Top tips for responsible travel

We are often asked what are the key things that travelers need to know when it comes to being responsible on their journeys around the world. Few people actually go out of their way to be irresponsible, after all, but sometimes we just need a few reminders about how to get things right while on the road. Responsible tourism is all about leaving a positive impact on not only the environment, but also the people who live in the places we choose to visit. The result being not only a more ethical and responsible trip when it comes to travelers' impacts, but also a more authentic, exciting and culturally immersive one for them too. Here is a quick guide to some of our top tips on how to be a responsible traveler.

Before you book your vacation
Ask to see the vacation company's policy for responsible tourism. It should be on their website, but if it isn't, pester them for it. It is only through customers seeking change that some organisations actually start to consider taking action themselves. The good news is that at Responsible Travel, as a market place for the world's leading small travel companies, we insist that all our members have a responsible tourism policy. That they are fully au fait with the principles of responsible tourism and are doing their utmost to minimise negative environmental, social or cultural impacts, respect human rights and support the local economy in countries where they bring tourists.

Ask your hotel or accommodation our 10 simple questions to see if they really are as eco, green or ethical as they claim to be.

Plan your route to minimise carbon emissions - travel by train where possible, minimise internal flights and use other public transport methods when necessary. If you are booking your trip through a travel company that only connects with airports, ask them if they will support you in helping organise train travel and sorting out your transits from train stations when you arrive and depart. And if you have to fly, book direct flights avoiding transfers and stay for longer, taking fewer and longer vacations if you are going long haul.

For many people, it is important that a travel company or accommodation has an accessibility policy, and supports travelers with special needs. From wheelchair users, visually impaired, people with autism, or those in recovery from illness. Don't be afraid to ask that your needs are catered for. A responsible tourism vacation provider should be switched on to this, and provide barrier free and inclusive vacations when possible. And that you have all the information you need before you travel to make your vacation a happy one. For more details on this see our accessible Tourism guide.

Read up on the principles of Leave No Trace. They are mostly common sense, but it is amazing how many people travel with no sense of their footprint at all. From leaving wildflowers or shells where you find them, to hiking responsibly, there are good simple reminders on their list of seven principles.

Before you travel
Read up on local cultures and learn a few words of the local language - traveling with respect earns you respect. It is amazing how far asante (Swahili), dhanyavad (Hindi) and shukran (Arabic) will get you. Our travel guides, all written by expert travel writers, are packed with cultural gems of wisdom as well as responsible tourism issues to be aware of before you go to country or certain region.

Remove all excess packaging. Although we all like to treat ourselves to bits and pieces before we travel, be aware that in many places recycling, or waste disposal full stop, is tricky. So leave packaging at home. And, even better, consider buying some things when you are there, thereby also supporting the local economy.

Bring environmentally friendly products with you, especially if traveling off the beaten track. So, this means eco friendly sun creams, soaps, deodorants and so on, if you want to keep the environment as pristine as you found it. Especially if you are going to spend a lot of time in the water.

Ask your travel company for specific tips relating to responsible travel in your chosen destination. Will you need to be covered if visiting religious sites? How are local attitudes to LGBT travelers? Is there anything that is considered a faux pas socially?

Ask if there are useful gifts that you could pack for your hosts, local people or schools. Even better, you may be able to purchase these things once you arrive - thus supporting local traders and businesses.

Ask whether there are local conservation or social projects that you could visit on your trip. Please note, however, that we do not support visits to orphanages on vacation. You can read more about our stance on that.

Be aware of any excursions on your trips that involve wild or captive animals. There are a lot of issues regarding responsible wildlife viewing, which you can read more about here in our wildlife guide. But, in short, riding elephants is generally a no no, captive orcas are a definite ethical minefield, and petting tiger cubs or any wild animal is just wrong. And don't even get us started on canned hunting.

While on vacation
Hire a local guide - you'll discover more about local people, their culture, the landscape and its wildest, most wonderful spots by hiking, biking or sailing with a local expert. Plus, this is a fantastic way to support the local economy. In many countries, from Kenya to Sri Lanka, poachers have changed their ways to become conservationists and guides, and the more we support that and show that wildlife tourism works, the better.

Be careful what you buy. Do not buy products made from endangered species, hard woods or ancient artefacts. Shells and coral should stay where they belong too, and if you're considering buying gems locally, research the legality and ethics of this before you go.

Respect people and their local cultures. Our travel guides give insight into many of the issues here, destination by destination, from not invading people's spaces by taking endless photographs without asking, being unnecessarily noisy, to dressing inappropriately or disrespecting religious traditions. The most important thing to remember is that you are visiting people's homes, so think how you would want to be treated if the roles were reversed.

Use public transport, hire a bike or walk when convenient - it's a great way to meet local people on their terms and reduce pollution and carbon emissions.

Use water sparingly. Carbon footprint gets a lot of attention, and rightly so, but water is a vital resource and often a scarce one in tourism destinations. So, if you are being asked to monitor your usage, it is for a good reason. There is very little of it. And if a hotel has five swimming pools, a golf course and you are taking three showers a day in a country that has drought issues, think again. Water is a human right and yet tourism is one of the biggest exploiters of it.

When you get back
Write to your travel company, hotel or tourist board with any comments or feedback about your vacation, and especially include any suggestions on reducing environmental impacts and increasing benefits to local communities. You will find independent vacation reviews from travelers on many Responsible Travel vacations.

For any serious issues regarding human rights abuses or wildlife exploitation for tourism, you may also want to contact relevant charities, from Amnesty International to WWF. Or indeed the Ministry of Tourism, if there is one, in that country. Using social media to spread the word is a good way too. We love to post the happy pictures on social media all the time, so spreading the word about unethical practices helps too.

If you've promised to send pictures or gifts to local people remember to do so; many are promised and not all arrive!

And last, but not least, enjoy the memories, reflect on your experience and start planning your next trip.
Written by Justin Francis