What are “eco travels”? You probably heard or read different adjectives to qualify responsible tourism: sustainable, ethical, conscious or even green travellers. Except the last one – which refers only to the ecological aspect of travelling – they all mean the same; a way to explore the world with minimal negative impact for the environment and the people, and the most benefits for everyone. Have a look into the world of sustainable tourism, and how you can have more of an ecotravel.

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Jump to:
Responsible citizens  |  Choose your destination  |  Eco travels on a budget  |  Slow travel
Tips for your:
Accommodation  |  Transportation  |  Activities
Plastic:
The problems with it  |  How to reduce plastic
How to offset your carbon footprint


We hope that through our stories we are inspiring you to travel and discover the many wonderful places this world is made of. Our goal would be truly achieved if we inspired you to be also mindful & responsible travellers. Here’s our list of practical tips for an active responsible tourism. Let’s make your next trip a green trip!

See a more detailed definition of “Responsible tourism” here.

Be an Eco Traveller: Reduce Your Travel Footprint

We find it important to talk about this topic, as the news around rubbish production and the ways it can be handled leave us shocked: the world generates more than 2 billion (!) metric tonnes of waste annually! The majority, 86% of this waste, cannot be recycled, and the rest will be so only a couple of times.

This leaves us more and more with the frightening vision of a world suffocating in rubbish.

Responsible travellers must start by being responsible citizens

It is important to reduce our environmental impact in our everyday life, as this will have the greater effect.

During our travels, especially (but not only!) in countries where the education about the environment is still lacking, we often find it hard to be as environmentally friendly as we would like to be.

Having said that, our conscious habits at home can also become best practices while we are on the move. Or the other way round: it’s a good idea to implement green habits when on holiday, and then bring them home. Hopefully this guide, along with many others offered by different kinds of blogs, can help you turn your good intentions into good habits and reduce your eco footprint on your travels. And at home. Everyday.

In this post you’ll find our tips and tricks for responsible tourism for all kinds of travellers – from choosing your destination to the type of activities you should engage in; ideas specifically for plastic reduction; and how to be more eco friendly and reduce the footprint on your travels in general.

 
A typical street food stall in Peru. This way of eating is very popular in the Andean countries, as food sold on the street is cheap and convenient. We’ve seen all sorts of people sitting on these stools, from road worker to bank manager!

Your Travel Destination Matters

It does. Travelling to a country means investing in the region, investing your money but also your time. It also means bringing memories of it back home and talking about it, to your friends and families, maybe also on social media, etc. Not every destination deserves so much attention from responsible travellers…

Avoid mass tourism places. The more people gather on a site, the heavier the ecological footprint will be and the harder it will be to tackle: more rubbish, more resources needed. We’re far from an eco experience in green destinations.

We’re not telling you to skip altogether some unique places, that you have to see once in your lifetime (eg. Machu Picchu, Niagara Falls, Angkor Wat). But for a common beach or mountain hike, prefer more ecotourism destinations, those that are less in the spotlight.

You will enjoy it all the more for not bumping into fellow tourists, and will probably pay less for anything you need to buy onsite.

Avoid also countries that infringe on human rights. As a foreigner, you will not feel the repression or the persecution that locals might endure on a daily basis. But by visiting a country, you advertise it. Plus, it is highly probable that most of the economical benefits will go to the repressive government, not to the people.

Many fish in the sea regarding where to travel to – it’s not responsible tourism to advertise a repressive state. Do a quick research before deciding.

Responsible Tourism on a Budget

As there are different kinds of travellers, there are different types of ecotourism. During our trips we figured that travellers on a budget have a hard time staying responsible. It often means choosing street food, markets and cheap eating/drinking places over higher-standard cafes and restaurants.

Unsurprisingly, this is where plastic is the most used. In a trendy café they wouldn’t even dream of serving you a cappuccino in a plastic cup without expecting you to spit in their face. But a cheap coffee at the market hall rarely comes in a porcelain mug. In a proper restaurant, proper food comes on proper plates. But ask one to the street seller for your empanada instead of the usual plastic wrapping and you’ll give her laughing material for a whole month. 

Still, it’s absolutely possible to find an eco solution to these problems for more responsible travels.

In fact, these eco travels tips can be useful not only to budget backpackers, but to everyone on the go. So read on!

Slow travel

When you’re visiting a city and see a nice piece of street art, do you quickly take a picture and carry on or stop to understand it? Do you spend a few minutes listening to the amazing street musician or just take a video and walk on? Is that historic monument only worth a selfie or will you ask someone for stories?

Travelling slowly is all about getting to know the ‘inside’ of a place instead of staying at the surface. It doesn’t mean you have to live 3 months in every town, or walk from one city to the next. If you have limited travelling time, you might end up seeing less sites – but you will experience them in a more conscious way.

That is slow travel: to value the quality of the experiences above the quantity of the sights. That is responsible tourism at its best! Learn more about what slow travel is.

Volunteering and Couchsurfing are two good ways to immerse in the culture of a place; we’ll get to these in the following part.

 
eco travel responsible tourism traveller milk cows
Learning to milk a cow in Ecuador at an eco farm, completely off the beaten track. We’ve found Felipe, the owner through Couchsurfing and had a truly unique natural vacation.

Choose sustainable accommodation

  • We are enthusiastic users of Couchsurfing (or any other hospitality network)!

For us, it’s the best way to visit a place through the eyes of a local and therefore avoid the fake environment that sometimes surrounds a hotel tourist. For us, it is not only about saving accommodation money: it is a way to immerse more deeply into the local life of a place. It leads to self-guiding and respecting the local culture, two aspects we will mention in a bit.

  • For long-term responsible tourism, we advise travellers to volunteer during their trip.

You’ll work a few hours a day in exchange for accommodation and a few meals. It’s a good way to support the local community and do a meaningful work that really makes a difference, before continuing your eco travels. 

We volunteered twice in Peru and had great experiences. We made lasting friendships, gained new skills, got locals’ tips on what to visit in the area and saved a few hundred euros! The site that we used is Workaway, but there are a bunch of other sites out there as well. Research well and decide on the cause that you want to commit to for your green volunteer tourism.

  • Some blogs also mention house sitting, that is taking care of the house of someone who went on holiday.

It does sound like a nice idea for spending time abroad, but we have never done it. Leave us a comment if you have that experience!

Travel with the most eco transportation

  • Take the bus instead of the plane.

For shorter distances the bus is definitely the greener option for its lower carbon emission per person. In countries where low-cost is not available, the bus is cheaper than the plane and you don’t need to decide and plan long before your travel, as the price of the ticket usually remains the same.

In South America we’ve never taken the plane but had many long night bus rides – it would be a lie to say they are great, but definitely bearable.

Read more: How to Survive a Night Bus Trip

We absolutely love going to local eco markets on our travels. Among other reasons, because we can buy legumes, rice, pasta, cheese and other ingredients loose, in our own plastic bag!

Opt for conscious activities

  • Eat and shop at local markets, use local ingredients.

Choose local meals on the menu to avoid pollution from transportation. Stop or reduce your meat consumption. For a cheaper – and ultimately, more eco – travels style, cook for yourself and carry your lunch in your own reusable lunch box.

  • When in the countryside, collect your rubbish.

National parks are usually very well maintained; but that’s not the case if your hike takes place outside of any national park. We always carry a few extra bags with us to collect our waste and dispose of it in a bin. It’s also a good way to reuse those bags we couldn’t avoid.

Keep in mind that, unfortunately, some bins are not emptied regularly so the rubbish end up flying in the nature anyway. To make sure, we just put everything in a plastic bag and keep it until we’re back in town. 

Actually, why not take this one step further and pick up any rubbish that you see on your way? I always imagine how Mother Earth is taking a deep breath when I free her from some non-degradable plastic packaging. We usually end up with a full bag at the end of the hike. Be proud of your kind act of real responsible tourism and take an Instagram pic of it (and tag us so we can congratulate you)!

  • As for tours, the most responsible is the self-guided tour

…because you decide to buy food from local sellers, to hire a local guide, the means of transportation to get there etc. instead of relying on someone else. So whenever you can, choose the self-guided tour. But for any activity that you take with a travel company, choose it based on their green / responsible practices.

That’s great if you look for eco travels activities and eco lodges for your holiday, but how do you judge whether the tour agency, travellers organisation or your accommodation is as responsible as it claims? Here is a list of questions that you should find answers to on their website. Otherwise, make sure to contact them and enquire about the sustainability of their service.

  • Just say no to wildlife tourism.

If you’re unsure whether the animals you’re about to watch or use are well treated, spare yourself hours of fruitless research and just skip the whole thing. We personally think that any activity involving animals is a form of abuse, unless it aims at educating.

For a responsible explanation of what wildlife tourism is, this is an important read for all travellers: Global Wildlife Tourism Causes Animal Suffering

  • Respect the history, culture, local people all around you.

Let’s have an eco trip, not an ego trip! So be open-minded, not intolerant – you’re travelling to learn about the local culture. Cultural tourism is the source of educating ourselves while on holiday. Having said that, don’t take pictures in a disrespectful way, rather ask before photographing people. Turn your holiday into a trip of cultural tourism, and get to know the 

Before heading to the #1 tour or attraction in the area, ask yourself: is it an ethical visit? Not everything that is advertised is ethical. For example, we don’t think that mass-visiting indigenous local communities in the Amazon is good for their culture…

Another example of unethical tourism: Why You Should Not Visit the Mines in Potosí, Bolivia

eco travel responsible tourism traveller pick up rubbish
Finishing our hike in Peru with four handfuls of rubbish that we picked up on the way. Since then we always carry extra plastic bags.

The Plague That is Plastic

The western world has started to mobilise on the plastic problem by educating people on the matter and making everybody participate. It has reached us and we are doing our best, especially as we faced the issue of plastic overuse on a daily basis during our travels in South America.

What are the problems caused by plastics?

You’ll find a very good presentation in this video: The Problem With Plastic

Plastic has been declared the number one threat to the ecosystem.

All the objects we buy that are made of the stuff (pots, toys, brushes, pens, and a whole list of other things) and all the single-use plastic from our daily consumption (bags, cups, bottles, straws, etc) will sooner or later break down into teeny tiny particles of non-degradable plastic. These micro particles have been found everywhere, from the highest mountain to the deepest sea, in the fabrics in our homes, in our food and drinks, and therefore in our stomachs.

At this stage, it is not merely ‘important’ anymore, but downright vital, that we as consumers reduce as much as possible our consumption of plastic in all its possible shapes. Companies will keep on producing plastic stuff no matter what they’re told about the situation of the planet, and no matter what type of catastrophe happens to it. So the duty is ours to stop using the plastic they produce.

Unfortunately, this can be extremely complicated in countries where the awareness on the topic hasn’t been raised yet. And unfortunately again, this is an awfully big part of our world…

In South America, corruption and a clear lack of interest from the governments prevent crucial educational campaigns from happening. The result is an excessive use of plastic in the everyday life (packaging in shops, plastic bags everywhere, cups given by the army of street sellers…) but also a predominant lack of care from the population. People there will more often than not throw their garbage by the side of the roads, in ravines, under bridges, or into rivers. It is a disheartening and sickening sight.

Unlike other optimistic eco travels blogs, we will not promise you to go 100% plastic-free during your trip; we honestly don’t think this is possible, especially if you’re travelling on a budget. Still, with every effort you make and whenever you refuse plastic, you contribute to a greener world.

 
In most South American countries food and drink (!) bought on the street comes in plastic bags. People then throw them away and rubbish piles up on the street.

Eco tips to reduce plastic on your travels

  • Reuse plastic bags:

After eating the bananas or bread rolls from the plastic bag, don’t throw it away but tuck it in your bag for the next time you shop, at markets or at the bakery. Just tell the seller that you already have a bag.

  • Always carry with you a foldaway shopping bag or tote bag:

In case you run into unplanned shopping. Some sellers already know the reason and ask us whether it’s for protecting the environment. Nice to hear that environmental education is going somewhere!

  • Bring a reusable plastic cup:

On all your walks, in town or on the beach: you might unexpectedly want a yummy fruit juice from a street seller! We often take our own cup and ask the seller to use that instead of theirs. They do it without questions and usually fill it up completely so we get a bit of extra!

  • Have a reusable lunch box:

Some days, you won’t feel like eating out. Prepare your meal at your accommodation and bring it in your own lunch box.

eco travel responsible tourism traveller's lunch box
Our lunchbox and metal cutlery are among our favourite eco travels accessories, as we often cook and bring the food for the day. Here, we had the best lunch view ever in the base camp of the Aconcagua, the highest mountain inSouth America.
  • Have your own cutlery:

Whether we go nature tripping or city strolling, we carry proper metal cutlery with us all the time. It doesn’t take much space and we find it more comfortable to eat with than with the bristle, often child-sized plastic cutlery. Just need to remember to wash them at your accommodation after use.

  • Refuse the straw!

There you have to be agile and say it before they viciously stick it into your drink. So just precise it right when you order. It will become a habit, to you and to the seller. We noticed than when we give our reusable cup, they often don’t give any straw.

  • Use a flask water bottle:

…and fill it up with tap water instead of buying plastic bottles. Plastic bottles represent 15 percent of marine waste. They’re cheap but hardly get recycled, so they usually end up in the landfill, or in the sea. You’ll also save a lot of money, especially when we see how much a bottle of water costs at popular tourist attractions.

  • In regions where tap water is not drinkable, choose a hostel with a water filter:

This way, you can easily fill up your reusable flask instead of buying plastic bottles everyday. Moreover, it’s a massive convenience for you.

  • Alternately, use a water filter or boil water:

Travelling in countries where tap water is not drinkable made us appreciate our drinkable tap water at home. But in other places, a portable water filter is really handy! They come in different models. Purifying tablets are also an option. Alternatively, boil tap water and let it cool. Make sure you boil it for a couple of minutes to purify it well.

  • Ladies, use a menstrual cup instead of tampons:

Can you imagine how much rubbish female periods produce in a lifetime? Recently I read an estimation of 130 kg! Menstrual cups are made of hypoallergenic silicon and are reusable after a simple rinsing. Apart from that you’ll produce less rubbish, it’s very handy, a lot cheaper, takes less space in your bag, and is easy to use.

  • Bring soap and shampoo bars:

Choose those that are homemade or naturally made (you can perhaps find them during your travel), so you’ll save on the plastic bottles and the plastic packaging of bathroom goods. They are also unique pieces!

You’ll find many of these items in this full lightweight (and beautiful) responsible travellers’ kit from (RE)collective, an eco-conscious startup from Austria. This fantastic kit includes items such as a cutlery set, a bottle (that is a thermos actually!), cup, shopping bag. Use GREEN as a coupon code at the checkout for an exclusive 5% discount for Green Mochila readers!

Offset Your Carbon Footprint

We all know that long-haul flights are the most polluting means of transportation, releasing the most carbon dioxide (CO2). This is the main reason why travelling has such a big impact on the environment. We know tourism cannot really be “responsible”, unless, of course, travellers decide to cross the continent on foot…

Hence looking for ways to ‘offset our carbon footprint’, that is to say doing things that will compensate for your emissions of CO2.

Some websites like this one help you calculate your carbon footprint, and propose even to support financially compensating environmental projects. Some airlines also offer you to pay a bit more for your flight ticket to offset your carbon footprint.

You don’t have to trust these companies though, and we also think it’s better to know firsthand what is done in those carbon offset projects. To offset your carbon footprint, have you ever thought about planting trees when you come back from your eco adventure? Click A Tree is a sustainability company where you can buy tree-planting in areas in need, such as Ghana and Kenya.

There are associations doing it in a professional way: they can give you guidance (as to which tree belongs to which climate and landscape, how and when to plant it, etc.), or maybe you will consider joining them on one of their projects.

You can also improve your home to make it greener, for example by reducing energy waste, reusing water or changing a few daily habits.

We hope you see the importance and the feasibility of a greener and more ethical lifestyle, and that you will apply some or all of these eco tips, on your travels and at home.

One important thing: remember that nobody is faultless. We are all in the process of learning new tricks and making new habits to reduce our impact. For a more responsible tourism and lifestyle. The important thing is to be aware of our decisions and to work to that goal.

Do you have some favourite tricks to reduce your environmental impact? Let us know how you go ethical on your trips, or if you find some things harder than others! 


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Who am I?

Anna and Anthony are long-time travellers, polyglots and all-kinds-of-art-lovers. They write about eco travels, nature hikes and cultural discoveries, mainly in South America, on the budget travel blog Green Mochila.

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30 Comments

  1. Kudos on this terrific post. We have definitely changed our habits while traveling over the years to me mindful. We love animals and often make sure we go and support organizations that are helping to protect them or rehabilitate them. There are just so many good people in the world helping the world and our planet I feel like we’ll never run out of stories. Keep up the good work!

    1. Thank you for your visit Sue! It is true that there are many people and associations doing great things for our planet, and we consider adding a personal selection of our favourites to this article. There are so many ways to help, and some of them will be featured in our future ‘Take action’ section, hopefully coming soon.

    2. What a great post! Some really simple tips and tricks that you can do anywhere and everywhere and some other things to think about. It’s all about education and making sure we make more conscious decisions about the impact we make.

      1. It’s all about education, exactly. Starting with that little question mark we should all have about everything we do and have been doing forever. “Maybe there’s a better way for this..?” Thanks for visiting Hanna, and for raising awareness!

  2. What a great post on all the ways we can be more sustainable as travelers! Some are definitely easier to do than others but I hope to gradually get better at all of these. 🙂

    1. Exactly Ness: to ‘gradually get better’ is what we should all be going for. No need to beat ourselves up or sacrifice to the cause. As for us, the biggest step we took was to become vegetarians, and we get everyday more convinced it is the right thing to do. Thanks for popping by!

  3. Thanks for sharing this excellent post, full of useful suggestions and important information. I appreciate how non-judgmental you are, recognizing that no one is perfect and that doing your best to travel in a responsible, considerate and conscious manner can go a long way!

      1. Great post! We are trying to be as eco-friendly as possible. Our bottles have a filter (which also allows to save a lot of money!), we almost always eat the menu in the local markets, we have a tote bag and reuse any plastic bag they gave us (it’s super difficult to convince them not to). Caroline also uses a moon cup and cooked her own shampoo before departure (Paolo doesn’t have this problem anymore 😅). And we are traveling by bus almost always: in the first month alone we did more than 100 hours of bus… we also try to use local agencies that help the community although sometimes the difference in price is really high…

      2. Wow you guys are really a pro and have great suggestions! I wish other traveler (and locals!) would do the same as you…
        I’m envy about your filter bottle, that’s the one thing we missed on our trip, so where there was no filter on the tap we boiled water all the time. (Or drank from tiny rivers in the nature and got sick :/ ) Are you guys trying to share these awesome tips with other people on your trip? At least with me, Caroline, could you please share your shampoo recipe? 🙂 I’d love to get into the habit of making my own cosmetics.
        Thanks for reading our blog and your important comment! Happy traveling!

    1. Nice to have you on our blog and thank you for your comment! I hope they are realistic and will contribute to a change of the way we travel. Happy travels!

  4. Thank you for such writing about this important topic, especially for mentioned animal tourism. Using animals for entertainment just breaks my heart. Animal welfare is the reason I became a vegetarian. It makes my heart happy to know that it helps the environment as well.

    1. Thank you for your comment! I agree, animal welfare is a very important topic. Unfortunately we see a lot of poor treatment of animals on our trip in South America, what’s instantly visible is of horses and donkeys on the road. Law and regulation is missing here, so it’s important for us not to take part in it at least.

  5. I think this is a great post. Thank you for continuing the dialogue and for the great ideas. If I might add that when putting your trash in a plastic bag, don’t tie it closed when you throw it away. Anything compostable gets stuck in the plastic and can’t break down. If the bags are left open the trash can escape and has a chance at decomposing in the landfill.
    When I was in Asia my heart was broken at all of the plastic they use-by having my own bag, and refusing straws I felt like I was able to start a conversation about plastic, or at least suggest to them that not all tourists want all of the plastic. Hopefully it is a little seed to start change. We have an opportunity as world travelers to help make differences, we should us that opportunity!

    1. I (Anthony) am very sceptical about the worth of starting such conversations; Anna believes in it, so we do it. I guess you’re right, we should try as much as we can. I value more the impact of a blog article, for example. Thanks for your visit, stay in touch!

    1. Thank you so much the nice words! We are happy that you find these tips useful. We are using all of them ourselves as well and these new habits soon became automatic to us. Happy responsible traveling!

  6. This is a brilliant post – you raised so many things that I can’t believe I didn’t think of, but that hadn’t crossed my mind before. The most interesting, to me, was the fact that by travelling to a place and bringing back stories and photos, you’re advertising it – and so you want to pick somewhere that you would want to advertise – where people are treated fairly. I don’t travel much (yet), but I will absolutely be remembering this. I also really liked your tips for reducing plastic, and your admission that it’s not going to be totally possible to be plastic free on a budget – which I think is a good thing to note. You don’t want to be feeling stressed and guilty when you’re doing your best. Thank you very much for sharing this <3

    1. Thank you so much for your valuable comment, Naomi!
      Responsible traveling has so many aspects, not only plastic, that should be addressed but often overlooked. As we traveled more, we became more conscious about them.
      Glad you’ve found the tips useful! Please let us know how you find keeping to these recommendations during your next trip, we are very curious about it!

  7. This is a really fab post with absolutely loads of good suggestions! A lot of the time when we go away we don’t even consider a lot of these things so this post definitely makes you open your eyes and realise things more.

    1. I’m happy to hear that you’ve found the tips helpful! I think it’s definitely harder to live green while traveling, but some little changes in habits can go a long way.

      Thank you for your comment and please let us know how these tips worked out for you during your next trip! We are very curious about it 🙂

  8. So many great recommendations here. I especially appreciate the suggestion to eat at local markets, not only is this more sustainable, but is a great way to learn about the local culture.

    1. Are you also market people? We love markets! It’s at the same time budget, local & responsible tourism. We didn’t even see it as a “tip for eco travels” – for us it’s just normal.

    1. We’re very happy you got inspired, Nancy! We’re all going forward step by step – it’s very encouraging when what seemed impossible before becomes feasible. Happy eco travels!

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