Be a Responsible Traveler Edit

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Michelle Tobias  • Contributor
Opinions expressed by Explora.ph Contributors are their own.

Cover photo from Volunteering Solutions.

Every choice you make while traveling creates a ripple of change in the places you visit. Whether it’s refusing a single-use platic straw or booking with an eco-friendly hotel, you already are making a difference in the local community. We’ve summarized the following tips from the UNWTO’s responsible travel handbook, LNT Center for Outdoor Ethics, and from zero waste travelers all over the world. Your decisions matter! Every little thing counts in the long run.

Here are 15 ways to be a responsible traveler:

1. Respect your host and your destination’s rules and traditions.

Wherever you go, you can try to be more open and accept things as they are. Learn about your destination’s rules and regulations before you go, and always respect its people’s customs and traditions. Better yet, embrace the difference.

2. Ask permission when taking photos of strangers.

Anchored to #1, taking photographs of strangers is a matter of respect too, especially if they are the subject of your photo. By taking other people’s picture, you are intruding on their privacy no matter how brief. Ask permission politely, engage them, and make them happy and at ease. If your subject declines, just move on to something else.


Photo by Steve McCurry.

3. Keep your trash in your bag until you find a trash bin.

Don’t you think pieces of trash are an eyesore? No matter how beautiful places are, if they’re littered, they're just unpleasant to look at. Respect destinations by keeping your trash in your bag or pocket. By doing this small act, you’re not just doing service to the destination, but also to other travelers visiting the place.


Photo from Joyful Talks.

4. Reduce plastic by bringing your own refillable water bottle.

Based on demand, a million plastic bottles are being produced every minute. By 2050, there would be more plastic in the ocean than there are fish. Plastic is consumed by fish too, which are consumed by us. Not to mention, plastic bottles leach chemicals in the water. Using a refillable water bottle is a more sustainable way to stay hydrated when traveling.


Photo from S'well.

5. Do not disturb or feed animals. Observe only from a distance.

Respect animals’ travel paths, feeding areas, and mating seasons. Most importantly, never feed animals or leave food scraps. Feeding wildlife damages an animal’s health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers. Just leave them as they are or observe them from a distance.


Photo by Simon Pierce.

6. Bring a reusable straw or just skip the straw when buying drinks.

Just like plastic bottles, disposable plastic straws are needlessly polluting our planet, especially the ocean. Refuse plastic straws when you order your beverages, or bring your own reusable bamboo or metal straw. After all, it doesn’t take so much effort to simply lift your beverage and drink from the container, without the disposable straw.


Photo from Photo Kitchen Food.

7. Leave what you find, including sand and shells.

As a traveler, you can help preserve every destination by leaving natural and manmade objects as you find them. If every traveler wrote on the walls or took something home, the destination will lose all its charm and splendor. Unless the item is something you bought from a reputable store, just leave it thereincluding sand, shells, and other “collectibles”.


Photo from Pixabay.

8. Turn off lights, air-conditioning, and shower when not in use.

Conserve water and electricity whenever you can. The energy used to supply these most probably come from fossil fuels. Less electricity means less fossil fuels burned and less carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. Doing this step all the time adds up and creates a big difference in the long-term.


Photo from Freepik.

9. Dine in at restaurants to reduce trash from take-outs.

Traveling to a destination does create an environmental impact. One of the biggest challenges of dealing with waste is the amount of trash produced from food take outs and food packaging. By dining in restaurants instead, you considerably reduce your trash. Another option is to bring your own reusable food containers for take outs.


Photo from Fruit Fairy.

10. Purchase local products instead of mass produced ones.

By purchasing local products, you are supporting the local community, especially its artisans and craftsmen and their families. Outsiders who bring in products and services usually spend what they earn outside too. When you support local businesses, money is circulated within the same area, boosting economic activity inside instead of outside.


Photo by Wenz Murillo.

11. Respect artists and craftsmen by paying the right price.

Haggling is pretty common among tourists. Haggling with local artists and craftsmen though can sometimes border on exploitation without them knowing. Artists and craftsmen bring uniqueness, love, and dedication in every handmade item they create, unlike factory-made items. Respect them by paying the right price. After all, they deserve it.


Photo from SmugMug.

12. Book with eco-friendly tours and hotels.

By booking with eco-friendly tours and accommodations, not only are you reducing your carbon footprint. You are also sometimes reversing it too. By supporting such businesses, you let them thrive while helping the planet at the same time—all at no additional cost to you. Your power of choice simply makes the difference.


Photo from Bambike Eco-tour.

13. Instead of handing money to the poor, support local charities and livelihood programs.

When you give money to the poor, you are unknowingly multiplying their number. After all, begging is so easy, why not bring the whole family along to beg on the streets? Instead of making such people dependent on begging, support local charities and community-based livelihood programs.


Photo from Cowrks.

14. Report illegal activities to the authorities.

Travelers who resort to whining or even ranting on the internet only make the situation worse. Such complaints, especially when done in print or on the internet, considerably damage the destination’s image. Whether the illegal activity is about human trafficking, child labor, or illegal logging, report this to the authorities instead and have them take action.


Photo from Pagcor.

15. Share and promote your experiences!

When you’ve finished your trip, share your experiences and inspire others to come visit. By doing this, you’re spreading good vibes and boosting economic growth in that area. If you loved your experience, this is an easy and simple way of giving back to the community in that area.


Photo from Enjoy the Experience.

In a nutshell

It’s not enough to just say, “Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints. Kill nothing but time.” More than this adage, the tips we’ve provided here are ways to travel ethically, safely, and with peace of mind. These guidelines do not just apply when you’re out traveling—you can also apply these in your hometown. Traveling is one expression of freedom. And while freedom is everyone’s right, freedom without responsibility, we believe, would never be freedom at all.

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