8 Tips for Ethical Travel

8 Tips for Ethical Travel
07 Jun 2021

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Photo by Thanakorn Phanthura from Pexels

Engaging in travel can be one of the most exciting and fulfilling activities any of us can take part in. There’s the potential to explore distant environments and share in cultures that are very different from our own. However, it’s also your responsibility as a traveller to make certain that you only have a positive impact on the countries and people you visit. Taking an ethical approach to your travels goes beyond staying at sustainable luxury destinations; it means committing to being mindful of each element of your journey.

It’s not always obvious how to best go about this. So we’re going to take a look at 8 tips that can set you on the right path to ethical travel.

1. Consider Your Transport

First and foremost, think carefully about how you are going to both get to your destination and move around while you’re there. It’s not practical for everyone to travel by boat rather than plane to international destinations, but you can consider airlines that take a more environmentally conscious approach. Qantas is currently exploring the use of biofuel, and both Delta Airlines and KLM have carbon offsetting campaigns. If your trip involves multiple countries, like travelling through Europe, consider utilizing train travel rather than intercontinental flights. It can take longer, but it is both a more sustainable practice, and you get to see parts of the landscape you’d otherwise miss.

2. Understand Local Sustainability

One thing that you’re likely to notice as you travel, particularly in Europe, is that certain regions have put great emphasis upon maintaining standards of sustainability. You need to learn about these and follow them. This is especially important for regions that get a lot of tourist attention, as it helps to reduce the accumulative negative impact. Before travelling, take time to research whether sustainability specialists have been utilized in the local area. These are professionals who have a responsibility for developing sustainability goals, monitoring programs, and often developing communications materials that help visitors to understand the efforts being employed. Take note of what they feel the priorities are for the area, you may even find them on social media discussing the challenges they face. Use these insights to inform your actions when you visit.

3. Stay Healthy

During the last year or so of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become clear just how devastating public health emergencies can be to communities. Outbreaks of illness can affect not just health, but also the economy and public morale. As a visitor to an area, it is your responsibility to be mindful of your health status. Take reasonable precautions if you display symptoms of even a cold or influenza. Use hand sanitizer, cover your mouth and nose where necessary — aside from anything else, it’s just polite to prevent transmission to locals.

4. Engage with the Culture

Each region has its own cultural standards. This can include how to dress respectfully and acceptable conduct at sacred sites. Unfortunately, some tourists tend to expect their own standards to take precedence. There has been a spate of incidents recently in which the actions of tourists have been unethical in this regard, often for little more than social media kudos. Take time to understand the customs of the area, learn about their history and why they are maintained, and act accordingly. This way you can have a more positive effect on the world as you travel through it.

5. Dispose Responsibly

As you travel, it is only natural that you’ll generate a certain amount of waste. You may be getting the occasional take-out or wrapped snacks from airports, train stations, and tourist hotspots. You might have even printed out your itinerary and have tickets or boarding cards. You can help do your bit to stop climate change by disposing of these responsibly. If there are no public trash cans around, keep your trash in a pocket of your day bag until you find one. Ask locals for directions to local recycling units so that you can get rid of waste paper, aluminum cans, and glass.

6. Exercise Business Consciousness

As a tourist, you are a valuable commodity to the destination you’re visiting. You should therefore take an ethical approach to your buying choices. Rather than shopping at large stores and chain restaurants, make efforts to patronize small local businesses. Sometimes this isn’t possible, but before you arrive at your destination, you should also examine the ethics of the big companies in the area. Review whether these businesses are adopting the best sustainable practices, and take time to understand what these look like. Have they switched to recyclable materials in their marketing and manufacturing? Do they use renewable energy sources? By knowing what to look for, you can make more informed ethical choices about who you shop with.

7. Minimize Disruption

You naturally want to experience everything your destination has to offer. However, it is a matter of good ethics to make sure your presence doesn’t disrupt the local ecosystem. Be mindful of your actions around wildlife in particular. Your desire to get an Insta-popular shot with a cute local animal does not supersede the safety or comfort of these creatures. Think about how your trek through woodland might disrupt habitats, and avoid picking local fauna that you aren’t familiar with.

8. Learn to Communicate

If you are travelling to a non-English-speaking country, a language barrier may be an issue. It is not especially ethical to expect the locals to always speak your language. Yet, too many tourists take this approach. It is a matter of respect for your host country’s customs and their people to at least learn a little of their language before you visit them. No one is expecting you to be fluent, but a little effort can make communications positive for everyone.


Travelling around the world is an enormous privilege, but also a big responsibility. It’s important to take a few impactful steps to ensure your behaviour is always ethical. This way you have a more valuable experience, and you also have a positive effect on the world you’re exploring.

Indiana Lee

Indiana Lee lives in the Northwest and has a passion for the environment and wellness. She draws her inspiration from nature and makes sure to explore the outdoors regularly with her two dogs. Indiana has experience in owning and operating her own business. Feel free to follow her on Twitter @indianalee3.

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