Ethical Travel Tips

Over the years, I’ve changed my daily habits and become mindful of my lifestyle choices to better suit my belief in eco-friendly, ethical living – and this includes the choices I make when travelling. You’d be surprised at how small, mindful changes can make a huge difference to the environment and to communities you come into contact with during your travels. These are some of the ones I’ve discovered – feel free to tell me about your own tips and tricks!

1. Eco-friendly, biodegradable toiletries & cosmetics

Whether you already use cruelty-free toiletries and cosmetics in your own home, or you are new to organic, eco-friendly, and completely vegan beauty and hygiene products, you will love these travel- and earth-friendly beauty ideas and product options! Here is a brief overview of my favourite earth-friendly products (mostly from LUSH!) for eco-friendly and ethical beauty while travelling.

  • Solid shampoo, body lotion, toothpaste, and face wash

LUSH has several awesome solid products that are self-preserving, take up less space in your luggage, don’t need plastic packaging, and work really well! I have tried one of LUSH’s solid shampoo bars, and I was amazed at how much lather you can get from a small cake of shampoo – one bar can last as long as 3 bottles of shampoo! That’s about 24 washes for me, which is great value. It also fits in the palm of your hand, and you can buy a metal container to store it in.

LUSH massage bar,
LUSH massage bar,

LUSH massage bars are also perfect for travelling – they look like solid bars of soap, but you simply need to warm them in your hands to melt the oils a bit, and rub the lotion over your skin.



LUSH toothy tabs are solid tooth cleansing tablets that you can pop in your hand luggage and use whenever necessary. Simply pop a tab in your mouth, chew it up a bit, brush your teeth with a moistened toothbrush and the paste from the tab, and spit. A great alternative to toothpaste, and perfect for countries where the tap water is undrinkable.

LUSH Herbalism Face Wash,
LUSH Herbalism Face Wash,

I ADORE Herbalism, it’s like washing your face with friendly plants! You need a pea-sized amount for each face wash, and you just combine the mixture and water to form a paste, which you then massage onto your face and rinse off. LUSH has many other solid facial cleansers available – too many to choose from!

  • Reef-Safe Sunscreen for snorkelling and swimming 
Reef-safe, biodegradable sunscreen,
Reef-safe, biodegradable sunscreen,

Did you know that the chemicals in your sunscreen can kill corals and other organisms in marine and river ecosystems? I remember stepping into rock pools and seeing the residue of my sunscreen washing off my legs – that weird murky film on the surface of the water, which can kill tiny sea animals and plants. Now that I know better, I will only buy reef-safe sunscreen to reduce the amount of damage to marine life. It’s a small substitution that can have big positive effects on the environment.

  • Biodegradable camping supplies
Biodegradable toilet tissue,
Biodegradable toilet tissue,

Leave Mother Nature exactly as you found her with biodegradable camping soap (body, hair, clothing, dishes), biodegradable toilet paper and dog poop bags, biodegradable towelettes, and biodegradable insect repellents.


2. Reusable water bottles & containers

Re-useable water bottle ad coffee cup,
Re-useable water bottle and coffee cup,

Buying drinking water in disposable plastic bottles is incredibly wasteful, especially if you throw them away while travelling instead of recycling them. A reusable water bottle – made of aluminium, stainless steel, BPA free plastic, or glass – is both eco-friendly and economical. You can go one step further and invest in a reusable coffee cup, so you can pop into Starbucks or other coffee shops for a hit of caffeine without wasting disposable coffee cups. Similarly, you can buy reusable cutlery, skip using plastic straws, and use reusable laundry bags etc instead of plastic bags.


3. Choose sustainable, local produce when eating out

Willeen's Restaurant, Arniston, South Africa, Fresh seafood and local specialities
Willeen’s Restaurant, Arniston, South Africa,
Fresh seafood and local specialities

Contribute directly to the economic well-being of local restaurant owners and vendors by choosing local food establishments that use local produce. Choose sustainable seafood when dining out – you can use one of many consumer seafood guides to check that the fish on your menu or plate is from a sustainable source, and not on the endangered list. Be aware of where and what you’re eating, and you can make a difference.


4. Be cautious with curios and animal products

This one may seem obvious, but it’s important nonetheless – don’t buy, smuggle, or support the trade of endangered plants and animals. Some curios or souvenirs may be labelled as “cow bone”, but are actually ivory, so be careful when you buy any items made of bone. Rather choose figurines made of sustainable wood (unless your country of origin prohibits bringing organic material into the country!), or stone. Similarly, try not to alter the natural environment of your destination negatively – don’t remove stones or finds from historical sites, don’t litter, and definitely don’t harm the people or the wildlife! Once again, these are pretty obvious points, but sometimes damage can come from good intentions – so try to be mindful in your purchases.

5. Boycott the use of animals for entertainment

That elephant ride may be a 45 min, once-in-a-lifetime experience for you, but it's a lifetime of captivity and pain for the animals involved.
That elephant ride may be a 45 min, once-in-a-lifetime experience for you, but it’s a lifetime of captivity, boredom, and pain for the animals involved.

For years, I had these kinds of items on my bucket list – “play with African lion cubs”, “ride an Indian elephant in Thailand”, and “stroke a tiger in India”. Like me, many travellers are entirely well-meaning in their pursuits, but they may be ignorant about the true nature of these tourist traps. Not all animal entertainment establishments directly mistreat animals, but it’s incredibly difficult to know for sure when you are only using their service for a few hours. Here are some to watch out for:

  • Petting lion cubs or other young big cats/bears/wild animal babies

It may seem harmless and a unique up-close-and-personal experience with your favourite animal (lion cubs are adorable, you can’t deny that), most of these cute baby animals will get sold for canned hunting to private game farms when they get older and stronger, and are no longer considered safe around the public. Older big cats and other animals are drugged or sedated for photo opportunities, and their sole purpose is to bring in money.

Rather: Go on a game drive, or visit a wild animal rescue centre where injured and orphaned animals are      rehabilitated. You can still see them up close without contributing to the canned hunting trade. I can tell you from experience that it is a lot more gratifying to see a pride of lions in their natural habitat, with the lion cubs playing with their mothers and safe from ending up as a hunter’s trophy.

  • Riding elephants in Africa or Asia (or anywhere, for that matter)

Evidence suggests that elephants sustain damage from bearing weight on their spines, so carrying humans around all day every day can be exceptionally bad for them. Not all of the elephants are rescues, either – many companies capture wild baby elephants and use brutal physical force to “tame” them.

Rather: Do some research and visit an elephant rescue centre that does not use their elephants for tourist rides. Elephant Nature Park in Thailand is highly recommended for ethical, intimate encounters with rescued Indian elephants.


6. Choose economical, eco-friendly forms of transport whenever possible

Flying is unfortunately always damaging to the environment due to massive amounts of fuel being burned, but you can reduce the damage by choosing an economical aircraft such as the Airbus A319 or Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The Boeing 737-900ER, Airbus A330-200 and Boeing 767-400ER are also particularly fuel efficient.

When hiring a rental car, try to choose the smallest car possible. A hybrid or electric is even better. And lastly, public transport is always the best choice. Bus, tram, train, bicycle – whatever works for you!

Any tips I’ve missed? Please tell me in the comments! 



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