Holiday with a conscience: 7 ways to travel better

Rebecca Hallett

written by
Rebecca Hallett

updated 11.12.2020

Holidays are a great opportunity for some you-time – but what if it comes at the cost of other people’s livelihoods, the wellbeing of animals or the state of the environment? Luckily, it doesn’t have to. There are plenty of ways to take a trip without doing damage; here are seven simple ways to have a great holiday while doing something good.

1. Choose where you spend your money

It’s no secret that you can have a lot more fun when you do as the locals do, but it can also have a positive impact on the place you’re visiting. Buying directly from local producers means they see more of the profits than if you use an international tour provider or stay in a multinational chain.

In some places, the impact can be even greater – in Myanmar (Burma), for instance, a lot of the larger hotels are owned by companies with government ties, so choosing independent guesthouses instead helps you minimize giving money to an oppressive government.

Try this: Book a local hotel, b&b or cabaña through

Myanmar Asian traditional farmer planting, harvesting in field © szefei/Shutterstock

© Shutterstock

2. Offset your environmental impact

One of the simplest ways to reduce your carbon footprint is to offset your transport – plenty of flight-booking sites give you the option to do this while buying your plane tickets. You can also choose your carbon offsetter yourself; some use your money to plant trees, while others invest in research into greener travel and alternative energy sources.

Another option is to step away from the cheap flight websites altogether and try a different mode of transport. Why not take a ferry, or a cargo ship? How about enjoying the luxury of train travel? Flying is only one option, and it’s not always the best one (or the most fun).

Finally, you could get involved once you’ve arrived. Surf a lot? Maybe you could join a reef-cleaning programme. Hiking? You could add a spot of tree-planting to your itinerary.

Try this: Learn how to get just about anywhere by train (or ferry).


Sri Lanka train © Shutterstock

3. Keep it short haul

Of course, another way to limit your carbon footprint is to just not go as far. Many of us don’t give our own cities the attention they deserve, let alone our own countries. Not only is short-haul travel often more affordable, but the lack of a language barrier and stressful or time-consuming journeys can also make your staycation far more relaxing than going abroad.

It’s a great opportunity to give something back to the place you call home, as well, by volunteering during your trip.

Try this: Learn something new on a working holiday with the National Trust in the UK or by volunteering at a US national park or Parks Canada.

4. Leave a positive animal footprint

You’ve been riding a bus for what feels like weeks – why not mix things up and ride an elephant for a bit? Well, because it can be pretty awful for the elephant. It’s a complex issue, but with big names like Intrepid and STA Travel taking a stance on it, people are starting to take notice. And it’s not just elephant rides that people are starting to rethink: keeping marine animals in captivity; taking photos with restrained or even drugged animals; giving money to organisations which exploit animals or don’t keep proper care of them.

There are some easy things you can do to give animals a helping hand on your travels.

Firstly, think honestly about the issues and then decide – do you feel comfortable betting on a horse race, watching a bullfight or eating an endangered species?

Secondly, plan the activities you do decide you’re interested in ahead of time, so you can research the places offering them – there are some elephant sanctuaries doing excellent work.

Thirdly, you could aim not only to reduce the harm you do to animals, but to actually do something good for them, such as volunteering with a reputable charity to monitor animal populations and look after them.

Finally, if you come across bad practice, report it to Born Free with their Travellers’ Animal Alert.

Try this: Get pally with pachyderms at The Elephant Valley Project, Cambodia. Responsible Travel have a range of ethical holidays too.

Elephant spraying water in Laos Bolaven plateau © Herbert Boeck/Shutterstock

© Shutterstock

5. Slow down

Go less frequently, stay for longer, live more simply. Easy! One long holiday can often be more enjoyable than several shorter ones – you get to know the place better, you can form more of a connection with it, and you have more time to relax rather than rushing around trying to see all the big sights.

Take it a step further with a farmstay or homestay; you can explore an area away from the major sights of the region you’re visiting, and get to know a place and way of life different from your own while helping someone out a bit. After all, what’s the rush?

Try this: WWOOFing has been around for ages, and is a great way to find a homestay or farmstay which matches your interests.


© Shutterstock

6. Help (or visit) after a disaster

In the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster like an earthquake or tsunami, it’s not a good idea to just show up and tell the Red Cross you want to help – you may well get in the way of a coordinated relief effort, and end up putting yourself at risk.

Where travellers can really come in handy, though, is a few months after the disaster. Sadly, once the news moves on most people’s attention will go with it, and places with tourism-dependent economies may struggle even more to rebuild their infrastructure at that point.

You could volunteer with charities and NGOs to help with continued rebuilding, or use your skills to fill other gaps as services get back to normal. And, just as importantly, you can go and have a good time, helping to rebuild confidence in the area as a destination for international visitors. Never has there been a better reason to fill your friends’ Facebook feeds with holiday photos.

Try this: Learn why tourism is key to supporting post-quake Nepal.


© Shutterstock

7. Leave no trace

If you’re looking to really get away from it all, wilderness camping is perfect. All you need to do is bring your gear, find somewhere beautiful, and hope there’s no wifi signal for miles.

But even camping can have an impact on the environment, whether it’s the litter you leave behind damaging the habitat for local wildlife, or flames which aren’t put out properly starting forest fires. To minimize impact on the environment you sleep in, follow the ‘leave no trace’ rule: ‘take nothing but a picture and leave nothing but a footprint’ is a good motto to follow.

If camping’s not your thing, you can still apply the “leave no trace” concept when you’re hiking, kayaking, or just hanging out enjoying somewhere beautiful.

Try this: Head to Burning Man, or another festival which applies LNT principles. Then find somewhere quiet to recover...

Compare flights, find tours, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Rebecca Hallett

written by
Rebecca Hallett

updated 11.12.2020

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