might not always know what is a sacred site or not. 

When reading up about local cultures, you might notice some have a profound respect for nature. This could mean natural landmarks like forests and mountains are sacred sites to the local people.

This is the case with Hawaii – where places like the highest point of the summit on Mauna Kea on the Big Island and the Volcano National Park are sacred sites. You might see tourists hiking to the top of Mauna Kea, but this is actually forbidden.

Mauna Kea Summit
Did you know it’s forbidden for tourists to hike to the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii?

Don’t take “souvenirs” from nature

Did you know some cultures (such as people in Hawaii) respect nature so much that they forbid you from taking home “souvenirs” from nature? 

This could be anything from a piece of lava rock to a pebble. In Hawaii, they say doing this comes with a curse: “Pele’s Curse”

Whether you believe in curses or not, the locals do, so try to abide by their customs when possible to avoid offending them and to show respect for their beliefs.

Abide by local laws

It can also be surprising when a country’s local laws differ greatly from what you’re used to. And – in some cases – punishments can be pretty drastic. 

For example, it’s forbidden to kiss in public in Dubai (holding hands is okay). While chewing gum is illegal in Singapore because they want to keep their city and country clean.

Gardens by the Bay in Singapore at night
Singapore want to keep their city and country so perfect and clean that chewing gum is illegal there!

We don’t say this to scare you or put you off travelling. In all our travels across the world, we’ve never once gotten into any trouble. 

However, it’s little nuances like the laws mentioned above that make reading up on local laws an important step to take before you travel somewhere new.

Learn a few words in the local language

Another way how you can be a responsible tourist is by learning a few words in the local language. 

Not only will this help you if you run into issues during your trip, but it’s also considered a sign of respect – even if the other person speaks English perfectly.

At a minimum, here are some words and phrases you should find out how to say in the local language:

  • Hello/Hi
  • Goodbye
  • Please
  • Thank you
  • Yes
  • No
  • Excuse me
  • Sorry
  • How much does this cost?
  • Where is the restroom?
  • I’m lost
  • Help!
  • Stop!
  • Emergency
  • Can you speak English?
  • I don’t understand

Don’t take photos on someone’s property without permission

Now for a tip that’s worldwide (regardless of cultural etiquette): don’t take photos on someone’s property without permission. Yes, even if their house is ridiculously pretty!

Even in places like London and the Cotswolds, we’ve seen people having their photo taken right in front of someone’s door or even while sitting on their front stoop. 

I’ve often wondered: how would those people feel if someone did that to their house? Wouldn’t it feel like an invasion of privacy? And what if they cause damage to the other person’s property? Wouldn’t that quickly turn their trip from great to rubbish in an instant?

Remember: travel is about more than just cool pics “for the gram” (i.e. social media).

Holland Park Mews House
By all means admire pretty houses like this… but do you have to get closer than this?

Be considerate of other tourists

You’ve probably noticed that a big part of travelling responsibly is to be considerate of others. But this also goes for your fellow tourists. 

Things like not pushing others out of the way so you can get the best photo. Or not blocking paths and views while you take endless photos of yourself. 

By all means, grab that perfect photo. But please don’t do it at the expense of others enjoying themselves!

Buy authentic souvenirs from local shops and artisans

Many cities and countries around the world rely heavily on tourism. So, if you can support local bars, restaurants, shops and artisans during your trip, this can greatly improve someone’s life. 

Balinese Souvenirs
Handcrafted monkeys and batik prints from Bali

One thing to be cautious of, though: consider what the souvenir you’re buying is made from. 

You certainly wouldn’t want to support an illegal poaching trade or animal cruelty – even if it does mean supporting a local craftsperson. 

I’ll never forget the time I heard about tiny live turtles being put inside souvenir keyrings in Beijing. I think that image will haunt me forever.

Be mindful of the impact of Airbnb on local communities

Speaking of supporting the locals, it’s also worth talking about the impact of Airbnb on communities around the world. 

Unfortunately, some cities are experiencing such an influx in privately-owned rental properties that they can’t actually afford to live there themselves!

While you can’t always avoid using this type of accommodation during your trip – especially if you’re like us and travel on a mid-range budget – you can always be more mindful of the issue. 

Where possible, there might even be opportunities where you can either reduce your reliance on this type of accommodation. Or at least try to offset the issue in some way, such as by supporting local shops and artisans a little more than you usually would.

The Cleaves bed at Highcliffe House in Lynton, Devon
Be mindful of your accommodation options when travelling

Avoiding Overtourism Issues

You probably already know this but “overtourism” is getting worse in a lot of places – and completely unbearable in some places. 

You might’ve seen the news showing locals in Venice and Barcelona writing on billboards and postboxes: “Go home tourists!” and other related sentiments.

This happens when an excessive amount of tourists (particularly day trippers) disrupt the delicate balance between tourism helping that destination versus negatively impacting the local environment, culture and residents’ quality of life.

To help prevent this from happening to the destinations you love, consider the following responsible travel tips…

Consider visiting “destination dupes” instead

There are lots of reasons why some destinations are more popular than others. But are they really that much more spectacular than other places within that country? 

Take Venice, for example. I hated it there! While the architecture was stunning, I couldn’t appreciate this due to the hoards of people and merchants selling overpriced “I love Venice” t-shirts and hats. It was just completely juxtaposed to the quiet romance of nearby Verona where I could wander peacefully by.

Venice, Italy
I couldn’t wait to leave Venice… the crowds were just far too overwhelming for me!

While there are still lots of places around the world we love that are popular, we also try to include one or two stops during our trips to lesser-known places, as well. 

In a recent travel trends report, Expedia listed some places that might make good alternatives to more popular places – or “destination dupes” as they called it. 

We’re also planning on writing about this ourselves. Feel free to subscribe to our blog if that sounds like something you might be interested in reading about.

Travel in the off-season

Understandably, lots of us have dreams of travelling to bucket list destinations far and wide. The thought of not visiting them at all is just too unbearable to think about. 

If that sounds like you, then there are things you can do to avoid contributing to overtourism issues.

Up first: travel in the off-season. By that, we mean travel to places when they’re less likely to be crowded. 

Scott at Giant's Causeway
A relatively quiet Giant’s Causeway in the off-season

This could be visiting cities in the autumn and winter months (except in December) rather than the summer. Or, it could be enjoying a midweek break instead of a weekend getaway. 

I should say, we’re aware that if everyone did this, we’d just end up moving the problem from one part of the year to the other. While travelling in the off-season won’t completely fix overtourism issues, it could help reduce them.

Visit places for longer than a day when possible

One of the many reasons why places like Venice are calling for “No more tourists!” is because some of those tourists are day trippers from large cruise ships. 

Because they get fed on the cruise ship, they often don’t eat at a local cafe or restaurant, which means the local community isn’t able to profit as much from their tourism. 

This is compared to tourists who stay for a couple of days. Because they have to pay for their accommodation, meals and activities, that city or country can benefit more from that person being there. 

So, consider visiting places for longer than a day if you can. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy day trips at all, of course. At least, if you were to stay within the country itself for a longer period, that country as a whole still benefits from you being there. Hopefully. 

In other words, we might now have reached a point where we need to consider embracing “slow travel” more than ever before. Both because of overtourism and issues with climate change.

Remember: You can still make lasting memories when travelling responsibly

The last thing we want to do is make travel sound boring. Who wants to think about responsibility when they’re off having a good time, eh? 

But the thing is: travelling responsibly doesn’t mean you won’t make lasting memories or try exciting bucket list activities. It just means we need to be more mindful, considerate and aware of our actions while we do those fun things.

Justine at the top of Mount Faber Point
Celebrating making it to the end of our gruelling but fun hike in Singapore!

Don’t be afraid to learn from your mistakes

One of the reasons why we wanted to write this blog post is because we openly admit we’ve gotten it wrong on plenty of occasions. 

Thanks to frequent travel and writing and reading about it, we’re now much more aware of our impact and how we can better learn from our mistakes.

Maybe some of what you’ve read today has been a shock/surprise. Instead of feeling bad about that, use this as an opportunity to try and do things differently the next time you travel.

Share your take on travelling responsibly with others

Speaking of doing things differently, we can only make a change if we share our findings with others.

If you’ve found this blog post helpful, consider sharing it with a friend or family member who might also find it beneficial. 

And if we’ve left out anything, please let us know in the comments section below, so we can also learn from you!

How To Be A Responsible Tourist (23 Practical Tips & Info)
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Justine Jenkins

Justine is one half of the married couple behind the Wanderers of the World travel blog. She lives in Bristol, UK and has travelled extensively within Europe and beyond since 2013. After her trips, she shares detailed travel itineraries, helpful travel guides and inspiring blog posts about the places she's been to. When she's not travelling overseas, you'll find her joining her husband, Scott on various day trips, weekend getaways and walks within the UK, which she also writes about on Wanderers of the World. Aside from travelling and writing, she also loves reading, crafting and learning about nature.

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