Responsible tourism – protecting the environment

Lots of green hills with fog / mist in the valleys. There are three hikers in the foreground with day backpacks on.

If you’ve followed me for a while, you’ll know that our trip to Koh Phi Phi had a profound impact on us and dramatically changed how we travel now. I’ve wanted to write a series of posts like this ever since then and now, finally, I’ve done it! How to travel responsibly has been something that has grown and grown in value to me and to my Wanderlust family as we have travelled more and more extensively. The more we have seen, the more we have realised the importance of travelling responsibly and the many ways we can do it. Sometimes, though, it can feel overwhelming – how can one family make any difference in the grand scheme of things? The answer is, of course, there are loads of things that everyone can do. In this post, I asked some other bloggers to share their best tips for responsible tourism and protecting the environment.

For more tips on responsible tourism, check our my other posts on this topic:

Keep trash with you unless you find a dustbin

Abhishek from Misfit Wanderers tells us all about the importance of disposing of trash in the right places. I know I’m not the only one who has been appalled by the amount of litter I have seen everywhere from beautiful national parks to gorgeous cities.

A river flowing over and around stones and boulders. The foreground is completely covered in trash.

The collection of trash in an unusual place can create serious issues. It makes the area unclean and affects the ecosystem of Earth. Consequently, you hurt living beings, including humankind, wildlife, and aquatic life. 

You may have seen its direct and deadly effect as thousands of marine animals die after ingesting plastic trash.

Such harmful trash in open areas causes pollution and harms mother nature. Some waste, like plastics, is non-biodegradable. To make it more effective, you can avoid using plastics when you travel. You can carry your water bottle and avoid plastic-packed eatables.

You don’t have to move mountains to contribute toward responsible travel. A small initiative can make a difference. While traveling, you use plastic bottles, bags, covers, and other non-compostable items. So, instead of throwing them (litter and trash) here and there on streets and crossways, keep them in your bag and dispose of it wherever you find a dustbin. 

There are many agencies out there who are working towards a single-use plastic-free future. You can also support them. 

Pick up litter

Paulina from ukeveryday takes the litter situation one step further. By all means don’t drop litter, but also consider picking up other people’s litter as well and take it with you.

Lots of green hills with fog / mist in the valleys. There are three hikers in the foreground with day backpacks on.

If you want to travel responsibly consider combining great outdoor activity with picking up the litter during your hike. Whether you are hiking in Scottish Highlands or climbing the highest mountains this small effort can bring a lot of benefits to the environment.

There is a huge risk that animals can consume litter that is left by people in the countryside. Some of the trash can end up in the ocean which is very dangerous for marine life. Moreover, nobody wants to see litter when exploring beautiful scenery so those are good reasons to pick up the litter whenever you travel.

It does not take a long time to collect a few plastic bags from the ground but can help a lot for nature. By doing this you can set a good example to follow, especially when traveling in countries where education about polluting the environment is at a lower level.

Just make sure to always wear gloves and wash your hands afterward. You can also use trash pickers to limit your contact with any litter that you pick up. Finally, take some pictures from your trip to encourage others to help the environment while visiting some of the most beautiful places in the world. 

Stay on Designated Paths

Jillian from Adventure Dragon tells us all about the importance of staying on designated paths. So many people are completely unaware of the damage that they can cause by straying off the path but those paths are there for a reason!

A man in shorts and a t-shirt standing on a wooden platform view point. He is looking out at the flat landscape below him.

When traveling responsibly, it’s important to stay on designated paths. Don’t wander off designated paths trying to get the perfect photo because you can damage or destroy protected environments in these areas. 

Everyone wants to get the perfect photo when traveling somewhere especially beautiful. This often leads to tourists jumping over fences or barriers to try to find the perfect spot. Oftentimes, people naively believe that such behavior is harmless or that it doesn’t affect anyone except themselves, but the truth is much more complicated than that. In some cases, wandering off from designated trails can be dangerous and even cost you your life. In other cases, it can damage vegetation, destroy animal habitats, and even harm entire ecosystems. 

There are alternative ways to capture great photos, however, that don’t require that you sacrifice your safety or the wellbeing of the environment. One of these ways is packing hiking gear that can enable you to get shots of hard-to-reach areas that you can’t actually venture to on foot. Camera drones are a great way to get amazing aerial shots, especially in areas where you may be hiking on a mountain or anywhere on an incline. There’s no need to get close to a cliff edge yourself when your camera is capable of capturing an all-encompassing view of the entire mountain and its surroundings while you stand in the middle of it all.

Another option is to use the fences and barriers to your advantage. Highlight them in your photos instead of trying to hide them. Sometimes backing up and getting farther away from a fence can result in amazing shots where the fence becomes the focus of your photography and actually helps to draw even more attention to the surrounding scenery when you stand alongside it. Regardless of whatever your preferred technique may be, doing your part to stay on the paths when taking photos will help to keep the world you love so much safer. 

Leave No Trace

Taryn from Happiest Outdoors has introduced me to the Leave No Trace principle. I wasn’t aware of this before and it has been super informative and helpful. I’d highly recommend looking into it in more depth, as I have, to learn all about the ways we can minimise our impact on the world.

Yellow wildflowers and grass lining a path with trees. An out of focus woman in black leggings and a blue top with a blue back pack is walking away from the camera.

If your trip involves hiking, camping, a visit to a national park, or other outdoor activities, read up on the principles of Leave No Trace. Developed in the United States in the 1960s, these wilderness ethics guidelines are now used around the world to help minimize human impact on the natural world. With more and more people choosing wilderness destinations, some locations are in danger of being loved to death. It is more important than ever that visitors respect nature so that future generations can enjoy it too. 

Both beginners and experienced outdoors people can benefit from learning about Leave No Trace. You may discover that a practice you thought was innocent (such as leaving an orange peel in the bushes) is actually unethical. (Orange peels can take up to two years to decompose. In the meantime, they look unsightly, encourage others to leave trash, and can attract animals who shouldn’t eat human food.)

You know that you shouldn’t leave trash like granola bar wrappers in nature, but there are many other ways to practice responsible recreation. The Seven Principles of Leave No Trace include tips for going to the bathroom, finding a campsite, interacting with wildlife, building a campfire, and lots more. You can stay on the trail when you hike to prevent erosion and avoid damaging fragile vegetation. Instead of picking flowers or bringing rocks home with you, take a photo instead. Give wildlife lots of space to maintain their natural behaviors – remember, you are a guest in their home. 

Avoid generating waste

Elaine from Live More, Travel More is a huge proponent of avoiding generating waste in the first place and I really love this approach. She recommends, as I always do, researching your destination to know what your options are too.

Have you ever questioned yourself if the destination you are heading to has recycling programs or has any waste management at all? We need to bear in mind that not all the cities are as big and well developed as the ones we often live in. 

A great way to be a more sustainable traveller is to reduce waste while traveling. You can do it by always avoiding single use plastic, by stop using those mini hotel toiletries, and carrying with you a solid shampoo bar and deodorant instead of the ones packed in plastics, for example. Women can also opt for period underwear or a menstrual cup to avoid disposable pads.

It is almost impossible to not generate any waste, so it is also important to do some research to find out if your destination has a recycling program. If so, make sure you discard your recyclable waste in the correct place. If not, you can separate it in your luggage and take it to your next destination or back home. Let’s do our best to leave the places we visit better than when we arrived, and not leave problems behind for native people and nature to deal with them.

Choose a reusable water bottle

Jessica from Uprooted Traveler agrees with Elaine. One way to avoid using single use plastics, she says, is to invest in a reusable water bottle. They are usually plastic, metal, or glass, and dramatically reduce the amount of plastic you consume.

A woman in a cream bobble hat and light pink long sleeved top is drinking from a clear water bottle with a plastic lid. In the background is a forest and some mountains.

Within the United States alone, 70 million single-use plastic water bottles are consumed and discarded every day. And only one out of six of these will ultimately be recycled. With plastic recycling drastically down across the globe, destinations, from Hawaii to Hong Kong, have concerns about running out of space for their garbage and many of these plastic bottles will ultimately wind up polluting our oceans. 

So what’s an easy fix that you can help with while you’re traveling? 

A reusable plastic bottle! 

Having a reusable water bottle on hand will not only help you stay hydrated throughout the day, but will also eliminate the need to buy single use plastic ones. This is not only better for the planet, but is also easier on your wallet. Just throw it in your water bottle pocket on your backpack or even a separate water bottle holder you can sling over your shoulder and you’ll be ready for your day’s adventures.

In countries where it’s safe to drink the water, it’s easy to stop by any sink or water fountain to make sure you have water on hand.  If, instead, you’re traveling in a country where the tap water may not be safe to drink, many hotels and Airbnbs frequently provide filtered water or you can bring along your own filter, like the Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System or a Grayl Geopress. 

If you’re unable to filter your water, you’re better off purchasing a large jug of water (for example, at least three gallons), similar to what the locals use, to keep your water bottle full.  While the container is obviously more plastic than a single water bottle, it’s certainly more sustainable than producing, transporting, storing, and ultimately disposing of dozens and dozens of single-use bottles.

Get an eco lunch kit

Another option is to get an eco lunch kit, as Gemma from Two Scots Abroad Travel Guides recommends. There are lots of options here from collapsible Tupperware to bamboo cutlery. The added advantage is you end up eating out less which will save you money!

Image of bamboo cutlery (knife, then fork, then spoon, then straw) in a roll-up bag.

Investing in an eco lunch kit as part of your packing list can save you money in the long run! 

Top of the recommended list is collapsible Tupperware. Kits usually come in three sizes and each box folds down. This means when it’s not in use it becomes flat pack which is an ideal space saver for packing. The process of flattening the tubs is bizarrely enjoyable too. 

Lids secure with clips to ensure the content doesn’t escape while stored in your day bag and the lid has a detachable section which is removed during microwaving. 

Collapsible Tupperware is the perfect for packed lunches and snacks. They also work well for doggy bags, avoiding food waste when dining out and saving you money on future meals. Win win! 

Next up is a bamboo cutlery kit. Kits tend to include a fork, knife, spoon, straw and straw cleaner wrapped in a robust cloth case which rolls and fastens. Cutlery kits are great for takeout food which normally comes with single use plastic cutlery. 

The only downside to the cutlery kit is that you do need to give it a good clean which can be difficult if you are staying in a hotel. If you have an apartment with kitchen facilities, just wrap the bamboo cutlery up and wash it when you get home.

What about you?

What about you Wanderlusters? Do you have any tips for ways we can protect animals and travel responsibly?

For more tips on responsible tourism, check our my other posts on this topic:

Emma Morrell
Emma Morrell

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