8 ethical travel tips

  • By: Aveleen Schinkel

You’re making plans and dreaming of summer vacation—but there’s a lot to think about when you travel. Whether your adventures take you across countries or across counties, here are eight ways you can be a good steward while making incredible memories. Adventure away!

Cut down on waste.

We’ve all heard how plastic negatively affects the environment. But sometimes it’s just easier to bring conveniently packaged food when going camping or on a road trip. Plan for this ahead of time so you and your family can curb your waste and keep creation clean!

Dry food: You don’t need containers of yogurt or shrink-wrapped cheese to have a healthy snack. Snacks like trail mix are easy to make, fill you up and can be full of yummy goodness. Fill a reusable tub and get snacking!

Make it yourself: Many foods are available in bulk, and many bulk stores allow you to weigh and fill your own containers rather than using plastic bags or buying pre-packaged treats.
Bonus: When you make snacks yourself, you get to choose the contents. This can be very helpful if you have any food sensitivities or allergies to work around.

A plastic water bottle on its side, on the ground, amongst grass and palm trees in the background.

Water: Bring your own reusable water bottle instead of buying crates of plastic bottles.

BYOB: That’s Bring Your Own Bag! Make a habit of carrying a small garbage bag with you so none of your litter ends up on the ground. And always recycle when you can!

Eat local.

It’s easy to stop somewhere familiar for a meal, but eating at a locally-owned restaurant supports small businesses and the local economy. Check ahead of time so you know what’s available in the area. Making decisions on the spot (and when we’re hungry!) is when we default to what’s familiar instead of trying something new—and potentially far more delicious!

Note: When abroad, do be cautious when choosing local restaurants so you can ensure your food is prepared safely. Online reviews can be a very useful tool in making these decisions.

A bowl of soup on a table amongst some side dishes.

Shop local.

Want to bring home a souvenir to remind you of your experience? Or treats for friends and family? Try to find local shops selling authentic items from the area rather than stopping at tourism centres. Buying from local artisans supports the little guy, and you’ll end up with a more authentic item to enjoy.

Research animal attractions.

In Genesis 1:28, God gives us the task of governing “the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and every living creature that moves on the ground.” But animals are often mistreated for the sake of tourism—and it isn’t always obvious at first glance.

An elephant drinking from a stream.

Do your research before visiting any animal attractions, both in Canada and abroad. Choose attractions that are committed to caring for the animals and the environment. For example, many countries offer rides on elephants, camels and other animals, but these creatures are often treated very poorly. Instead of riding an animal, choose to visit a sanctuary where you can see, walk with and sometimes feed the animals, many of whom have been rescued from abuse—like the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya, where former Compassion-sponsored child Edwin cares for orphaned baby elephants.

It’s important to really do your research, as some “sanctuaries” are not sanctuaries at all. If you’re unsure of the validity of an attraction, it may be best to avoid it altogether. 

Watch what you wear.

This seems like an odd suggestion—but part of being a responsible traveller is being respectful toward the cultures you may encounter. If you’re traveling abroad, you may find yourself in communities where people dress more conservatively than in Canada. For example, in many countries where Compassion works it is common practice for men to wear long pants and women to wear longer skirts or dresses. You may also want to visit historic or holy sites that require a specific dress code, like covering your head, shoulders or legs. Do your research ahead of time to make sure you have appropriate clothing for your adventures.

Manners, please.

It’s also a good idea to do a little research into the local customs of the country you’re visiting—things like table manners, common hand gestures and tipping practices. This is important, especially when a language barrier could land you in an awkward situation!

Make it fun: Look up table manners and hand gestures that are acceptable—or unacceptable!—where you’re headed, and try to commit them to memory. You may be surprised what you learn!

The impact of an image.

“Take lots of pictures!” might be the most common parting phrase uttered when wishing travellers farewell. That’s because photos are a powerful tool, a way for us to revisit our memories and allow others to share in our adventures. But in a world where sharing photos is as instant as, well, Instagram, being aware of what—and how—we share is very important. Ask yourself these questions before posting an image:

  • Does this photo portray that individual with dignity?
  • Does it accurately reflect this culture or might it perpetuate a stereotype?
  • Is that hashtag respectful?
A woman with a pink headscarf and yellow and blue dress smiles at the camera.

Always ask if you can take someone’s photo before you do. It’s tempting to snap photos of locals in cultural dress, but in the same way you wouldn’t want a stranger to take your photo without permission, ask before you take someone else’s. If you don’t speak the same language, make eye contact and gesture with your camera. If they say no, smile and move on. If they say yes, offer to show them the photo once you’ve taken it. In many areas of the world, people don’t often see photos of themselves and sharing that moment could be a memorable experience for both of you.

Above all, be kind.

This goes without saying, but sometimes we get stressed when we travel. We get tired. We don’t always realize the impact our words and actions can have on others. Always remember that wherever you go—be it camping over a long weekend or exploring a new country—you have the opportunity to reflect God’s love to those you meet. Be aware of those moments. Take the time to smile. Thank someone—if abroad, in their language. Learn a local custom that allows you to show respect for another culture. See if the attractions you’re visiting are connected with a non-profit, and find out how you can support their work. This beautiful planet is but a reflection of God’s incredible power and creativity. Get out there and enjoy His handiwork!

What are some tips you’ve picked up that help you travel responsibly?


If you’re headed to a country where Compassion works anytime soon, consider visiting the child you sponsor! Our Trips and Visits team would be happy to arrange it for you.

 Travel with Compassion

Photos by Aveleen Schinkel, Brian Yurasits and Elle Morre