What is Ethical Travel?

What does ethical travel mean? What can I do to be a more ethical traveler? These are questions that seem to follow the phrase ‘ethical travel’ almost immediately. Ethical travel can be a bit daunting at first. However, it takes only a little work, and the effort you put into it has positive effects that last for miles.

Ethical travel means being conscious and respectful of the people, the culture and the environment while you travel. 

Here are some steps you can take to becoming a more ethical traveler.

Acknowledge your privilege. This is a touchy subject, but in general, travel is a privilege. Class privilege affords you the means to travel. There are many people in my home state, in my home town, who have hardly been outside of Minnesota, let alone the United States. So acknowledge and be grateful for the opportunity and means to travel. Additonally, your passport may be a privilege. If you hold a U.S. passport, you have easy access to nearly 150 countries, either without a visa, or by purchasing a visa upon arrival. Someone from a developing country may not have the same ease of entry.

Research the destination. Politics, history, culture, language, all of these factors are essential components of the location to which you are headed. Do not go in without knowing anything other than the restaurants you want to dine at and the best places for an Instagram pic. If you are headed to Peru, can you say a few basic phrases in Spanish? You don’t need to master the language, but being able to say hello, goodbye, how much, and thank you are great steps in showing that you care.

Shop local/small business. This isn’t always easy to do. Sometimes it means stepping off a main road and finding a small shop or stand, rather than a tourist store filled with the usual keychains, trinkets, and coffee mugs (guilty former coffee mug collector). When you give your money directly to locals, you are supporting th e local community and economy. Also bear in mind that while haggling can be a fun experience, a few pennies or dollars to you may mean food for someone else.

Be mindful of cultural appropriation. This is perhaps the trickiest concept to understand and master (at least for me, so if you have thoughts or advice, leave them below!). Cultural appropriation at its most basic definition is when a person or group from one culture takes or claims aspects of another culture. The people/culture that has done the taking typically has a history of dominance and/or violence over the second group (Everyday Feminism). This is another reason why shopping local can be so important; it is a way to directly compensate and recognize an artist and their cultural heritage.

For further understanding of cultural Appropriation, read this.

Be kind to animals. Don’t ride the elephants. Avoid Swin with the Dolphins programs. Don’t take photos with lions, or tigers, or bears (oh my!). Never attend bullfights, or dogfights, or any other animal fights. Luxury hunting is murder for sport. Animals are voiceless as long as we remain silent. So be loud in your protest of the misuse and abuse of animals for profit and popularity in the tourism industry. Switching to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle is another great way to show your love of animals.

Read this: Dolphins in Captivity: 5 Myths Debunked

Green your travels. There are so many ways to make your travels more eco-friendly. Bike or walk when exploring a location. If that’s not an option, take public transport instead (subway, bus, tram, train). Buy products with minimal packaging, buy to last. Don’t waste your money on cheap, kitschy items that will end up in a landfill in six months. Carry a few essential household items with you, such as bamboo or steel straws, cloth napkins and reusable containers. Use a reusable water bottle if you are in a location with safe drinking water (this saves you $$$ and who doesn’t love that?). Cruises also are, unfortunately, horrible for the environment. As enticing as they sound, until cruise lines work to be more transparent about the steps they are taking to combat ocean pollution and desecration, avoid them. 

Buy travel gear from companies with values that align with your own. Find companies that are transparent about their policies and practices. Find companies that place people and the planet over a quick buck. Often, this means the products are priced higher. However, this also often means that products are built to last. If you can also find gear that is vegan, hats off to you!

Being an ethical traveler is not always easy. But if individually we choose to be respectful, conscious, ethical travelers, we will have created a coalition of people who say yes to loving the planet, and the peoples and the eco-systems that make it beautiful.

These tips are just a jumping off point. What are ways you try to be a more ethical traveler? if you have suggestions, critiques or comments, please leave them for me below. Thanks!

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  1. Carissa

    Keeping ethical travel in mind is always really important, but it can be difficult when we get swept away into the fun! We had to keep that in mind on our latest trip to Hawaii when we were snorkeling with sea turtles.

    Luckily, my friend (and guide) was really helpful in knowing the laws and rules for protecting the turtles and was able to educate me and the people around me 🙂

    1. Naomi

      Ethical travel is not always easy – I attended a dolphinarium to see a dolphin show before I fully understood animal rights and animal tourism. Snorkeling in Hawaii sounds like an amazing experience. Hawaii is forever on my bucket list!

  2. Kimmie Conner

    I absolutely LOVE this – such important reminders for all travelers to remember, but so easy to implement! This should be shouted from the rooftops! (Tweeted and pinned 🙂 )

    1. Naomi

      Thanks for the social media shout-outs! I’m glad to hear you agree. Always nice to connect with other ethically-conscious travelers! 🙂

  3. Candiss

    I love this! Ethical and conscious travel is so important to me especially with all the junk going on around the world. I will definitely be sharing this post! 🙂

  4. authenticfoodquest

    This is an important conversation and agree about the necessity of traveling ethically. Supporting the local community and artisans is something I truly believe in 🙂 Great reminder for travelers!

  5. Bidisha

    Loved your thoughts on being an ethical traveler. I personally also vouch for ethical and sustainable travel and strongly wish that someday each one of us realized the kind of impact we have on our environment and consciously took measures to minimise them.

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