March 7th, 2018

Ethical Travel: A How-To Guide to Planning an Eco-friendly Adventure

Ethical Travel: A How-To Guide to Planning an Eco-friendly Adventure

Have you wanted to travel to a country where you can immerse yourself in the culture of the local people and support their livelihoods or volunteer on a community service project? Here’s a guide to planning an ethical travel adventure that can make a difference.


Whether planning your next adventure trip to the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador, the Himalayans of Nepal or the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, it’s important to travel responsibly. Yes, part of this is keeping yourself safe, but it also means keeping your travels environmentally friendly, sustainable, and ethical. 

According to the nonprofit Center for Responsible Travel, responsible tourism—also known as eco-tourism, ethical travel, sustainable travel or green travel—aims to minimize tourism’s negative impact on the environment and maximize positive contributions tourism can make in local communities.

So what does that mean for you? It’s really about adopting an environmentally and ethically responsible practices while traveling that seek to minimize carbon footprint, and finding travel activities that support—not exploit—local communities.

Leave Tiny Footprints

Consider ways to reduce your carbon footprint while traveling. While it’s tough to eliminate air travel when traveling internationally, aim to book flights with the least number of connections. On land, rent a fuel-efficient car when possible (some rental agencies have programs that help you do this, like Hertz Green Travel Collection), and consider destinations with good public transportation. Better yet: explore on foot or by bike! For athletic adventurers, extended hiking, cycling, canoeing or kayaking trips are perfect ways to travel green.

When choosing accommodations, stay in a locally owned hotel or eco lodge that strives to have a low impact on its natural surroundings by using solar energy or other sustainable features.

Support Local Communities

One aspect of that makes travel so transformational is connecting with new people, and immersing yourself in the local culture. This is also an element of ethical travel. Eating in locally run restaurants rather than chains keeps your travel dollars in the community you’re visiting, as does seeking out local artisans when you’re looking for souvenirs. This also helps you learn about local culture, and even practice different languages.

In addition to food and keepsakes, you can also use your travel dollars wisely when it comes to planning excursions. For example, mountain climbers venturing to the Himalayans may want to book with a trekking organization involved with improving the lives of their Sherpa staff, their families, and their villages. Nepal Trekking Tours, for instance, provides solar power light to Sherpa homes and monasteries, has rebuilt a monastery destroyed by a fire, and financially supports the education of Sherpa children.

Remember That Nature is Fragile

Naturally, travelers flock to some of the most beautiful sites in the world—but that can put an added stress on these natural beauties. If you are going to visit one of these sites, first research the most responsible ways to do so. If you want to snorkel in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, for example, consider volunteering as a citizen scientist. By helping with monitoring and collecting data in the Coral Sea of Queensland for The Great Barrier Reef Citizen Scientist Alliance or another nonprofit organization, you could make a positive impact with your visit. Great Barrier Reef Conservation is a for-profit group offering a 12-day program that teaches volunteers how to scuba dive and then use these skills for the preservation of coral reefs, while you achieve your open water certification.

Pack Smarter

Though disposable items and travel-sized toiletries may seem convenient for travel, they create a whole lot of unnecessary trash. Instead, fill your travel pack with reusable items. Skip the travel-sized shampoo and instead fill reusable silicone bottles from your full sized bottles at home. Active travel makes for thirsty travelers, so avoid buying plastic bottle after plastic bottle of water on your trip by bringing canteen or reusable water bottle (though make sure it’s empty when you go through airport security!). And while Ziploc bags fill many a “cheap travel hacks” listicle, they also fill up landfills. Opt instead for sturdy packing organizers that will last you many, many trips.

No matter which travel adventure you choose, keep in mind that taking an eco travel approach can make a difference in many lives and communities beyond your own. 

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by Johanna Knapschaefer

Johanna Knapschaefer is an avid outdoor enthusiast who loves to hike, mountain climb, cycle and kayak in New England. When not outdoors, she writes about architecture, engineering, and construction for Engineering News-Record, the Boston Globe, and other publications.

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