13 Ways to be a Responsible Traveler

I know traveling isn’t the most eco-friendly hobby. Air travel has actually been called the biggest carbon sin of all. I try my hardest to live an eco-conscious lifestyle and am working towards the very ambitious goal of going zero waste, and it’s really hard (if not impossible) to fit this passion of mine into both of those categories. Despite this challenge, how can we still be good environmental stewards? How can you make the effort to go above and beyond to be a responsible traveler? Here are some ways (both big and small) we can travel responsibly and live this love for the land even when adventuring.

1. Bring the bag. Reuse a bottle. Say no to the straw.

Reducing your plastic waste is one of the easiest and most effective ways you can be a good environmental steward. These three are the largest offenders in single use plastic waste. They’re also super easy to replace in your daily routine. You can read more against my personal crusade against single use plastic waste here.

Americans use more than 380 billion plastic bags and wraps each year. On average, the plastic grocery bag has a usefulness of 7 minutes, but an eternal lifespan since they don’t biodegrade. I always keep reusable shopping bags in my car, then at least one more packable one in my purse. When I check out at, I tell the cashier that I don’t need a bag, especially when I’m buying one item (I usually just put that one item straight in my purse after I pay).

I also always have a reusable water bottle with me. I have quite a few Nalgenes and S’well bottles that I will switch out and carry. They’re so much cuter than single use plastic bottles, AND with how much water I drink, they prevent me from putting 5+ bottles in the trash every single day. Plus, bottled water is not any cleaner or healthier than tap water, despite what that industry may claim. And bottled water can cost up to 500 times the cost of tap water. Y’all. That’s just insane.

I also use my own stainless steel straws instead of using single use plastic straws because more than 500 million straws are thrown away each day in the US. That’s enough to circle the Earth 2.5 times. When I go out to restaurants, I always make sure to say “water, no straw” when the server asks what I’d like to drink.

2. Cut down on plastic waste AND make it easier to get through TSA by using solid toiletries!

You know how much of a pain it can be to pack all your necessities in a carry on? Mainly because of that liquid rule? Well, by using solid shampoo, conditioner, and even toothpaste you can avoid that annoying situation of measuring out your liquids, putting them in a ziploc bag, and praying TSA doesn’t have it in for you when you’re running late for your flight and get caught in security. My personal favorite brand for all these goodies is Lush. I love the Godiva bar for shampoo (bottom left), Jungle for conditioner (top left), Movis facial cleanser (top right), and Full of Grace solid facial moisturizer (bottom right).

My favorite solid Lush products!

3. Use a Diva Cup!

This one is for the LADIES! (Read that in the voice of an obnoxious DJ) But seriously, dudes you can skip this one. Girls, have you ever thought about how much waste we create with pads and tampons? It’s insane. And it’s expensive! I recently switched to the Diva Cup. OK, I actually bought a competitor brand, the name of which I can’t remember, but what’s in a name and all that…

(Plus, I really don’t want to use the term “menstrual cup”)

Anyways, I seriously love it. These cups are reusable for an entire DECADE. That’s only $30 FOR TEN YEARS Y’ALL. Considering that the average woman spends $200 per year on “feminine products,” I am so stoked about that $30. Cups don’t contain latex, BPA, dye or any other creepy additives. Almost all tampons contain bleached rayon—a material that can create the possibly carcinogenic byproduct dioxin. You can wear it safely for up to 12 hours, and it is designed for any activity. (Seriously, the first time I used this thing I went to my hip-hop dance class and was absolutely amazed!) The cup saves you space in your bag, saves you money, and saves space in the landfill.

I know this may not be for everyone. I totally get that because I almost gave up on it the first time I tried it. There is a very short learning curve with the cup. But just stick with it! Don’t give up! This thing is amazing and so worth it!

4. Cut down on the meat and dairy.

You don’t have to commit to being a vegan, but you can definitely reduce your carbon footprint by cutting down on animal product consumption every now and then. Try #MeatlessMondays or the vegan option sometimes. Contrary to what seems to be popular belief, vegan food can be absolutely delicious! There’s a cool website/app called HappyCow to help you find ethical, vegan or vegetarian eats!

Photo courtesy of Rianne at sunnyjourneys.com. To be respectful of the Islamic culture, she covered her head and shoulders when she made a visit to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.

5. Respect local social, religious, and cultural norms.

Take the time to learn about the country you’re visiting and conduct yourself in a way that is sensitive to their culture. Always dress appropriately with these norms in mind.

6. Take only pictures, leave only footprints.

When you go hiking, or even just walking around a city you’re visiting make sure you “take only pictures and leave only footprints.” Meaning leave what you find. Plants, rocks, and all natural features should be left as they are, as should historical artifacts. And always make sure you dispose of all your litter properly. Never leave any of your waste behind. The earth is not your trash can!

Photos courtesy of Stephanie at DestinationDorworth.com. During a trip to NYC, she volunteered at churches, youth centers, and homeless shelters.

7. Volunteer a little of your time.

Volunteering your time to a worthwhile cause with a reputable local organization can make a huge difference in the community you’re visiting. Whether you’re volunteering your expertise and skills, or just bringing supplies they may need, the locals will be so thankful. For more info, check out programs like Grassroots Volunteering and Pack for a Purpose.

Photo courtesy of Maria at 203challenges.com. A local food vendor at the Sunday Market in Chiang Mai.

8. Purchase locally.

This is very important in developing countries, but it can be said for any destination. When you book local and shop small, your money is going back into the local economy and communities directly to help them build their lives. Some companies may even give back through community initiatives and philanthropy! And be mindful that haggling may be a fun cultural norm, but make sure you don’t neglect to provide a fair wage to the artisan/vendor.

9. Shop ethical.

Hopefully this goes without saying, but do not buy products made from endangered species. That means say no to ivory products and the like. If you’re considering buying local gems, research the legality and ethics of those gems before you do.

Photo courtesy of Maria at 203challenges.com. She opted to take the train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.

10. Opt for public transportation when you can.

Instead of Ubering or taking taxis from point A to point B, live like a local and take public transportation to reduce your footprint! Or if the weather is nice, walk and explore the city from a pedestrian point of view.

11. Participate in ethical activities.

Support ethical organizations that support animal welfare. Research any wildlife attraction you’re considering to ensure they conform to the nationally recognized standards on ethical treatment of animals. Look for companies who will positively benefit from your tourism dollars, and will further the mission of conservation and ethical treatment of animals. Respect wild habitats and protected areas, and do not partake in any tour or activity that encourages wildlife interaction within their natural habitat.

For example, here’s a great list of 6 ethical elephant sanctuaries in Thailand. When we make our way there some day, I will definitely support one of these organizations by visiting.

Photos courtesy of Sara at thelifeofasolivagant.com. She took these at her favorite sanctuary, David Sheldrick’s Animal Orphanage, and the Giraffe Center in Nairobi, Kenya.

12. Conserve water.

I live in a country where water supply is ample and most people take that for granted. But no matter what, we all need to conserve water to prevent a crisis in the future. Freshwater makes up a very small fraction of all water on earth. While nearly 70% of the world is covered by water, only 2.5% of it is fresh. Even then, just 1% of our freshwater is easily accessible, since much of it is trapped in glaciers and snowfields. In essence, only 0.007% of the planet’s water is available to sustain 7.4 billion people. Your travels may bring you to places where water is a supply crisis. You can be a responsible water user by taking a shorter shower, reusing your towels at the hotel (instead of getting them washed/replaced every day), etc. Every drop of water you conserve is a drop that can go toward agriculture and local health.

13. Don’t stop the good habits once you get home.

Think about how your habits impact the environment, and let that motivate you to make small changes over time. Move from being a responsible traveler, to a generally responsible citizen of this world. Can you skip the straw during your date night? Maybe bring your reusable cup to fill up for your Starbucks fix? Can you bring a reusable water bottle to work instead of opting for the single use plastic bottle? How about opting for a meatless dinner tonight? It may not feel like you’re making a difference, because you’re only one person. But when you start making eco-responsible choices, soon someone else will take notice and they might pick up that habit as well. Then their family will join in. Soon it’s dozens of people. Then it’s hundreds. Thousands. Millions. Be that one person who inspires the chain!

It’s my hope that you walk away from this post inspired to make at least one small change in your travel habits, or even in your daily life. Do y’all have any other tips for me? If so, leave them below! I’m always looking for more ways to be a responsible traveler.

Happy wanderlusting, friends. Don’t forget to respect your Mother Earth.

14 Comments

  • krista

    I love all of these! especially the straws! and ethical activities, especially when related to animals! awesome post! AWESOME POST! thanks for writing it!

    October 4, 2017 at 1:15 pm Reply
  • Valerie

    These are all amazing tips, and all totally true. I especially enjoy the one about cultural norms – we should dive into the culture we visit, not try to stick to our own while abroad!

    October 4, 2017 at 9:57 pm Reply
  • Erica R Valentin

    I still cant quite grasp the logistics of number 3 hahahah but i may eventually try it! love love love 7 though ….such a great idea to volunteer where you travel!

    October 5, 2017 at 6:42 am Reply
    • aroundtheworldinkatydays

      Haha yeah the logistics of it are pretty confusing at first! After the first three attempts I was so ready to give up, but all of a sudden it just clicked. There’s definitely a very short learning curve with it, so if you ever try it, just stick with it for a few tries!

      October 5, 2017 at 8:43 am Reply
  • Cristina

    This is such a nice article! There’s this common belief that tourists are messy and leave a lot of waste behind them. I hate doing that. I’m trying to reduce my plastic waste and also recycle it.

    October 5, 2017 at 12:44 pm Reply
  • Amanda Schreiber

    Thanks for the reminder! I love to travel, but I see so many irresponsible travelers wherever I go and it saddens me.

    October 5, 2017 at 3:34 pm Reply
  • Susan Portnoy

    Fantastic tips. Very thoughtful post. Thank you so much for sharing.

    October 7, 2017 at 11:33 am Reply
  • Sarah

    #5 is my niche!!! It’s so vital to be able to give a say in how their country is changing through tourism! Using tourism as a tool to preserve cultures and stories!

    October 7, 2017 at 11:53 am Reply
  • Emily

    I love this post! I do all these things and I’d argue that many of them make for a better travel experience in addition to being sustainable. Shopping local and using public transport will make for much better stories than the airport gift shop and hotel shuttle! (Also, the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage is AMAZING!)

    October 7, 2017 at 12:02 pm Reply
  • Meghan

    These are great suggestions! I almost never use a straw for the same reason. Love the suggestion to continue these practices at home. We need to live sustainably all the time.

    October 7, 2017 at 12:19 pm Reply
  • Christine

    These are all great! You really opened my eyes to being more ecofriendly! So many wonderful tips that are so easy to incorporate into my daily life.

    October 7, 2017 at 12:27 pm Reply
  • Sarah

    Super great and easy tips! And re grocery bags, most countries in Europe now charge for bags, so it saves money too! Reusable bags also make really great souvenirs- we have one from our favorite supermarket in the Netherlands. Just important to remember the bags when we’re home and fall into old/bad habits.

    October 7, 2017 at 12:28 pm Reply
  • Amy Poulton - Page Traveller

    These are brilliant! I’ve been trying to make some of these changes, but already halfway through my trip, so a bit difficult. Wish I’d had this list six months ago! Will save it for the next one.

    October 7, 2017 at 4:30 pm Reply
    • aroundtheworldinkatydays

      The good thing is, a lot of these are things you can do at home! Creating that habit can definitely help when for when you travel (:

      October 7, 2017 at 9:03 pm Reply

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