Tips For Sustainable & Responsible Travel in Southern Africa

Conservation, Travel Inspiration

South Africa, Zambia, Mozambique, and Malawi are some of the most incredible destinations that offer travellers a wealth of natural and cultural attractions. From stunning flora-filled landscapes and iconic wildlife, to vibrant cities and beautiful beaches, every type of traveller will relish an adventure to these soul-stirring countries.

With over three-quarters of people keen to make sure their holiday travel is sustainable, according to a 2023 report, we thought we would share our learnings. Whenever we travel, we appreciate that it comes with a responsibility to protect and preserve the destinations we are visiting for future generations.

A guest enjoys snorkelling in Mozambique on a responsible travel trip
Snorkelling in Mozambique

What is sustainable travel?

Sustainable travel, in a nutshell, is embarking on a journey for business or pleasure that does not compromise the present or future. This ensures either a reduction in, no, or minimal negative impacts of tourism on the environment, culture, and society of the destinations visited. We also value that this way of travelling aims to maximise the positive benefits of tourism for the local communities and the travellers.

What is responsible travel?

Responsible travel is travel that respects and benefits the local people, culture, and wildlife, and that contributes to the well-being and development of the host communities. For us, It involves making informed and ethical choices, and being aware of the consequences of our actions.

Our guests, Hungani & Stephanie Ndlovu, visiting Cape Town

Our Top Tips For Sustainable and Responsible Travel

Research and Select Responsible Accommodations:

  • Look for eco-friendly accommodations that prioritise sustainability practices. These should be clearly laid out on their website or in their fact sheets.
  • Consider lodges or hotels that support local communities through employment and sourcing of goods and services.
  • Choose to book through a travel operator, agent or travel management company, like ourselves, that addresses the environmental and ethical concerns of travellers. Through these companies, you can be assured that the destinations, properties, and tours booked through them have a light footprint and responsible travel is a priority.
Our Unfound guest enjoying a beautiful Mozambican beach

Support Local:

  • Shop at local markets. These usually bring opportunities to the locals through the production of wares or goods, and keep the economy flowing in the communities. According to the UN, for every US$100 spent by a tourist on vacation to a developing country, only US$5 remains in the host community. This is because as tourists, we often fall into the trap of shopping at places we’re more familiar with, which are often foreign-owned. We frequently pick up some truly artistic gems to take home when we browse the markets, most of which still adorn our shelves back home.
  • Support locally-owned restaurants and cafes, especially those that choose to use mainly locally-produced foods and drinks. This helps reduce carbon emissions from transport and in all honestly, just tastes so much better and fresher.
  • Highlight these businesses that follow ethical and fair trade practices by showing them some love on social media, and review platforms.
Our responsible travel guest, Pearl Thusi, visiting a local market in Mozambique

Pack with purpose:

  • It really helps to pack light to keep your weight to a minimum when travelling by air. The more weight a plane carries, the more carbon emissions it produces… plus, it’s easier to cart around.
  • Bring eco-friendly toiletries that are harmless to the environment you are entering. This is especially important if you’re taking part in any water activities – bonus, they’re usually better for your skin. You can even make your own.
  • We love reusables. By bringing our own water bottle, coffee cup, straws, headphones, and shopping bag, we avoid contributing to the eight million metric tonnes of plastic that enter our ocean annually.
  • Read more on these tips in our How to be a Savvy Sustainable Packer on Your Next Vacation blog
Our guests climbing off of one of the charter boats en route to their accommodation

Respect Wildlife:

  • We recommended seeking out national parks as they are vital for protecting biodiversity and many offer a safe haven for vulnerable species. By visiting such places, you contribute to their success.
  • Genuine wildlife sanctuaries provide valuable opportunities to view and learn about species that can be difficult to see in the wild. However, not all places that call themselves sanctuaries are ethical. We only support ones that rescue and rehabilitate animals, that do not breed or trade them, and that have a clear mission and vision.
  • We only advocate facilities that have high standards of animal care, that do not offer direct contact or interaction with animals, and that contribute to conservation and education efforts. And we will always refuse to endorse places that offer activities that exploit animals for entertainment.
  • When around animals, we suggest that you keep your distance and avoid opportunities to interact. It is not natural or safe for wild animals to be touched, fed, or ridden by humans. These activities can cause stress, injury, or disease to the animals, and put you at risk as well.
  • Resist the urge to feed wildlife. Feeding wild animals can alter their natural behaviour, make them dependent on humans, and expose them to diseases or parasites. It can also disrupt the ecological balance, which can then harm other species.
  • We always avoid buying souvenirs or products that are made from animal parts, such as ivory, fur, leather, shells, or coral. These items often come from endangered or threatened species, and fuel the illegal wildlife trade.
  • As hard as it can be, one thing we do advocate is speaking up if you witness or experience any animal abuse or exploitation. We will report it to the local authorities or animal welfare organisations. You can also share your concerns with travel review platforms because your voice really can make a difference.
  • As big blue lovers, we love water sports such as SCUBA diving and snorkelling. We choose responsible diving operators whose practices always ensure the protection of marine life and avoid damage to seabeds or coral reefs.
Our guests watching an elephant cross the road in Kruger National Park

Minimise Environmental Impact:

  • We’ve met some incredible jetsetters while flying economy class. The extra positive over flying business or first class is that economy travel has lower emissions per passenger and is the epitome of responsible travel by air.
  • It can be really fun when you choose alternative modes of transportation such as trains, buses, bikes, or walking, instead of flying or driving. We look out for the different transport options wherever we go.
  • One of our feel-good factors is to offset our carbon footprint by supporting projects that focus on conservation or the environment. We actually have our own NPO, Earth Legacy Foundation, which focuses on protecting and conserving biodiversity.
  • Our favourite accommodations are those that are mindful of water and electricity usage. We help in the cause by taking shorter showers, and turning off lights and appliances when we’re not using them.
  • We always follow park rules and guidelines, and never leave anything behind in the park. As guests in the location, it’s only fair that you dispose of litter, cigarette butts, vapes, food, and other waste responsibly.
Our guest travels by fat bike

Be Mindful of Cultural Sensitivity:

  • Before we head off to somewhere we’ve never travelled to before, it can be really eye-opening to research the history, geography, politics, religion, customs, and etiquette of the country or region. It also helps us understand the culture, and what to expect as a visitor.
  • We love learning a few basic words or phrases in the local language. We’re often met with big beaming smiles when we attempt (usually very badly) to use what we’ve learned, and it really can make it easier to communicate with locals. Even if it’s just pleases and thank yous. Plus, it impresses our friends at social gatherings!
  • Different cultures have different norms for how to dress in public, especially at religious or cultural sites. Common courtesy makes us follow the local dress code and we will always avoid wearing anything that might be considered offensive, inappropriate, or disrespectful.
  • It can sometimes be difficult to know local customs, which is why you should always check with your booking agent before you travel. Greeting, eating, tipping, and bargaining, can be misinterpreted or insulting. So it’s best to check with someone who knows the etiquette. Believe me, we’ve almost embarrassed ourselves a couple of times!
  • The most important thing to bear in mind is to be open-minded with a willingness to learn from others. If you’re open to new ideas, we know from experience that you’ll have a much better adventure. So give in to your curiosity, and go ahead and ask those burning questions… albeit respectfully. You will likely return home with incredible stories and new perspectives.

Highlight Conservation Projects:

  • Our recommended travel activities have been researched by our team, are ethical and sustainable, and most contribute to the protection and regeneration of nature, or the upliftment of local communities.
  • Whenever a guest books through us, they are helping to support our conservation projects. Earth Legacy Foundation has several projects that aim to empower society to live sustainably and in harmony with nature to conserve the future of biodiversity.
  • It’s such a thrill to participate in citizen science projects that involve collecting data or making observations of nature. Not only do you get a glimpse into the life of a scientist, but you can help researchers and conservationists monitor and understand the ecosystems and wildlife you encounter. We encourage our guests to download the eOceans and iNaturalist apps to their phones before they travel, and upload their nature sightings, which will contribute to global scientific efforts.
  • When we don’t have the time to volunteer or funds to donate to local conservation projects, we do our best to support them by spreading awareness and sharing our experiences. Especially organisations in the areas we visit that are working to safeguard the natural resources and local biodiversity.
Turtle conservation with Earth Legacy Foundation

Engage in Responsible Photography:

  • We always promote the “take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.” principle wherever we go, showing respect for the environment.
  • Out of consideration for local communities, we will ask for permission before taking photos of people. You’ll find many people are thrilled to be photographed when you explain what you plan to do with the photos and show them the results if possible. This is where learning a few keywords or phrases in the local language comes in handy!
  • Africa is home to many iconic and photogenic animals. It can be an adrenaline rush to come across highly sought-after species that you’ve always wanted to photograph. However, we always implore guests never to interact with these animals. This means, no feeding, baiting, or luring them for a better shot, as tempting as it may be. Especially avoid disturbing or damaging their habitats or nests. With the turtle tours, there are specific guidelines in place to avoid impeding the nesting process. You can download our free turtle guide from the Earth Legacy Foundation website.
Guests photographing zebras in Kruger National Park

Share Your Travel Stories

So you’ve gained an understanding of the area you are visiting’s environmental and social challenges. And you’ve visited amazing places that care for the destination and community as much as you do. Last but not least on our top tips list, is to feature your favourite destinations, accommodations, and experiences that have truly embraced sustainability and responsibility. Let others know they are the ones to support.

We know, that curating an itinerary for travel with purpose requires years of experience. As a bespoke destination and tourism agency, we specialise in showcasing unique and unforgettable destinations for guests. We are passionate about discovering extraordinary places, and we want to share that passion with you. Whether you are looking for nature, adventure, culture, or transformation, we have the perfect trip for you that is also good for the planet and the people.

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