Ethical Travel: A How-To Guide to Planning an Adventure You Can Feel Good About

Ethical Travel: A How-To Guide to Planning an Adventure You Can Feel Good About

Written by Johanna Knapschaefer on

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.


Ethical Travel: A How-To Guide to Planning an Adventure You Can Feel Good About

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 Himalayas 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 sustainable and ethical.  With every trip, you should aim to minimize your negative impact on the environment and maximize positive contributions to local communities. These ideas can help you in your pursuit of ethical travel.

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 Himalayas 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. This is one of many great organizations helping communities in Nepal!

Select Ethical Destinations

Part of ethical travel is taking a vacation without taking a vacation from your values. When deciding where to go on your next trip, think about the places that promote human rights, support equality, treat animals humanely, and preserve the environment—and the places that don’t. While no country is perfect, aim to spend your travel dollars in countries that value issues that are important to you.

If there is somewhere on your travel bucket list that doesn’t qualify as an ethical destination, add a voluntourism component to your trip with a local organization that works to achieve positive change.

Leave Tiny Footprints

Ecotourism practices fit right in with ethical travel, so consider ways to limit your environmental impact on your trip. Reduce your carbon footprint by booking flights with the least number of connections, renting a fuel-efficient car, or visiting destinations with good public transportation. Better yet: explore on foot or by bike! 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. Reduce your own impact on natural sites by researching the most responsible ways to interact with natural wonders. Finally, pack smarter to get your trip started right. Fill your travel pack with reusable items like silicone bottles for toiletries, a canteen or reusable water bottle, and sturdy packing organizers that will last you many, many trips.

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

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