South East Asia Sustainable Travel Tips

June 04, 2019
Lola Méndez

Southeast Asia (known as SEA) boasts breathtaking landscapes, delicious food, kind people, and gilded temples that have been attracting tourist for decades. SEA is well traversed and sadly tourism has had a negative effect on SEA. Beaches and temples have been closing at a rapid rate for conservation. As travellers, it’s our duty to make a positive impact on the places we visit. We can do this by making mindful decisions that won’t damage the environment, community, or culture in the places we visit. Here’s how you can be a responsible traveller in SEA.


While SEA certainly isn’t small if you’re a bit strategic with your itinerary you should be able to get around mostly on trains and buses. Not only will this be most cost-efficient then flying between cities and countries, but it will also make less of a negative impact on the environment. By travelling overland you’ll also have the chance to see incredible landscapes. Be budget savvy and book overnight buses and you’ll also save on accommodation costs. If you must fly between destinations book direct flights with a regional airline that has the option of offsetting carbon emissions like Jetstar. Once you’ve arrived at your destination opt to explore by walking or riding a bicycle to combine sightseeing and exercise in a way that won’t harm the environment. For day trips opt to share taxis with other travellers instead of renting individualized motorbikes which tend to release more toxins than cars.


When booking places to stay throughout your SEA adventure try to opt for homestays or locally owned hostels whenever possible to keep tourism dollars in the local community. Eco-friendly properties are becoming more common in the area and give visitors a unique opportunity to get in touch with nature. No matter where you stay you can be responsible by minimizing water usage, opting out of housekeeping, and turning off all electronics whenever you leave the room. If your hotel doesn’t provide reusable containers for shampoo and soap then skip the ​wasteful single-use plastic toiletries​ by bringing your own shampoo bar and multipurpose powder cleansers. Always opt to use the bum gun over toilet paper, it’s better for the environment and healthier for your body!


In SEA there are many social enterprise training cafes that employ at-risk children or those with different abilities. Luckily, they also serve amazing local cuisine. Be thoughtful and try to have most of your meals at locally owned restaurants and street food stalls. Bring your own ​reusable water bottle​, collapsible cup, bamboo straw, and cutlery so that you won’t be wasteful and use single-use plastic.

Tours, activities, and experiences

Responsible travellers in SEA will be diligent in avoiding unethical animal interactions and experiences that exploit humans as they explore the region. This means skipping out on elephant riding camps, tiger petting, and any other institution that breeds wild animals such as endangered Gibbons. There are many tourists traps in SEA that exploit humans including forced labour in craft workshops, illegal human trafficking for sex tourism, and Karen long neck villages.

With the Urban Adventures ​In Focus​ tours, you can be confident that you’ll have authentic cultural experiences that are guaranteed to avoid unethical attractions. Each organization that offers In Focus tours is an NGO, non-profit, or social enterprise that operates a social mission that impacts their community. Through their partnerships with Urban Adventures, these charitable businesses are able to use tourism as a tool for positive change. In Focus tours actively benefit the people and places of SEA including an immersive food-driven experience in Bangkok, Thailand​.

Travellers can be responsible in many other ways including shopping local, buying fair-trade souvenirs, and respecting local cultures by learning a few words of the local language and dressing appropriately when visiting holy sites. For even more insight on sustainable travel check out our guide on ​9 ways to be a more responsible traveller.