What is Responsible Travel?

responsible travel
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Unlike many types of travel that fall under the eco travel heading, responsible travel is not always related to the environment. In fact, what is “responsible” in one destination may even be completely inappropriate in another.

At its core, responsible travel relates to travel that respects the destination and its inhabitants. According to Lonely Planet, responsible travel “means assessing our impact on the environment and local cultures and economies – and acting to make that impact as positive as possible.”

The hallmark of responsible travel is improving destinations, instead of leaving them in some way poorer due to tourist practices.

Three Key Facets of Responsible Travel

Every list of ways to be a responsible traveller boils down to three main topics: stewardship, involvement, and respect.

Responsible travellers steward, or care for, the resources that make responsible travel possible, while making sure that local stakeholders are involved in tourism decisions and respecting all of the factors of their destination that make their visit possible and enrich it.

Responsible travellers steward:

  • local resources
  • global resources
  • local culture
  • the local economy

Responsible travellers involve:

  • their hosts
  • the community
  • local businesses
  • local heritage

Responsible travellers respect:

  • the environment
  • local traditions
  • local needs
  • local working conditions
  • the local language
  • local pride

Who is Responsible?

Most types of travel involve many stakeholders – locals, tourism companies, and travellers – but responsible travel is one category that focuses almost exclusively on the intent and behaviour of visitors toward their destinations.

This is not to say that tour companies and lodging operators cannot practice responsible travel – many of these businesses are still “visiting” destinations, as the owners and operators are not necessarily from the local community. But the focus of responsible travel is on actions of outsiders as they affect what and who permanently occupies the destination.

With responsible travel, the burden is primarily on the traveller – the level of respect and responsibility in their choices, behaviour, and attitudes. You can travel responsibly by:

    • reading up on local culture and history
    • choosing tour and lodging companies with responsible tourism policies
    • supporting conservation or social projects in your destination
    • buying local foodstuffs and locally-made souvenirs
    • using a local guide
    • respecting local resource shortages (typically water)

Both travellers and the people they visit should receive more benefits under responsible travel, because the traveller gains more from the destination when they give to it.

What does responsible travel mean to you? Is there anything you’d add to this definition?

*Read more in our “What is _____ Travel?” series”*

- What is Eco Travel?
- What is Green Travel?
- What is Sustainable Travel?
- What is an Ecolodge?
- What is Responsible Volunteering?

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About the Author: When she was ten, Gabi Logan was commended by her school as an "environmentalist" after spending recess and lunch picking up trash around her school for a week. Now she's a freelance blogger and travel writer who encourages travelers to use sustainable travel methods and connect to local culture along the way. Her work has also appeared in Transitions Abroad, GoMad Nomad, and publications at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. You can read more about her at gabilogan.com.

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  1. David Moran says:

    Yes it means that to us Gabi. I shared you note on various social platforms.
    David Moran recently posted..The Ayapua Amazon RiverboatMy Profile

    • Thanks so much for spreading the word, David :)

    • Gabi Logan says:

      Thank you, David, for sharing! I think that the most important aspect of responsible travel – as opposed to sustainable or eco travel – is that so many of us agree on what it means. It is hard for companies to greenwash responsible travel, because “responsible” has an intrinsic significance that is hard to gloss over.

  2. I love this topic – and think it’s so important for us ALL to think about and practice.
    wandering educators recently posted..5 Ways to Save Money in New York CityMy Profile

    • Thanks for commenting, Jessie. We started doing the series as a result of a spate of emails from students wondering what the difference is in the various types of travel, so it was originally devised for that readership. But it’s still a good resource for all, I think.

    • Gabi Logan says:

      Jessie – thank you so much for making that point! Even those of us that seek to travel responsible and sustainable can use a reminder every now and then of what we should be going so we can do a little self-check on what we’ve been up to lately :)

      I just read a very amusing quip in this New York Times piece about carbon emissions from air travel jabbing those like Al Gore and Richard Branson who speak all over the world about putting an end to global warming and curbing global emissions . . . while travelling from point A to point B in their private jets.

  3. Micki says:

    Great overview. I see the words responsible travel a lot, so it’s nice to have a bit of discussion about what it means exactly!
    Micki recently posted..Five Delicious Steps to Eating Your Way Through Holidays in CreteMy Profile

  4. Felipe says:

    Responsible tourists should also look in detail at the tourism policy and practice of tour operators, and ask questions when something is not clear (employment conditions, transparency issues, waste management, etc). Many tour operators brand themselves as responsible because they donate to charities or “help poor children” in destinations, but their business practices are actually those of mass tourism and therefore the net impact is still negative!

    • Gabi Logan says:

      Thank you so much for pointing this out, Felipe.

      I think it’s important to add that if you ask your tour operator or hotel these questions and they evade answering, that is definitely a red flag about their practices. What do you think?

  5. I always do my best to be a responsible traveller! But your sharing boost my understanding! Thanks Gabi!
    LeX @ LeX Paradise recently posted..10 Places Must-Visit in Jeju Island, South KoreaMy Profile

    • Gabi Logan says:

      All we can do is try! What a great way to put it LeX. It’s really a never-ending quest.

      I find even the most responsible people forgetting themselves when traveling. Sometimes, especially when you’re on vacation, it’s easy to forget, overlook, or just be blissfully ignorant :)

  6. Larissa says:

    I love that this type of travel is becoming more mainstream. I hope that I respect these guidelines when I travel–I do know that when I am more in tune with my role as a responsible visitor I have a more enriching experience.
    Larissa recently posted..Jerusalem, it’s complicatedMy Profile

    • Gabi Logan says:

      I know! The fact that people, at least some, are beginning to consider their actions and choices while traveling as the norm instead of the exception is so heartening. And at the world’s biggest travel show this year, there were some great talks about exactly this fact.

      In my own travels, I’ve found that travel responsibly not only opens up new or more enriching experiences, as you say, but it has also drawn my attention to the fact that when we travel, we often forget simply responsible habits that we keep at home. That has been the most eye-opening thing for me!

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