Responsible Travel – Tips for Treading Lightly


Trekking carnarvon gorge

Remember when the average adventure-trip advert was aimed solely at an under 30 adrenaline junkie who wanted to yahoo around like a seven-year-old who’s had one too many tubes of smarties?

Thankfully these days, adventure is marketed more widely than jumping off a bridge with a giant elastic band tied to your ankles. Now we’re encouraged to take a challenge, step outside our comfort zones, travel like a local, “engage and connect”  – or – have a chat and make friends, as we used to say back in the day before TwitFace #AsICallIt

Whether you want to immerse yourself in the culture of a far-flung place or explore nature in your own backyard, people of all ages are seeking to get more from their annual leave. “Experiential travel” is the word on the street and more people are looking to get down that less-beaten path.

Quick Stats

According to the 2013 Adventure Tourism Market Survey, the value of the global outbound adventure travel market in 2012 was $263 billion – excluding airfare – up from $89 billion in 2009. In the same period, average spending per trip by adventure travellers globally increased from $593 to $947, which sounds like good news for creating local economies in developing countries and remote regions…. or is it?

Treading Lightly

We’ve all heard the “take nothing but photos and leave nothing but footprints” or “no trace” travel policy. But in reality, trying to travel responsibly is a constant balance of climbing a steep learning curve on a trail full of eggshells. Our well-meaning travel currency has the power to help and to destroy. We have literally loved places to death. So how do we avoid breaking eggs to make the omelette of smashing memories?

Offsetting your carbon footprint

Flying is likely to be the largest contributor to your carbon footprint. Reducing it was all over the news when I returned from a round-the-word trip many years ago. I felt so guilty about all the flights I took that I walked and used public transport for six months. Now you can offset-as-you-go like lifestyle and travel writer Sarah Duncan  does by paying a few extra dollars for her flights.

Also consider swapping a flight for an overland trip. Going by train, bus, bike, rickshaw, camel, or whatever works in the country you’re in – it will more likely make a bigger deposit in the memory bank and leave the local economy better off. 

Trail Trash

I’ll never forget a ranger on the Routeburn trek in New Zealand who chased a litter offender 10 kilometres up a trail to give them their trash back. MyTanFeet pick up other people’s trash on their travels and post photos of “trash in paradise” to remind all to do the same.

Keeping trails pristine and litter free for everyone’s enjoyment is as simple as carrying a small rubbish bag in your daypack/backpack. National Park Rangers will thank you for it too, instead of chasing you up the trail.

Water Matters

Leigh from HikeBikeTravel greened up by avoiding bottled water  and uses a thermos bottle and water purification (if needed) instead. It’s not just about the trash with this one; for every litre of water you drink a quarter litre of oil is in the bottle itself. Now I never leave home without my Camelback reusable bottle.

Meeting the locals in Ishkashim, Afghanistan

Meeting the locals in Ishkashim, Afghanistan

The Rise of the Conscientious Traveller

A growing group of consumers – one in four of us according to latest reports – would like travel to be less invasive and more beneficial to local people, respecting their culture, the environment and resources. They want to understand the realities of the places they visit Ghandi syle – with open eyes and an uncluttered mind; my thoughts entirely… that’s until the questions butt in.

Questions such as: What are the difficulties people are facing?  What are the political realities? How do I show my respect to local people and observe local customs? What is a fair price to pay? How do I avoid inadvertently supporting human rights abuses, like the exploitation of children?

For the time poor, the best way to overcome these challenges is by travelling with a responsible tour company that has developed strong bonds with the communities and will provide you with the latest information when you book on the tour.

Choose a company with a strong responsible travel policy and make sure they stick to it. I’ve had great experiences with Secret Compass and Redspokes who use local guides, family-owned accommodation and eateries. World Expeditions have a free Responsible Travel Guide you can download here. Among the subject matter, it has guidelines on wildlife, photo etiquette and explains why you should never give to children.

Also at Greenloons (US) and (UK) you can search responsible and sustainable trips by geographical region.

If you’re planning to head off independently you could start with  TripSketch Green Traveller  – an eco-friendly app with green activities and experiences in 80  cities across Canada, Europe, the US, Asia and Oceania.

Once you venture down the less-beaten track, you’re less likely to find a useful app or your smartphone working to help you, but with some forethought, you can make smart choices about where you stay and what you buy to benefit local people. And don’t forget to swot up on the customs – you wouldn’t want to give someone the “thumbs up” in Afghanistan where it means “up yours”.

Do you worry about the impact you make when you travel?

Have you got a good tip, useful resource or app to share?




Journalist. Travel writer. Roughty-toughty adventurer. Also known as "The Trail Tart" Addicted to two-wheeled escapades and exploring on my mountain bike.

Latest posts by Tracey (see all)

, , , , , , ,

14 Responses to Responsible Travel – Tips for Treading Lightly

  1. Sarah Duncan May 30, 2014 at 5:23 pm #

    A great piece, Tracey. And it’s always good to be reminded that responsible travel is just as much about how we give back to our destinations as it is about what we take away.
    Sarah Duncan recently posted..Travel Australia: 10 Things to see and do along the Great Ocean RoadMy Profile

  2. Leigh May 30, 2014 at 11:56 pm #

    I always think about my impact not only when I travel – but in my day to day life. There are big distances in Canada like Australia to cover which makes plane travel the most efficient way to go from the time perspective – in most instances though there are plenty of good road trips nearby. It’s hard to fully offset one’s trip but once I do get to where I’m going, I usually bike or hike from there. Still that’s not enough. I don’t know if offsetting our carbon footprint is more of a feel good measure than anything. I feel like I need to do a lot more research on that to fully understand it – as I do think the program was set up for profit.
    Education and awareness is always the first step and I applaud you for writing such a great article – and for helping to raise awareness.
    Interesting stats too.
    Leigh recently posted..Gear Review: The KEEN Gallatin CNX SandalMy Profile

    • Tracey June 2, 2014 at 2:58 pm #

      Thanks Leigh, I agree it’s difficult to get everything right. I don’t understand how the carbon issue works either. I’ve learnt some things by mistakes I’ve made and there is conflicting info out there. For instance, some say local travel is good for reducing carbon but then again that can put up the prices for the locals, so sometimes I feel we have to use our common sense and judgement when we’re in the situation. It’s a big balancing act and, as you say, constant education.
      Tracey recently posted..Mountain Biking in Burma: A Surprising StartMy Profile

  3. Samantha May 31, 2014 at 3:14 am #

    Nice write up! I’m glad that we are (finally) becoming more aware of our carbon footprint, especially as travelers. It’s amazing how much we spend and waste while we’re on the road. There’s so much we can to do help, every little action makes a difference. We don’t need to take it to the extreme but being aware is the first step. Hopefully more companies and businesses will follow and we can make everything eco-friendly. Thanks for including us 🙂
    Samantha recently posted..Climbing Mount Si and the Haystack – My First Time to a SummitMy Profile

  4. redspokes June 2, 2014 at 9:18 pm #

    A big thank you Tracey from redspokes for including us in your thoughtful post here on responsible travel. We agree that engagement with local cultures and communities is hugely rewarding and an invaluable part of the experience. A positive contribution to local projects can change lives. Read about Braille without Borders, a charity based in Tibet for the visually impaired who we support.

    • Tracey June 3, 2014 at 1:42 pm #

      The work you do in communities around the world is inspiring and heartwarming. I’m really looking forward to the Himalayas trip in August.
      Tracey recently posted..Discover the Heart of Burma by BikeMy Profile

  5. Agata June 3, 2014 at 4:33 pm #

    Thanks for a very interesting article Tracey!

    While I totally agree with an idea of responsible tourism I have serious doubts about ‘green policies’ of particular companies. For me this is a case of very individual attitude – just like Leigh says. If nature is important to you than you’ll be responsible everywhere: at home dealing with your trash and when traveling.

    I think there is a huge contradiction in responsible travels: people would like to tell themselves that their travels do not influence/disrupt lives of people they wish to visit but it does. By all means! And while you cannot influence everything you are responsible for yourself and your actions. So be responsible! I would be very happy about one thing: when people stopped convinced themselves and others that they travel ‘green’ when they don’t.
    Agata recently posted..Quick Look At… Marche!My Profile

    • Tracey June 3, 2014 at 9:56 pm #

      There is a lot of conflicting information about what is and what isn’t responsible travel. It’s difficult to decipher and decide what’s right which is why I asked others for their input. I think it’s impossible in the world we live in today for any person or company to claim to be completely green, responsible, ethical, eco etc. I don’t think they do. I agree it’s up to individuals and you’re right that travel always has some kind of impact, which is why I think the “no trace” travel policy is confusing and no person or company can claim to do that in my humble opinion. Certainly tourism can disrupt lives, but it can also help. As we become more aware and informed, hopefully we can make that impact more beneficial to local people and communities. Some adventure companies I know have built schools, provided training and created jobs in difficult to reach or disadvantaged regions around the world. However, If you have serious doubts about the ‘green policies’ or the responsible travel policies of particular companies then of course you shouldn’t travel with them.
      Tracey recently posted..Yarning with Uncle FredMy Profile

  6. Freya July 14, 2014 at 1:39 am #

    Great article Tracey, very interesting. I always try to be a responsible traveler although I have to admit it’s not always easy. I always take a responsible company that looks out for the locals as well.
    Freya recently posted..EBC Trek Day 1: Lukla to PhakdingMy Profile

  7. Tracey July 17, 2014 at 4:03 am #

    Me too Freya. It’s not easy as you say. We can only try.
    Tracey recently posted..Discover the Heart of Burma by BikeMy Profile

  8. Terrigal Accommodation September 4, 2017 at 10:23 am #

    this is my favourite part ” Trail Trash” this reminds of me of my travel in phils.. one of the mountains that we been too? before you start the trail they will count all the stuff and the food that you bring and they will check it once you come back!

  9. Bowral September 6, 2017 at 11:39 am #

    this is so cool, i love the story and the thread! cool tips too!

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Protected by Copyscape Duplicate Content Detection Tool


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: