Education Philosophy Talking Point

Responsible Family Travel: Are You as Responsible as You Think?

Cameron on the beach in Samoa
Written by Kirstie Pelling

Responsible Family Travel: Are You as Responsible as You Think?

Do you and your family travel responsibly? Or do your principles go out of the window as soon as you dip your toe in the water or sip your first cocktail? In this advertising feature with adventure travel specialist Explore, we profile a new survey that discovers Brits abroad are less responsible than they think. See how you compare…

Examining a volcanic crack in Samoa

Do you practice responsible family travel or do your environmental efforts disappear into a black hole on holiday?

Animal magic

Matthew sat perched on a rock, tense with excitement, waving coconut and tarot leaves in the direction of the river. Then after a few minutes, the water lapped against the grass, and four huge shells floated to the surface. Slowly, silently, a family of turtles came to join him. Trusting the intentions of our small boy, they stared up out of the water, opened their jaws and peacefully tugged on the leaves. They disappeared as silently as they had arrived, leaving two children lost for words…

Feeding turtles in Samoa

Feeding turtles in Samoa

A green turtle trip

The turtle was once one of Samoa’s most mysterious and precious visitors. It was considered the most special gift you could give a Samoan chief, and was hunted for meat and its valuable tortoise-shell. By the time we visited this Pacific island with the children in 2005, it was endangered and only two out of seven species remained. But locals in Independent Samoa were doing their best to preserve them; the turtle sanctuary we visited was one of the regular stops on our Green Turtle eco tour.

All the activities we experienced, from canoeing in the mangrove swamps to learning how locals make fire, were designed to educate and inform us as well as give some money back to subsistence villagers who received it in their hands before we left. As we toured various projects, our guide Steve illuminated the tensions between tourism and environmental impact and we had many conversations about the waste and damage inflicted on fragile islands by careless travellers. But when we touched down in LA a week or two later, we saw a much more terrible outcome of tourism. Just one breakfast in our basic hotel created a mountain of plastic and polystyrene. We felt ashamed.

The Green Turtle bus heads out on a Samoan ecotour, kayaks ready

The Green Turtle bus heads out on a Samoan ecotour, kayaks ready

Fast forward a decade

Thirteen years on, and I question how green we have been since Samoa. We do still firmly believe in responsible family travel; we try to cycle on holiday instead of drive, in fact we have biked across many countries in a series of long distance trips. We don’t do cruises or package tours, and always try to spread a little money around outside of the hotels. We shop locally on holiday at markets and souks and corner shops but we rarely quiz restaurant owners about the provenance of our food and due to having fussy teens, often eat out in chain restaurants. I guzzle on takeaway coffee constantly with all the cardboard and plastic this entails. We drive. We fly more than we used to and take photographs of absolutely everything without always asking permission. I guess we are like many families with one eye on protecting the planet; full of good intentions that don’t always pan out.

Sea kayaking to the mangrove swamps on an ecotour of Samoa

Sea kayaking to the mangrove swamps on an ecotour…why don’t we do more of this now?

Behaving irresponsibly…or not knowingly responsibly

And it seems we are not alone. A new OnePoll survey commissioned by adventure travel specialist Explore asked 2000 British consumers who have travelled abroad about their behaviour on the road. And it found that while we endlessly examine how we can become more environmentally responsible in our daily lives, we don’t pay the same attention to our travels.

Looking for Tarsiers in the Philippines Tarsier Sanctuary, Bohul with Carlitos Pizarras

We need to reconsider which tours we take

Attitudes to wildlife

The survey uncovered some surprising results about attitudes to wildlife. 30% of British tourists would visit zoos to see the wildlife, while 23% would take an elephant safari, and 28% would be interested in swimming with dolphins. Following our visit to Taiji and our actions to sticker bomb a town to raise awareness of dolphin cruelty there, I am always amazed when people who should know better support aquariums by buying tickets. It’s shocking that 75% of the people that were surveyed acknowledged these activities to be irresponsible yet still did them anyway.

Snapping the albino dolphin in the Taiji Whale Museum

The albino dolphin cruelly separated from family in the Taiji Whale Museum

Are you a responsible tourist?

‘Responsible travel’ has many aspects to it. It’s not all about the big things like avoiding flights and saving the whales. Little things matter, like ‘speaking the local language, wearing appropriate clothing, recycling and using local produce.’ The company’s survey discovered that while 73% of British travellers considered themselves to be responsible and respectful to the location when they are travelling, the reality is different. For example 34% of those surveyed prefer the luxuries of an all-inclusive deal, yet there are no guarantees an all-inclusive hotel will ensure their produce is locally sourced.

Viewing Towers, Olango Wildlife Reserve, Olango Island, Philippi

Be respectful of your environment and it will be there for future generations. Olango Island, Philippines

At home versus abroad

When you drill down on the results, it’s a depressing picture. While most people (77%) frequently recycle at home, only 38% do so when on holiday. The majority (78%) of Brits use towels and bedding for more than one or two days at home, whereas 37% expect their towels and sheets changed regularly when on holiday. When at home, 78% of respondents turn off lights and appliances when not in use, yet only 65% do so abroad. We’re also 13% more likely to leave the tap running while brushing teeth when abroad. Most households in the UK don’t have air conditioning,and 59% say the heating is turned on and off depending on when we are at home, but when abroad 40% of us expect to have air conditioning.

Trying new food Samoa

You don’t learn about local food in an all inclusive holiday

Convenience over conservation

So why is this? Do we turn off our moral compasses as soon as we get on a plane? I suspect it is often a case of laziness and convenience. We have to work harder at recycling when away and it’s easier to leave the lights on than fumble around in the dark in a strange hotel room. But a particularly shocking finding was that only 32% were interested in the responsibility of their tour operator. Also British travellers rank price (67%), location (72%) and availability (56%) as very important when booking a holiday abroad, but just 20% rank environmental impact as vital.

Fale at Satuiatua, Samoa

It’s important to consider the impact of ‘relaxing’

Lost our way

John Telfer, Explore’s Managing Director, says the research shows we have lost our way when it comes to responsible tourism.

“The all-inclusive still remains the most popular way to travel, and by nature it is a less respectful way to visit a destination. We clearly have a thirst for travel, but it’s important we consider the way we leave a destination after we have visited it. We believe travellers should be welcomed back to a destination, not asked to leave.”

He says responsible tour providers do a lot of the initial investigation on behalf of the traveller. “At Explore, we put responsible tourism at the heart of what we do by ensuring all of our tours are respectful to the environment and local communities, and that local people benefit from the tourism whilst ensuring our travellers don’t need to worry about this in advance.”

Following the survey, Explore has come up with a travel pledge. I think it’s something we could all follow so have copied it here in full:

Boys sitting at the shop in Satuiatua, Savai'i, Samoa

Our boys shopping locally in Satuiatua, Savai’i, Samoa

The Explore Pledge


Stay local. Where possible, I’ll avoid international chain hotels and stay in locally-owned and run accommodation.

Get clued up on local customs. I will pack appropriate clothing, and read up on local behaviours and traditions so as to behave respectfully and get the most out of my visit.

Learn the language. I pledge to learn a few words in the local language, including ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’, and use them on my trip

Be respectful of the wildlife, and not disturb its natural habitat

Buy local souvenirs that support local crafts and skills

Travel with local leaders, guides and drivers where possible.

Offset my carbon emissions or work with a Tour Operator to mitigate the impact of flying

Reduce, reuse, recycle. I will take a recyclable water bottle on my trip

Watch my water. I pledge to turn off taps when washing teeth, keep showers short and reuse towels

Pack right. I’ll pack suitable clothes and avoid disposable goods that may not be recycled

Watch my haggling. I will stop when I reach a reasonable price (remembering that the £1 saved might be at the expense of the seller)

Think before I click. I will ask for permission before taking photographs of local people.

Waiting for a plane at Savai'i in Samoa

Could you pledge to mitigate the impact of flying?

How many can you do?

I think I could have a go at all of these, although I may have to curb my enthusiasm for souvenir snowglobes made in China. Would you be prepared to stick to a pledge like this on holiday? How many of the above actions would you be prepared to take? Leave a comment below and let us know. Or for more trip inspiration and to find out more about Explore visit


We were compensated by Explore for writing this post. All words, opinion, and nostalgia about our Samoan eco tour were, as ever, all our own.

About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.


  • Thanks so much for this post. It is one of the things we became increasingly aware about on our trip around the world in 2017. As a tourist/traveller we have a responsibility to support the places we visit so that our kids and their kids can experience their beauty and uniqueness in just the same way we do. We too were horrified at the amount of plastic rubbish generated at breakfast in hotels in the USA. We were equally saddened by the pollution generated by tourists on Phu Quoc in Vietnam and the huge impact that large tour groups have on popular tourist destinations. I love the pledge and think it is a great way to focus when traveling.

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We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...


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