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Leave only footprints: 20 tips for responsible travel on a budget

Eco-lodges, sustainable safaris, ethical sanctuaries – if you’ve traveled recently, you’ve probably come across these terms many times. We’ve become all about traveling more responsibly. Good for us – and the planet! However, if you’re traveling on a budget, many of these options probably don’t fit your budget at all and may leave you wondering if there’s anything you can do to have a positive impact during your travels. Well yes, you definitely can! Today, I’m sharing 20 tips for responsible travel on a budget.

The recent COVID-19 crisis has put a sudden stop to travel all over the world and has left many world travelers home-bound. Personally, being ‘stuck’ at home has really given me time to think about travel. Most importantly, I’ve realized how privileged I am to be able to travel, and the effects it has on the planet. The impacts of mass tourism have never been more clear to me than during this time of home quarantine.

Though never traveling again isn’t really an option for lots of people, there really are a lot of things we can do to minimize the impact of our trips. And don’t worry if the most secluded and luxurious eco-lodges do not fit your budget at all. With these tips for responsible travel on a budget, there’s so much more you can do to help minimize your footprint!

What is responsible travel?

Responsible travel has become such a hyped term that’s thrown around everywhere. But what does it even mean? It’s kind of a big term, which can mean a lot of things. Overall, responsible travel is about being aware of the world and your surroundings while traveling. It includes respecting the planet, local people and culture, and wildlife – but it can mean so much more!

Now, I’m definitely not saying I’m perfect when it comes to responsible travel. However, I’m a firm believer in focusing on the positive side of things and what we’re doing right. I love sharing knowledge and trying to improve ourselves. By focusing on the good things, I think lots of people are happier and much more motivated to keep up the good work – myself included!

In the comment section, I’d love to learn more (budget) tips from you guys about responsible travel and the things you do to minimize the impact of your trips.

And now, without further ado, let’s dive straight into my 20 best tips for responsible budget travel!

Responsible travel tips: 20 budget-friendly things you can do

Here are the ways I try to do in order to travel as responsibly as possible. A lot of these tips are aimed at minimizing the environmental impact and climate change, but you’ll also find lots of tips about respecting local people, traditions & wildlife.

Travel & accommodation

1. Choose an eco-friendly airline

Air travel isn’t perfect, unfortunately. However, it’s necessary for most of us to get to many places on our bucket list. Luckily, recently some airlines have been making changes to their policies, resulting in greener options to consider when booking your flight. When searching for a cheap yet safe flight, see if you can also find options that are just a little bit better (or less bad) for the planet. I recently came across Alternative Airlines, a platform all about different eco-conscious airlines and the specific efforts they make.

2. Use local transport

In most countries, there are many different ways to travel. Instead of flying to every highlight of a country, there are a lot more options to consider to get around. For example, take a local bus or hop on a train. Not only can it make your footprint smaller, it’s also a great way to save money and meet locals! Of course, do always make sure the option you’re going for is safe, especially if road conditions are bad or if you’re a female solo traveler.

3. Go for eco-friendly budget accommodation

In order to be a responsible budget traveler when it comes to accommodation, you don’t have to go for expensive eco-lodging or visit the most luxurious secluded resorts. There are lots of ‘greener’ options in hostels and budget hotels. Although they’re probably not perfect, they do have some practices in place that contribute to a better world. Every little thing counts!

4. Participate in eco practices

Even if your accommodation is not specifically labeled as ‘eco’, you yourself can still do lots of things to be a bit greener. In fact, these things are super simple and obvious if you’re aware of them! To give a few examples, you can re-use your towels an extra day or turn off the tap when washing your face or brushing your teeth. Lots of places will also ask you to not take half-hour long showers and turn off the lights of bathrooms when leaving. It’s simple things like these that really add up when they’re done on a large scale!

5. Consider ‘slow travel’

Slow travel is a relatively new concept that I discovered in my own personal travel experiences. At times, I was getting exhausted from traveling so fast and hitting highlight after highlight. Though it was great to see a lot of beautiful things, I found myself not even being able to fully appreciate it anymore. Not to mention the impact it was probably having on the local environment and planet.

Slow travel is the opposite – this way of travel is not about ticking off every item from your ‘list of highlights to see’, but rather taking it a bit easier, soaking in the environment, connecting with the local culture and enjoying the journey. Not only do you experience everything much more fully, but it also respects the world and local community in the process.

Local people & practices

6. Be respectful of the locals

One of the things I find super important when traveling to a new destination, is to respect the locals and their traditions. Even though they may be completely different from yourself, treat them just as you would want to be treated. If you want to make a photograph of a beautiful local, be polite by asking first. Likewise, show respect by wearing appropriate clothing (especially in temples and other religious places) and by showing appropriate manners.

7. Embrace local practices

Not all countries are ‘built’ in the same way, especially when it comes to things like waste disposal. Because of that, it’s important to consider the amount of waste we produce, and in what way we dispose of it.

Let’s consider an example. Though you may be used to flushing toilet paper, this is a lot less common in other countries. Some waste systems simply cannot process the same amount of waste in a similar way. For me, this definitely took some getting used to! However, it’s important to be considerate and embrace the practices the local country has.

8. Benefit from local recommendations

Make local friends and get off the beaten path! Connecting with locals is a great way to get the best recommendations and emerge yourself fully in the local culture. Straying off the tourist path allows you to visit unknown places, instead of exhausting popular places even further. Try the best local foods, give your money to the local communities and people that need it most, and experience a country like you’ve never done before. Some of my favorite travel memories are the ones created this way!

9. Be respectful of local drone rules & regulations

Okay, this one may be very specific for some people, but as a drone user myself, it’s something I’ve seen way too many times during my travels. Don’t get me wrong, I love flying a drone! It can give you the most unique view of a country and you can shoot the most gorgeous images. But doing so in prohibited areas can do a lot of harm to the country. It can disrupt national safety measures, disrespect locals and their traditions and beliefs, or disturb animals, just to name a few. Before I launch my drone, I always take a few minutes to research the local rules & regulations.

responsible travel on a budget

Food & drinks

10. Don’t pollute

Such a simple one, but it’s so important. If you have trash, discard of it the right way by throwing it in the bin and recycle where possible. Don’t leave bottles on the beach, throw trash in nature or spit out your gum on the street. Simply make it a habit to look for a bin and keep the beautiful countries clean.

11. Carry your own reusable water bottle

This is maybe one of the easiest and most effective tips for responsible travel on a budget! Carry your own reusable water bottle with you, rather than buying plastic bottles of water. If you fill your bottle a few times a day, this can easily save you a few plastic bottles each day – and with that, it’ll even save you money! I personally love insulated bottles that keep water cold on hot days or allow you to bring hot coffee anywhere!

In some cases, it’s a bit easier said than done. Not all countries have the same standard of safe & drinkable tap water. Luckily, there are some things you can do to improve the quality of tap water. In some cases, boiling the water for about 3 minutes is more than fine, but other times you may need a good water filtering bottle, like this filtering bottle or this purifying bottle.

Of course, always do some research for the country your visiting!

12. Skip the meat every now and then

The production of meat and other animal products is increasingly recognized as a contributor to climate change. So, by skipping your meat (or other products) every now and then, you’re making a positive effort to live and travel more responsibly. And an added bonus: in my experiences, it’s also a great way to save a bit of extra money on food!

If you’re looking for meat-free easy travel meals, check out my quick & easy meal inspiration on Pinterest!

responsible travel on a budget


13. Pack plastic-free products

One of the things that are usually named when it comes to responsible travel, is the harmful effect of plastic. You’ve probably seen the pictures of beaches overflowing with plastic. Though it’s often hard (but not impossible!) to completely cut out plastic during your trip, you can easily cut down on the amount of plastic-packed products you use. For example, I usually have a bamboo toothbrush and I love shampoo bars – you can get them in a small tin, which not only saves plastic but also lots of space in your bag!

14. Wear the right sunscreen

Being aware of my choice of sunscreen is something that wasn’t a big deal to me at first. However, that changed recently with my trip to Hawaii, where the protection of the reef and other sea life is becoming increasingly important and wide-spread. If you’re as big of a beach lover as I am, consider choosing a reef safe sunscreen like this one before going for a swim in the ocean.

15. Bring your own reusable shopping bag

Just like some other of these budget tips for responsible travel, this one is simple but really effective. During your travels, you’ll visit lots of shops – whether it’s for food, other necessities or souvenirs. Chances are you’ll buy something somewhere most days. In a lot of countries, whether it’s on markets or in shops, plastic bags are still commonly handed out with every small purchase. By bringing your own reusable bag, you’ll be able to save incredible amounts of plastic.


16. Avoid unethical animal attractions

A lot of popular tourist destinations have animal attractions. Unfortunately, animals are often not treated well or even exploited. To stop these kinds of practices, it’s important not to support them with your money. If you’re considering an activity in which animals are involved, always take some time to research the company. Fortunately, some really are non-intrusive and even contribute to the well-being of the animals.

For example, I’ve been to an elephant sanctuary that rescued captured and mistreated animals and provided them immense grounds to live on. We absolutely didn’t ride the elephants and followed their natural preference of activities. Similarly, I’ve swum with wild dolphins in the open ocean, with a company that didn’t feed them or do anything to attract them. If the dolphins didn’t feel like playing that day, that was simply the way it was.

17. Don’t disturb the local wildlife

This one’s kind of similar to the one above, but I really wanted to mention it separately. Whatever place you’re visiting, you’ll probably see lots of incredible wildlife. Koalas, kangaroos, turtles, dolphins, flamingos, penguins – you name it! Even if there are no professionals nearby to keep an eye out, it’s important to be respectful towards the animals. Unfortunately, I’ve seen this go wrong too many times.

Disturbing animals can cause incredible (even lethal) stress for them and have a lot of impact. In general, remember to admire them from a distance, don’t touch or feed them and be careful with flash photography.

Psst! If you’re visiting a country with lots of turtles and would love to swim with them, I got you! Read my guide to swimming with turtles in Hawaii – it gives lots of general tips to respect and interact with turtles that will help you wherever you go!


18. Spread out your money

Okay, sounds kinda weird but really it makes sense. By spreading out your money, I mean to distribute it a bit among the locals. Don’t spend all your money at your one accommodation or go to the same restaurant every night. Instead, try new local shops and food trucks, allowing a wider group of local people to profit from your visit.

19. Tip appropriately

Tipping is a much a cultural thing as it has economic importance. Every country has specific standards and expectations when it comes to tipping. When you’re first entering a new country, it can be quite confusing. In what situations is a tip expected? How much should you tip? And to make it even more confusing, in some places tipping is not nearly as much appreciated. Luckily, there are great resources that can help you out, such as Lonely Planet.

20. Bargain over prices, but not too much

Bargaining – or negotiating prices – is a big part of the culture in many countries, such as in South East Asia. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it. In fact, it’s often expected and anticipated. However, don’t take it too far. A difference of 50 cents is probably a much smaller deal to you than it is to the local people of a country.

There you go, here are my 20 tips on how for responsible travel on a budget. I think responsible travel is so important, but it really doesn’t have to be hard! With these tips, I hope to give you small and simple ideas on how you can make a big positive impact. Let me know if you have any good ideas on how to minimize the impact of your travels!

Some links in this post may be affiliate links, meaning I earn a small percentage of any purchase made. They’re at no extra cost to you, but allow me to keep creating new content for you guys. Of course, you’re free to use any other link!

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6 responses

  1. My brother has been thinking about traveling so that he can relax and do more with his family and spend more time with his kids. He would really like to get some help from a professional to find out where is the best to go and where the restaurants are so that he can do a lot better. I liked what you said about how he should make sure to bring a water bottle that he can refill and make sure that he can get one that filters out all of the minerals.

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Digital nomad tips

Hey, I'm Anne Elise

broke backpacker turned accidental six figure online entrepreneur. While traveling.

I’m living proof that your wildest dreams can come true, and here to help you do the same. If you want to know what it’s really like to live a digital nomad life and how you can travel while making (more than enough) money, you’re in the right place. I’m spilling the juice and giving you all the deets. ‘Cause YOU can have this lifestyle, too (really, trust me on this one). 

Crash course get to know me: I love photography (but honestly, am only sometimes in the mood to be in them) and writing words – this blog is the result of both. You can find me in the ocean, trying out any and every coffee place I come across or hiking in the mountains. Or on Instagram, if that’s your thing. ;)

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