It’s time to hit the road. Time to skull no less than 27 beers a night, light garbage cans on fire for fun, go elephant riding, and never take a single local bus because, duh, they might kill me.
Yeah, nah – it’s time for a reality check.
There is no need to be that guy. The guy who goes around the world and comes back the exact same as when they left.
No, you can and SHOULD travel responsibly.
I know that the Earth is on fire, that there is crushing poverty, and life is a bit weird right now. But still, life goes on. Travel is something a lot of us will continue to do. Travel is something that will continue to unlock INSANE personal growth in those that embark on that quest.
But responsible travel – leaving the campsite damn cleaner than you found it – is something that needs to be drilled into everyone.
We only have one Earth, and as the privileged few who get to travel around it freely, we have a responsibility to keep it beautiful. We have a responsibility to it AND to each other. It’s not just about leaving something exactly as we found it: responsible travellers make a place better simply for having been there, and in doing so, they spread the good that the traveller community can provide.
So buckle up folks, I’m diving into how to be responsible travellers, aka, the very best you can be.
What is Responsible Travel?
Responsible travel is simple. Don’t be a dick.
Sure, I could wax on about the ethical properties of this decision or that decision. But really, we know how to be a good person. We just sometimes forget or are ignorant as to how to be better.
In short, a responsible traveller is:
“(Someone) that gives a fuck … who doesn’t litter and doesn’t abuse the environment, culture, traditions, or people of another place.”
Responsible travel can be split into three parts:
- Responsibility to Peoples & Culture.
- Responsibility to Land & Environment.
- Responsibility to Your Damn Self.
Ok, cool, but how do I put that into practice? Well, let’s do this.
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Responsibility to Other People
I can’t make you care about other people. But I can tell you to treat them with more respect.
I mean, why’d you go travelling in the first place? To experience a way of life outside of your own. To connect. With people.
At the heart of travelling is a connection with other people.
But you need to avoid that cringe-y attitude of the numbskull tourist. You know the ones.
- They post a picture of a slum tour but wouldn’t talk to a homeless person even in their home country.
- They’re loud and obnoxious when things don’t go their way.
- They don’t even thank their drug dealers.
Just be a bit humble and remember to say please and thank you, and honestly? You’re halfway there.
1. Couchsurf and Connect
Going Couchsurfing is one way to step into someone’s home for a night or two. You don’t pay a single dollar. Just a guest and a host, tourist and a local, an “us” and a “them”, sharing a house and a meal.
And in this humble, broke-ass dirtbag’s opinion, the quickest way to break down the barrier between ‘me’ and ‘them’ is to share a meal. Or a cigarette. But a meal is better for everyone involved, so ash that ciggie and get cooking.
Of course, it’s not about the money saved but the memories made.
To be a responsible traveller, you gotta see the world as your neighbours. And one way to do that is to step inside someone’s house and share an epic meal!
Couchsurfing is also a way to ensure you travel off the beaten path – which is naturally where all the juicy personal growth and hold-your-gut-funny travel stories all happen!
2. Don’t Haggle Like a Buttmunch
The art of haggling is not the same as high stakes hostage negotiations.
It’s just two folks naming a price for what they want to sell or what they want to buy. So by all means, don’t pay more than you want to for those damn tomatoes!
In a lot of cultures, not haggling is seen as borderline rude. There is a jostle to be expected. It’s a dance! But, there comes a point when you need to take a step back.
Whatever the fuck struggles you’ve personally faced in your life, someway and somehow you made it out. You have the funds behind you to be in a foreign country. You have the ultimate upper hand – a bad bargain is not going to bankrupt you.
So don’t be a buttmunch. There may come a time when it isn’t worth haggling over what amounts to 10 or 20 cents. Say bye-bye ego, and know when the dance is done.
3. Be Nice to yo Drug Dealers (and Everyone on the Margins)
“Hey bro, for you I have a very special good morning price on the hashish that will blow up your mind, baba-ji.”
Yeah, look, I think we all know by this point that buying drugs from the first guy that pulls delightful little things out of his pocket on the street corner, is not going to end well for you.
But there’s still no need to harangue the poor guy.
“Yeah baba, the same special price you offer every other foreigner hey?”
Have a joke instead of being rude. Trust me, I’ve made a good few friends by saying no drugs. Well, saying no to their drugs anyway. (Let’s face it, drugs and travel go together like a doobie and a hammock.)
This is a lesson on how to be a responsible traveller and a responsible person. Remember, the world is full of your neighbours. Your fellow damn humans. There is no need to treat people poorly because they provide goods and services that can’t be taxed/might be in a legal grey area.
Be nice to drug dealers. And junkies… people with missing teeth… people with stutters… people with smelly clothes. The operative word in all of the above is ‘people’.
And respect sex workers too. You know what, be good to everyone you have sex with on the road, whether or not you pay them. The life of a carefree wandering soul doesn’t mean you should leave a trail of broken hearts in your wake; there’s no growth and sincerity in that.
So thank your drug dealer and be kind to those on the margins. The only thing that separates you from them is one bad day.
Everybody has their story: everybody knows something you do not.
4. Learn Some Local Phrases
Nothing lights up someone’s face more than a foreigner trying to wrap their tongue around a new mother tongue.
I mean, it’s objectively funny when I accidentally say I like your balls instead of I like those drawers.
Learning the language of the place you travel to shows you want to connect on a personal level, and not just stare at the locals like they’re getting in the way of your sightseeing.
Respect and ethical travelling go hand in hand. So again, it’s time to say bye-bye ego and hello to learning new languages.
You don’t have to be a polyglot whiz either. A simple hello, thank you, I think you’re cute, all go a long way to making yourself some new friends – or a date!
I think one of the most fun and treasured travel experiences I’ve had was my Guatemalan neighbour teaching me to swear. Quickly we went from two strangers sharing a dilapidated jungle house, to two friends.
No mames wey! A la verga ey, no chingas me heuvos, puto! (Don’t google translate this please – it’s very rude!)
5. Be a Responsible Volunteer
The world needs volunteers. We need good souls looking to give some free labour and love. The world does not need ego stroking maniacs who want to do very little while gawking at the locals.
Ultimately, volunteering allows you to bear witness to the country you’ve travelled to in a very different way. You’ll be living with and working with a local community in an inherently closer capacity than you would if you were staying in hostels.
Giving your skills working as an English teacher or a carpenter or even an artist is a valuable way to spend your time abroad. I think the important thing here, as always, is don’t be a dick.
- Don’t overstate your skill level.
- Be realistic about the time you can commit to a place.
- Give the energy to volunteering that you would to your paid work.
There are reservations around voluntourism – and with good reason, too. All too often your monetary donations are eaten up by middlemen, or you come to find out that the volunteering you did may have done more harm than good.
That’s where Worldpackers steps in. They’re a trustworthy organisation that you can use to help find you a placement that suits your skills. It’s a way to give back knowing that you’re making the world just that much better. Fuck. Yes.
Worldpackers: connecting travellers with meaningful travel experiences.
Responsibility to the Land
Let’s face it: the world can seem pretty fucked. Especially the environment.
Shit’s getting hotter, wetter, wilder. Catastrophes pile up decade after decade. And yet it’s still a hard sell for people to fly fewer planes and use less plastic. Come on.
There are a few simple tricks to being a responsible traveller who wants to do good by this shared pale blue dot we live on.
- Fly less. If you must fly, then offset your carbon footprint.
- If you can’t walk, then you hitch a ride. Or ride a bike. Or sail a boat!
If you can’t hitch a ride, then share a bus/truck/minivan crammed sardine-full.
If you can’t do that, then train. No train? Then maybe fly.
- Leave the campsite cleaner than you found it. Pick up trash even when it’s not yours.
- Think twice about where you’re staying. Do you really need another boozy, MDMA-laced night in a chain hostel? Or will staying in an eco-lodge fulfill you just as well?
- Eat local. Because if you didn’t grow it or shoot it, it had to travel to you. Whether by plane, cargo ship, or truck – it had to travel to you. So go to the source and eat like you give a shit about the planet. Plus, street food is always the best!
- How often do you really need to do your laundry? The less you wash, the less water you use. Also, consider what you’re stuffing your clothes in – another cheap knock off fast-fashion backpack or an something more sustainable?
Using Less Plastic. Using NO Platic.
One of the easiest things you can do in your quest to become a more responsible traveller is USE LESS PLASTIC. Overall.
But you know what? Single-use plastic? Yeah, fuck that shit right off.
How many beautiful beaches have you walked on that have been spoiled by plastic water bottles and fishing lines? There are truly terrifying images of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that is now three times the size of France. Every bit of plastic ever produced still exists in some form today…
Travel with a water bottle. Say no to plastic bags (you’re a backpacker, no?). Flying triangle choke-hold that bloody tourist that throws his stupid bloody ciggie butt in the river until he piddles in his pantaloons!
(Or, y’know, have a kind but stern conversation with him to educate on the necessities of binning ya butts.)
Are you going to save the world with your metal straw and reusable water bottle? Probably not. But hey, you’re going to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. So, yay!
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Responsibilty to Yo’self
Obviously, you should give a shit about the planet and all the wild and wonderful people who find themselves living on it.
But *spoiler alert* you also gotta give a shit about yourself.
I don’t think you can be a truly responsible traveller until you’ve learnt to have a duty of care toward yourself, too.
Don’t get stuck in the traveller traps. Juicy personal growth and hold-your-gut-funny travel stories don’t come at the end of yet another wobbly bender.
I mean, jumping on the next bus outta dodge high on ketamine, then waking up in a new country and not being entirely sure which one it is? Kind of only funny the first time. As it turns out, dodge is still there when you wake up.
I think a good day of sitting in the shade and
smoking a cigarette drinking a cup of self-reflection can do wonders for the long term traveller. Focusing on your mental health while travelling is vital.
- It will help you clarify your purpose.
- It will reconnect you with the reason why you went travelling in the first place.
And with purpose comes a sense of humility.
It’s necessary to define your travel purpose to be a responsible traveller. All too often an aimless traveller turns into a fucking asshole. Before you know it, a few too many sleepless nights will have you yelling profanities at the poor German kid on their gap year because you thought he was being rude to your homeless friend.
Call your mum and tell her that you love her. Get some good sleep, go easy on the drugs, and go hard on the good food. I swear it’ll be better in the morning.
How to Be a Responsible Traveller During COVID
This one is pretty controversial. Some would argue you shouldn’t travel at all. And during outbreaks of the pandemic, this is true. The less that it is spread around, the quicker the pandemic ends, and the quicker things might swing back to a sense of normality.
That being said, many countries do depend on tourism and will start to open their borders.
You can imagine that there will be some tension around this, and not everyone within countries with open borders is going to be happy to see foreigners. There may be a perception that tourism brings more harm than good during a pandemic.
As always, don’t be a dick. Do what you can to keep safe in the places you do choose to travel to. Have a responsibility to the people, to the land, and to yourself.
- Wash your grubby hands.
- Mask up when necessary.
- Consider how necessary travelling is.
- Weigh the risks against the benefits.
- Stay updated on the severity of the pandemic in different areas, and stay current on the restrictions associated with it.
Other Tips for Being a Responsible Traveller
There are several more tips that I got for you in your quest for responsible travel! These still run along the same lines of taking care of the community, the planet, and your damn sexy self. It’s all about keeping that carbon footprint small, and that big goofy heart nice and open!
Stay in an Airbnb
Airbnb (and all the awesome other sites like Airbnb) are amazing because it allows you to book a place to stay that is ‘part of the city’. By this I mean, it is often in a residential part of the city and you get to experience neighbours in a way that you wouldn’t if you stayed in a hostel or hotel.
There are also Airbnb options that take you well off the beaten path and into towns (or jungles!) that you wouldn’t have visited had you not sought them out.
Airbnbs usually have kitchen facilities that allow you to shop local and make your own meal. So not only do you open yourself up to connecting with local people and neighbourhoods more, but you also minimise your fat-ass carbon footprint.
Go Camping Off-Grid
The backcountry is a beautiful place. Waking up to an epic spread of mountains and valleys with coffee on your wee pop up stove – honestly, there’s nothing quite like it!
Going camping can also be a good way to reduce your environmental footprint, slow down, and reconnect with yourself and the Earth. All of this makes for a more responsible traveller!
When you head out into the backcountry, you will use less water and electricity than you would if you were staying in a city. Of course, this is better for the environment. But everyone who wanders deep into nature for some camping inevitably comes back with a sense of awe and resolve to be better guardians of these wild spaces.
It is quiet out there. It makes you think. It pushes you to your limits. It makes you a better person.
That being said, make sure you leave no trace. What you take with you, comes back with you.
Have a refillable water bottle. Be mindful of how much packaging you have in your bag, and make sure it is all accounted for at the end of your hike. And if there are no toilets on the mountaintop, then do what you’ve got to do responsibly.
Whether that means digging a suitable hole and burying your business nice and deep (MINIMUM of 15 centimetres and at least 100+ metres from water sources), or whether that means sealing it up and bringing it back with you (this can happen if you’re in the snow and you run the risk of fecal matter not breaking down even if you bury it).
Pooping aside, if you put a little thought into your camping essentials and are careful to leave no trace. Camping and hiking off-grid is not only a rewarding way to travel, but it makes a responsible little Earth guardian out of you too!
Or Stay in a Local Guesthouse!
Staying in a locally run guesthouse is a perfect way to engage with a local neighbourhood beyond the way you would by staying in a hostel.
You get to invest your casharoonie straight into local hands, which just feels good. Plus, staying in a local guesthouse goes beyond charity and toward an exchange of cultures and experiences.
Another of my most treasured memories from being on the road happened in a local guesthouse in Vietnam. I remember turning up a little haggard and checking in.
Of course, I must have come off a little deranged and tired – what kind of crazy foreigner goes on a hitchhiking adventure in rural Vietnam? It wasn’t long before I was pulled into the kitchen, fed rice wine, and inducted into the ways of preparing octopus for the small outdoor barbeque.
We sat down together on the patio and shared an epic feast, a lot of laughter, and A LOT of rice wine. It was then I realised that I was about to be drunk under the table by a Vietnamese grandma!
It’s these sort of spontaneous memories that you will tell as stories the rest of your life that happen when you stay within a community and open up to the random connections travel can give you.
And it all happened at a local guesthouse!
Work exchanges are a little different to volunteering in that you exchange some of your blood, sweat and tears for a place to stay. Whereas with volunteering you’re just giving your blood, sweat and tears for the love of it.
By using a work exchange program, you will still interact intensively with local people. You still come in and bond with a community in a way that you simply wouldn’t have the chance to if you stayed in the comfort of the boozy hostel.
For me, there is nothing better than bonding with your new neighbours over the progress you both made in the garden that day, you know? Just a coupla folks sweating hard and sharing well-deserved beers at the end of the day.
How to be a Responsible Tourist and Do Cool Things
Responsible travel is not just where you stay, how you travel, or how little plastic you use. It is also the way you spend your time, and what you spend your money on in the places you go.
Are you buying handicrafts from local artisans, or just the most convenient gift shop next door?
Are you going birdwatching in a beautiful untouched forest, or are you petting a drugged up tiger?
There is simply a more ethical way to buy mementos or engage in typical tourist activities.
I cannot stress enough, how quickly your good intentions of visiting a local zoo can start to contribute to the fucked-up-ness of animal cruelty.
Elephant tourism is one industry, in particular, that is rife with cruelty built on the backs of tourists that just don’t know any better.
If you care about minimising the suffering you inflict on your travels, then care needs to be taken when it comes to engaging with animal tourism. There are more ethical ways to interact with animals when travelling, but I think the question remains: is petting that cute lil’ buddy worth his years of suffering?
When it comes to buying some souvenirs for yourself, I think it can be a very positive thing for the local economy. You can put your money straight into the hands of a local artisan, rather than wash your cash through a charity’s bureaucracy.
However, keep in mind that there’s no need to haggle like a bitch. And also, watch out for middlemen and travel scams. You want to buy from the artist, not their glorified pimp.
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Travel Safely – For Everyone’s Sake
You go travelling never thinking that shit might hit the fan – until it does.
Of course, you’re having no fun when dengue fever has you hallucinating in your hammock and praying to a God you don’t believe in. But you know what, your ex-boyfriend isn’t having fun cleaning up your puke and your mum wasn’t stoked to hear of your near-death experience, either.
If only you had had travel insurance and could’ve taken your sorry-ass to the hospital, hey?
I won’t tell you that you need travel insurance but I will tell you that you’re gonna be glad you did get it.
Here at The Broke Backpacker, we’re a fan of World Nomads. They’re an easy, reliable company that will cover your ass when shit hits the fan.
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FAQs About Responsible Travel
The long and the short of it; the burning questions about responsible travel!
Final Thoughts on How to Travel Responsibly
Without trying to sound like the strung-out hippies of my childhood, slow down.
I think this is the best way to travel responsibly. It will mean you fly less – yay for the planet! It will give you purpose and keep you less stressed, which in turn will make you less of a dick to people around you.
Slowing down will help you achieve the goal of being a well rounded responsible budget traveller.
Bike ride across a continent. Walk the Andes. Head into the West Aussie desert with a camel. But SLOW DOWN (and use your damn manners!).
No one person is going to save the world, just like no one person is going to trigger the apocalypse. And yet, all of us acting irresponsibly is how we ended up with half the world on fire and the other half in poverty.
Imagine if the 1 billion travellers in the world, all tried to travel responsibly…
No one person is going to save the world, and yet all of us doing our part to travel responsibly might just put out some of the fires. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll find ourselves along the way.
And for transparency’s sake, please know that some of the links in our content are affiliate links. That means that if you book your accommodation, buy your gear, or sort your insurance through our link, we earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you). That said, we only link to the gear we trust and never recommend services we don’t believe are up to scratch. Again, thank you!