Ethical travelers rejoice, are numbers are growing! Travellers are more often than not accompanied by a keep-cup, reusable water bottle and carbon offsetting air travel. But we’re still making these simple errors in our approach which harm communities and impact the environment. It’s easy to make these mistakes and {Full Disclosure} I made a lot of these mishaps in my younger years as a backpacker.

With the rise in not-for-profit agencies advocating for improved ethical tourism practices, the time is up on these five massive blunders. Check them out to ensure you’re traveling as ethically as possible on your next adventure:

Visit Fake Elephant Sanctuaries

Elephant tourism has grown exponentially over the last five years (numbers in Thailand have increased by a third.) Not only are travellers informed that there’s no harm in interacting with elephants, they’re actually told the animal benefits from this experience. Learning’s over the years from animal welfare experts like WAP have lead us to believe this is none other than greenwashing in tourism. So next time you come into contact with an elephant in captivity ask yourself. Do they offer direct contact with tourist and animal? Do they breed these animals? Are animals used for entertainment?

Ultimately you should steer clear from any attraction that offers direct interaction with animals – elephant or other. Genuine sanctuaries and rescue centers do not permit animals to breed unless the animal is destined for release into the wild.

If you’re after a more authentic experience, check out: Global Federation Of Animal Sanctuaries, they are a global organisation for recognising legitimate sanctuaries.


Children as Tourist Attractions

As gut wrenching as it is to ignore children on the street, paying too much attention to beggers reinforces the bad situation they’re in. Children are often used by their guardians to earn an income, when they should be in school – or in bed!

Often travelers gush over children on the street, assuming their right to interact with them freely when they are unaccompanied. After spending time in developing countries, I’ve witnessed first hand travellers taking photographs of under privileged children. Only to then use these photo’s in their social media accounts – like a souvenir – without any real contribution to the community. This is something we would never dream of doing back home. So why do we do it abroad? We need to treat children like we would back home. The bottom line is: always ask permission (from an elder) if you ‘need‘ to take a picture in the moment.

Alternatively you could donate money to a local charity that works to keep children off the streets.
Source: Think Child Safe


Voluntourism (in orphanages) is a hugely regnant topic with the Australian government at present. They’ve recently declared a national campaign discouraging Australians from visiting orphanages during their travels.

Research has shown that earnest Australian travelers are unknowingly contributing to the supply chain of people and resources that are driving a growing ‘orphanage industry’ abroad.

 “The Australian Government is taking steps to raise awareness of this issue and discourage any form of short-term, unskilled volunteering in orphanages. The campaign encourages Australians to be informed, be prepared and be child-safe volunteers.”


Plenty of organisations are in place to help educate travelers including: Childsafe, Unicef and Re-think orphanages


Leave a Trace

This is such an obvious one – but still – iconic sites the world over are covered in trash from ignorant travelers. I’m a big fan of living like a local, except when it comes to litter disposal. Leaving your litter in nature, or on the streets – is simply, not cool.

Coming from a litter conscience country like Australia, we are educated at a young age to pick up after ourselves. No seriously, picking up litter is even a form of punishment in our schools. So why are so many of us discarding our waste while abroad? This includes using excess plastic water bottles without recycling them. Most disgustingly: leaving toilet paper along hiking trails is the biggest no-no.

Consider supporting causes like: Take 3 for the Sea or Leave no Trace

Over – Flying

With the rise of travel fare aggregator website’s like sky-scanner and trivago, we now have easier access to discounted airfares than ever before. These websites scour airline’s for the cheapest possible connections. They can provide solutions for itineraries that would previously require you search through multiple airline websites.

So while we would formerly book a return flight to New York City with Qantas, now we can book each flight separately with four different airlines on one platform and at a cheaper cost. Never mind that it takes 48 hours to get there. Compared to the original flight being the most direct.

Not only that, with the popularity obsession in frequent flyer points and status points I’m noticing travelers take more than necessary flights for the sake of points. The culprit in most cases is the naughty ‘status run’ where travelers fly for the interest of their status expiring rather than actually needing to travel.


So there you have it, five simple yet common mistakes we make as travelers, but with more insight and education we can travel more ethically – starting now!

Until next time xo

For more tips on how to travel ethically, check out my page!

Images via Unsplash


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