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29 ways to be an ETHICAL tourist

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Are you an ethical tourist?

We all need to think about the impacts that our actions have on the world around us. Yes, it is extremely difficult (if possible at all) to be 100% ethical for 100% of the time. BUT, there are many things that we CAN do to help to protect and preserve the environment, society and the economy. In this article I will tell you what YOU can do to help! Read on…

What is an ethical tourist?

Ethical tourism is a concept that has been developed in response to the critiques of mass tourism. Essentially, ethical tourism encourages tourists to move away from’ the four Ss’ (Sun, Sea, Sand and Sex), and exchange these for ‘the three Ts’ (Travelling, Trekking and Trucking).

To put it simply, ethical tourism is a form of responsible tourism. An ethical tourist considers the impact of their actions with regards to the three pillars of sustainable tourism– the environment, the economy and society. They minimise negative impacts and maximise the positive impacts.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? The problem is however, that many people do not know how to be an ethical tourist! And that’s where this article comes in…

ethical tourist

How to be an ethical tourist

As I explain in my article about sustainable tourism, there are three pillars- the environment, society and the economy. In order to be an ethical tourist, you should consider these three areas and how your actions could have negative consequences. So, lets take a look at some examples from each of these pillars…

How to be an ethical tourist: Protect the environment

ethical tourist
There are many types of accommodation that facilitate an environmentally-friendly experience.

If you want to be an ethical tourist, you must demonstrate a commitment to reducing any negative impacts on the environment. Some of the things that you can do include:

Don’t buy animal souvenirs

Animal souvenirs, like ivory or teeth, fur rugs or reptile-skin fashion accessories, are unethical in many ways. They often perpetuate a black market environment. In many cases animals are treated poorly and then killed just for their teeth, skin, fur, tusks, bones, blood and so on.

Don’t touch animals

Animals are sentient beings and if they don’t want to be touched, we should respect that. It can also be dangerous for you, if they attack, and for the animals if you pass on any germs. Your scent may linger, too, making the animal a target. It is better to just leave animals alone unless this is a safe and organised activity.

Don’t feed wild animals

Feeding wild animals is a no-go in terms of being an ethical tourist. Not only does it lead to animas being dependent on this food source, it can also lead to artificially high population sizes. This is unsustainable, especially in places where tourism is seasonal.

Avoid unethical wildlife tourism

If you are planning an animal experience as part of your trip, do your research. Zoos and safaris are great ways to get up close and personal with various animals, and many are completely fine to visit as an ethical tourist. However there are also places who treat their captive animals poorly, and these are the businesses you want to avoid.

Don’t drop litter

Dropping litter is terrible for the environment. It can be dangerous to animals, it looks ugly and it is generally an environmental pollutant. Keep it in your bag or pocket if there is no bin nearby!

Don’t touch coral

Coral is beautiful. There is no denying this, but you cannot touch it. Be an ethical tourist and admire it from afar. Coral is a protective layer, and it is very delicate – human touch and the oils form our skin can break it down, killing not only the coral itself but the creatures who live among it.

Try slow tourism 

Slow tourism is a brilliant way to practise ethical tourism. It steers away from mass tourism and busy days, cramming everything in before you move on to the next place. It focuses on spending longer in one area, getting to know the environment and getting involved in local life. Just as enjoyable as general tourism, and much more rewarding!

Opt for eco-friendly transportation options 

Walking somewhere is always the best option. It actually gives you more chance to see the sights and get to know your location, plus it’s FREE. If your destination is too far to walk to, consider the bus, train or tram. This is often a low-cost way to get from A to B, and much more eco-friendly than hiring a car or booking an Uber.

Turn off the lights

Just as you would at home, turn off the lights in your accommodation when you don’t need them on. This is a simple way to ensure that you are being as much of an ethical tourist as possible!

Try ecotourism

It goes without saying that ecotourism is much more ethical than other forms of tourism. It allows you to keep your carbon footprint low, give back to the community and really take in the natural beauty of an area.

Avoid plastic

Take reusable straws and canvas bags with you, fill up your water bottle before you head out for the day… Avoiding plastic on holiday really isn’t that difficult, and it is so important in terms of being an ethical tourist. You’ll definitely be looking after the environment!


Make a conscious effort to recycle what you can. If you’re staying in an Airbnb for example, check out whether or not there is separate bin section for recyclable waste. And when you’re out and about, see if the public bins have a recycling option too. In Germany, for example, plastic bottles can be fed into a machine in exchange for coins!

Don’t waste water

Again, another simple but effective way to be an ethical tourist. Turn the tap off while you’re doing your teeth, take shorter showers and so on.

Stick to main paths

Avoid wandering off into the wilderness, as it may be quite a delicate area. Stick to the official paths and you won’t risk endangering any form of wildlife!

How to be an ethical tourist: Protect society

ethical tourist
Community-based tourism is a great way to get involved with the local community.

Ethical tourists also have a care and consideration for society and the communities that they interact with as part of their tourist experience. Here are some things that you can do to be an ethical tourist:

Learn the local language 

A great way to be an ethical tourist is to learn a few phrases in the local language. It shows that you are willing to connect with your destination. Some phrases to translate are:

  • Hello
  • Please
  • Thank you (so much)
  • Can I have the bill please?
  • Where is the [insert destination here e.g train station]?
  • What time is it?
  • Can I have a bag please?
  • How are you?
  • I’d like to check in/check out please

Be respectful of local customs and traditions 

If there are rules in places regarding clothing – like what you should wear when visiting a mosque, for example – then respecting this is very important. Don’t mock local traditions. Take part if invited to, but it is always best to watch from the sidelines and appreciate local culture.

Immerse yourself into local life

Eat at small local restaurants, ask natives for their recommendations, chat to the people around you. Don’t spend all of your time doing the top 10 guidebook recommendations – find a local project to help out with, meander through the town and so on!

Be sensitive 

When it comes to interacting with locals, just be sensitive. Think about what you’re saying, and what you’re doing. Be careful, and you will find yourself rewarded. Being an ethical tourist means supporting the locals, looking after the area and paying attention to what you do/say.

Don’t give to beggars

This might be confusing as an ethical tourist but you should not give to beggars. Many are part of organised crime rings, and your money won’t be benefitting anybody. If you are hoping to help the homeless community wherever you are visiting, look out for local and national initiatives you can donate to or raise awareness of.

Treat people fairly 

When visiting a new place, just treat people how you want to be treated. Be kind, be fair and be polite.

Avoid sex tourism 

Sex tourism is a big and ever-growing industry. That does not mean it is something to be engaged with – from Amsterdam to the Dominican Republic, it is a big issue for many. There is a lot of exploitation and law-breaking involved in sex tourism, and getting involved with it is not conducive with being an ethical tourist.

Don’t take photos of people without their permission 

This is a big one. People just existing and living their day to day lives are not there to be your unwilling photography subject. They’re just doing them – so if you want to photograph them for whatever reason, ask first.

How to be an ethical tourist: Protect the economy

economic impacts of tourism
Using a local company for my Mount Kilimanjaro climb was a pleasure!

Lastly, an ethical tourist should be mindful of their economic behaviour. Here are some things that you can do to ensure that you have a positive impact, where possible:

Shop local

This is a great way to be an ethical tourist. Shopping local means that your money is supporting the economy directly, rather than going through corporations. It also means you can access better quality products. You are supporting a small business owner, which is always appreciated!

Avoid multinational chain hotels

When it comes to finding accommodation, multinational chain hotels aren’t great in terms of ethical tourism. They are faceless and take up a lot of space, and often do not pay their staff fairly. Look for more independent options.

Limit economic leakage where you can

Economic leakage in tourism is where you travel to another country but the money you spend there ends up elsewhere. So for example, booking a tour through a multinational corporation instead of directly through a local business – this is an example of economic leakage. Try to avoid this in order to be an ethical tourist.

Leave positive reviews for local businesses

A positive review can help a small or local business so much. It is free for you to do, and can attract attention and new customers. It is a great way to give back to the community, and you will definitely feel good about yourself.

Consider who you are booking your holiday with

When booking a trip, ensure the businesses you are using and booking through have ethical values that align with your own. See if they offset carbon emissions, or donate to charity on guests’ behalves. If they have been involved in any major scandals exploiting their staff or the local community, or damaging the local environment, it is best to book with someone else…

Haggle fairly

Haggling is a huge part of shopping as a tourist, especially in markets in places like Greece, Turkey and Morocco. But when you do haggle, remember that these people are trying to make a living. Don’t force them into agreeing to super low prices – be respectful as you try to get your bargain!

Are you an ethical tourist?

If you are not an ethical tourist already then you can be now that I have given you these 29 handy tips!

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