Responsible Tourism Tips for Pre-Departure & During Travel

by Narelle Webber on Thursday, 14 February 2013

Isla Chora, Samara Beach on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Sea kayaking is a fun, low impact and nature based activity, exemplifying minimal impact eco-tourism (c) ISV

What is Responsible Travel or Tourism? For ISV, it’s about delivering volunteer and travel programs that provide social, environmental and economic net benefits to our host communities/countries, while educating and inspiring our participants to make travel choices that minimize negative impacts of tourism. The principles of Responsible Travel  are deeply ingrained in ISV’s philosophy and core values. ISV staff believe strongly in conducting our programs ethically and behaving respectfully and responsibly in the countries in which we operate.  Part of our organization’s mandate is to encourage and facilitate responsible travel behavior in our participants. We do this by:

  • Carefully selecting volunteer projects and adventure tour operators;
  • Educating participants about their host country: awareness and appreciation of cultural and natural history, social development, environmental challenges, and so on;
  • Modeling socially responsible behavior through our leadership staff and business operations in our host countries

How do we try and educate ISV participants about responsible travel?

The Blue Mountains are a World Heritage Site and large National Park near Sydney, Australia. Rappelling is a low impact, nature based activity and our operator is careful to leave no trace through their activities (c) ISV

  1. Prior to Departure: Providing country specific information and encouraging individuals to learn about the religion, geography, climate, environmental issues, etc., of their host country
  2. During the Volunteer Project: Running a group discussion specifically on the principles of responsible travel to introduce some key concepts and get everyone excited about all they will do, see and learn on tour
  3. During the Adventure Tour: Each day, ISV Tour Leaders give locally-specific information about the destination, its heritage value and/or environmental significance, keeping it lively and interesting. Participants learn about initiatives by ISV and our operators to reduce our own impacts, as well as daily tips and advice for more economically, socially and environmentally responsible travel.  Below are some general tips and guidelines that should apply to all travel experiences.

Southern Africa. Think carefully about the way you interact with animals: do you and your tourist dollars genuinely help conserve and protect species or exploit them? (c) ISV

Your Behavior

  1. Respect the Law – Always abide the local laws as you are bound by them when you travel in a foreign country.
  2. Cultural Respect Remember you are a guest in someone else’s country. You should show respect for the traditions and cultural behaviors of local people who may have different beliefs and practices than you.
  3. Dress Modestly For your safety and to respect the local culture, dress as the locals dress and/or perhaps even more conservatively. This will avoid offending local people and possibly breaking any local laws.
  4. Drink Responsibly (or not at all) – For your safety and for the safety of those around you, always drink responsibly and in accordance to the law. Be conscious of how you are perceived as a traveler, and as an ambassador of your home country.
  5. Speak the Language Make an effort to learn a few words in the local language as the locals will appreciate it and respect you for your efforts.
  6. Respect People’s Privacy – Be sensitive to the intrusion of photographing people and places.
  7. Don’t Feed Wild Animals – Wild animals become dependent on the food sources that are often used to lure them for tourists to photograph or even touch. This can make them sick, aggressive and even dangerous. Even if you see other people feeding animals, set an example and don’t do it!
  8. Travel Lightly – Where possible, get around on train, foot, by bicycle or local (public or group) transport.
  9. Read the Signs! Ever notice signs along a nature trail? Take a minute and read them as they are designed to enhance your understanding and appreciation and maybe give you important safety advice.
  10. Respect Nature – This is a “catch all” statement for thinking about how you can preserve highly fragile ecosystems like caves or coral reefs where it’s generally best to look but don’t touch. Also, stick to designated tracks and trails and think carefully about how you can minimize negative interactions between yourself, wildlife and local people.
  11. Ask Questions – You will appreciate your travels infinitely more by learning about the local culture, history and environment.  Make the most of small interactions with local people, in markets, on the street and during daily life.


Australia: the driest continent on earth. ISV leaders will guide you through an informative lesson about water conservation and show you how to help limit waste (c) ISV

  1. Leave No Trace The philosophy of “take only photographs, leave only footprints, waste only time…” should be adopted at all times. Discard all unnecessary packaging from new items before leaving home and avoid importing your garbage to another country.
  2. Never litter – If there are no bins to dispose of your trash, carry out all your garbage with you. Even if you are in a littered area, set a positive example.
  3. Bin Your Butts Cigarette butts are not biodegradable and often end up washed into our oceans. They can cause injury or death to animals that mistake them for food. Always dispose of them appropriately and never on the ground
  4. Reduce and Reuse – Say “no” to plastic bags and carry your items in your backpack or shoulder bag.
  5. Recycle If recycling bins are available, use them appropriately by making sure that the correct items go in the correct bins. If there aren’t any recycling bins, first reconsider what you are buying and try for a reusable product instead.
  6. Water Conservation – Some countries have extremely limited water resources. Do your part – take shorter showers, wash your clothing only when you really need to, turn the tap off when brushing your teeth, etc.
  7. Energy Conservation –Turn off lights and other items (like chargers) requiring power when not in use, especially when leaving hotel rooms. Dry your clothes on a line rather than in a dryer, and avoid bringing a hair dryer.

Larimar stone is endemic (found only) to the Dominican Republic. You’ll find it in most tourist places throughout the country and it’s easy to grab a bargain. But what is a bargain? Apply bargaining etiquette as you shop. (c) ISV


  1. First, Think Before You Buy – Souvenir shopping is a favourite pastime for travelers. However, how much “stuff” do we all need anyway? So much stuff is bought unnecessarily, discarded and ends up in landfill. If you genuinely want something then shop responsibly.
  2. Buy Green – Purchase personal products and clothing from companies that care about the environment in their materials and production. Many companies now preach “eco-friendly” but look beyond the marketing strategies and find out how and why they are as ecologically and socially responsible (or not) as they say they are.
  3. Buy Locally Made and Fair Trade Find out exactly what you are buying and where it is made. Products (particularly fair-trade products) made locally help protect jobs and support local industry.
  4. Bargain/Barter ethically– Be careful not to exploit the poverty and need of vendors.
  5. Wildlife Products – Be careful to avoid any product made from an endangered plant or animal. By choosing not to buy these products you are helping to lower the demand for such illegal trade.  Before you travel, read more about wildlife products.
  6. Customs Regulations –You may buy something special in your host country only to find out that you can’t bring it back home with you (for good reason). Many plants, animals, and other products harbor diseases, bacteria, and other organisms that are foreign to your home, and therefore potentially harmful to the local flora, fauna, and ultimately your health. Always fill out your customs declaration cards honestly, and if in doubt, declare it!

    Thailand: explore local markets, there’s no better travel experience! Eating locally is also part of a responsible travel ethic (c) ISV

Eating and Drinking

  1. Eat Sustainably –There’s lots to consider when trying to consume “sustainable food”…. Is the food farmed or wild caught? Organic? Fair trade? What seafood is the best choice? The information can be overwhelming and confusing, or dependent on local conditions.  Best advice – ask questions and follow tips 2 and 3 below.
  2. Eat Locally – Skip the fast food chains and  have a real cultural experience by sampling the local cuisine. Tip- ask your ISV leaders for some tips on wise and safe food choices from street markets.
  3. Eat Less Meat – Try and aim for one less serving of meat per week. The UN estimates that meat production accounts for up to one fifth of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Depending on your country of travel, some local meat choices are better than others. Ask your ISV leaders and/or do your own research prior to departure.  Generally however, pigs and cattle have much larger ecological footprints and emit huge amounts of methane (a very potent greenhouse gas).
  4. Avoid Disposable Plastic Water Bottles – Waste created by plastic water bottles is a global problem often created around clever and manipulative marketing.Find out if thetap water is safe to drink where you are, and if so, use it!  When possible, use your own refillable water bottle and recycle drink bottles and cans.

Fiji: it IS possible to discover another culture respectfully and positively. You can leave people and places better off through your travels (c) ISV

“With the opportunity to travel, comes a new responsibility to all travelers to ensure that their activities do not upset or destroy the very cultures and environments we choose to visit.”  

We hope each ISV participant has a fun, safe and meaningful journey overseas and that this information will help encourage you to think about your impact as you travel.  Try and keep the above tips in mind and have a fun and safe journey as you travel as responsibly as possible on your ISV program and in the future.

To learn more about ISV and our programs visit our website:



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