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Sustainable Travel

15 Essential Sustainable Tips for Filipino Travelers

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Traveling and caring for the environment often goes hand in hand. When you’re exposed to the wonders of nature, it’s hard not to feel responsibility for how much ecological footprints you are leaving behind. Here we’re listing sustainable tips for Filipino travelers.

Sustainable tourism in the Philippines

Over the years, I’ve traveled a lot in the country and I’ve seen the good and bad when it comes to sustainability. I’ve been on islands where locals simply throw their trash in the sea. On the other hand, I’ve also visited tourist attractions like Kalanggaman Island and Boracay, which are being developed toward a more sustainable future.

Currently, our country still has a long way to go. For instance, a study done in 2022 shows that the Philippines is the third largest contributor of plastics worldwide, owing largely to its sachet economy. As individuals, there is a lot of ways we can contribute to promote sustainability whenever we travel.

Sustainable tips for Filipino travelers

Here are sustainable tips for Filipino travelers that you can take in mind when you travel.

1. Bring your own reusable items

The Philippines is a large contributor to the use of plastic, most of which ends up in the ocean. One of the easiest ways you can help with this issue is by bringing your own reusable water bottle instead of purchasing individual plastic water bottles. You can refill your bottle in restaurants and hotels.

Sustainable reusable straws
Metallic and bamboo reusable straws.

Here’s a list of essential reusables you should consider:

  • Travel bottle. Good brands like AquaFlask will make sure that you are properly hydrated wherever you go and can also help keep the temperature of your drink. For serious backpackers, a water bottle with filter is helpful because it can be used in places with dubious water sources.
  • Food containers and cutlery. There are a lot of options for food boxes and cutlery. If you’re worried about space, there are foldable sporks and collapsible food containers that you can easily tuck inside your bag.
  • Reusable straw. In some places, plastic straws are already banned. So having one in you is not only helpful to the environment but practical as well. Here’s a review of Anything Eco reusable straws.
  • Tote bag. A tote bag is particularly helpful if you plan on buying souvenirs or other take-outs. This will help you avoid accumulating individual plastic bags for your purchases.
  • Sanitary products. Most Filipinas grow up using disposable sanitary pads. Try switching it with a silicone sanitary cup or cloth bamboo pads, which can be reused for a long time.

2. Get a reef-friendly sunblock

Eco-friendly sunscreen - gifst for travelers
(Photo by Human Nature)

Another easy way to be a responsible traveler is to be conscious on how the items we use affect the environment. Did you know that regular sunblock has ingredients that are toxic to fishes and corals? In some places such as the Juag Lagoon Marine Sanctuary in Sorsogon, visitors are not allowed to get in the water if they are wearing any sunblock.

Human Nature’s SafeProtect is a reef-friendly sunblock that uses natural ingredients and doesn’t harm marine life. They have a variant for kids as well.

3. Invest in an essential wardrobe

While we support the trend of showing off your OOTDs, it’s important to note that fast fashion is actually one of the biggest contributors of pollution around the world. So instead of buying the latest trendy item you’ve seen in Tiktok, consider building an essential wardrobe that consists of high-quality pieces that you can use for a long time.

For an essential wardrobe, it’s best to choose clothes that are:

  • In neutral colors, as they never go out of style;
  • Made from natural fabrics, such as cotton and linen. These are comfortable, breathable, and perfect for the weather in the Philippines;
  • Easy to wash and dry;
  • Built to last.

You can also try thrift-shopping from ukay-ukay stores or online platforms such as Carousell.

4. Check out small local businesses

It’s easy to avail everything from chain hotels and resorts — and there’s no shaming here, if that’s the type of traveling that suits you, that’s totally fine. But it’s still a good practice to balance things out by supporting small local businesses, including homestays, restaurants, and tours.

Another thing that you can do for a local business is to recommend them to friends especially if you’re happy with their products/services.

Lastly, please pay for local services reasonably! One thing that I noticed is that some local tourists keep on asking for free stuff or haggling down to the point where the local vendor barely makes even. If you are on a trip, you should have enough money to pay for things. Remember that what is merely change for you is someone else’s income.

5. Do not touch or step on the corals

The Philippines is blessed to have a lot of snorkeling and diving spots. Making sure that tourists act responsibly thus becomes an issue.

When you’re swimming, snorkeling, or diving, just look at and appreciate the corals and its marine inhabitants. Don’t touch or step on the corals. Don’t collect or take home sea shells from the beaches. Don’t pick up starfishes for selfies.

Snorkeling in Apo Reef, Mindoro

6. Support animal-friendly activities

We already know that a lot of popular attractions are harmful to the animals. This includes the elephant rirdes in Thailand, marine parks such as Sea World, and picture taking with tigers which is done in different parts of the world.

In the Philippines, there are also similar activities that you should be wary about. One notable example is whale shark watching in Oslob, Cebu. Here the whale sharks are regularly fed by the locals. This results in malnourishment, physical harm, and finally change in their migration pattern, which is essential for breeding.

Even though it is still allowed, you have the option to not engage in this type of tourism. You can also educate others about it. Lastly, you can look for alternatives where you can safely observe wildlife in the distance. The whale shark activity in Donsol, Sorsogon, is a better alternative as you only see the whale sharks in the wild and they are allowed to continue on their way. This makes the activity seasonal and sighting not guaranteed, but also a more respectful approach to seeing the gentle giants.

Whale shark in Donsol, Sorsogon
(Photo by Ironwolf En Route)

7. Stay in eco-friendly accommodations

What is an eco-friendly hotel? Essentially, it’s one that significantly reduces its carbon footprint through various ways. This includes using local and sustainable materials for their facilities and furniture, using energy-saving systems such as efficient lighting and low-pressure water installations, supporting the local community by partnering with local businesses, among others.

You can find different eco-friendly accommodations in the Philippines, from homestays to boutique stays and even hotel chains.

8. Keep up sustainable habits at your hotel

It’s easy to forget about our carbon footprint when we’re in a leisure trip and staying in a hotel or resort. One advice that I’ve read is to treat your hotel room like your home. This means turning off the lights and aircon when you’re not inside, turning the faucet off when not in use, and drying your towels instead of asking for a fresh one daily.

Kat in Mandala Resort Boracay

9. Explore ecotourism sites

The Philippines has a lot of ecotourism sites that you can visit. These sites support local communities, employs sustainable practices towards the environment, and oftentimes offer meaningful travel experiences that you won’t forget!

Some of the ecotourism sites and attractions you should visit:

  • Masungi Georeserve, Rizal. This georeserve features an adventure trail where you can observe rock formations, wildlife, and plant species.
  • Danjugan Island, Negros Occidental. A land and marine sanctuary that promotes biodiversity and offers activities such as snorkeling and diving.
  • Once Islas, Zamboanga. Join an island hopping tour for a fun tropical and eco-cultural experience.
  • Buhatan River Cruise in Sorsogon. A river cruise where you can relax and sample local delicacies, managed by the local community.
  • Pawikan Festival in Morong, Bataan. Held in November each year, here you can join the festivities and see hatchlings being released back to sea.
Buhatan River Cruise in Sorsogon
Floating cabana in Buhatan River.

10. Respect the local customs

If you’re traveling in an unfamiliar destination (whether it’s local or international), it’s always a good idea to read up on the local laws, culture, and customs. This will save you from committing social faux pas, offending people, or even making mistakes that may cost you money.

Tattooing by Apo Whang-od
Getting tattooed by Apo Whang-od.

For example, if you’re visiting a Muslim community, it’s best to read up on what clothing is acceptable and what items is allowed to be brought in (e.g., pork products are usually not allowed). Also, as a general rule, you should ask permission before taking pictures of people, especially when it comes to the indigenous community.

11. Visit alternative tourist attractions

Prior to the pandemic, there are a lot of popular tourist attractions that are suffering from overtourism. Historic sites and cities, beaches, and other places are being overrun by tourists. In regard of this issue, one thing that you can do is to seek alternative locations to visit.

For example, instead of heading to Boracay for a tropical vacation, why not stay in the beaches of Romblon or Antique?

This will help ease the burden of overvisited attractions and also help spread out the money to other local communities. Oftentimes, this type of travel is also more meaningful and authentic, compared to visiting the same places everyone else is going to, waiting in line because of huge crowds, and having a disappointing expectation-vs-reality experience.

If you decide to stay in a crowded tourist attraction, consider scheduling your visit during off-peak season instead.

12. Join local clean-ups

You can be more pro-active by participating in local clean-ups. There are NGOs that you can get in touch with, including LAMAVE and Balyena. Some hotels and resorts also conduct regular clean-ups especially in coastal areas.

If you can’t join any of these, you can also do your own part by picking up bits and pieces of trash where you go or collecting plastics under the ocean during dives.

13. Buy locally made pasalubong

Who knew that a simple act of buying pasalubong can also be considered a sustainable practice?

Every time you’re shopping locally for clothing, footwear, home furniture, arts and crafts, you’ll be supporting the local culture and livelihood of many Filipinos. This includes our local weavers, artists, cooks, and more.

Traditional weaving in Yakan Village in Zamboanga City
Traditional weaving at Yakan Weaving Village.

Some of my favorite pasalubongs from the Philippines are yakan woven products from Zamboanga, Inabel tops and towels, and food like durian pastillas from Davao, calamay from Bohol, and ube jam from Baguio or Tagaytay.

14. Use your platforms to promote sustainability

The key to sustainable tourism is education. You don’t have to be a content creator or influencer to promote this — as long as you have an online presence and an audience, you’re good to go! Promote ecofriendly attractions, local guides and businesses, and encourage your friends to buy local products.

15. Enjoy the journey

If you’re just starting to practice sustainable traveling, it may feel overwhelming! You may realize that there’s so much you need to change about the way you travel. At one point, it may even feel like a chore.

So my advice is to take a deep breathe and relax. Take things one at a time. Remember that even a minor change like keeping your own reusable travel bottle at all times can make a difference in the long run!

Some advice may not apply to you as well and for me there’s no need to feel guilty about that. For example, a common sustainable tip is to use public transport instead of private cars, but the public transport here in the Philippines is a mess that personally I would prefer a private transport if available. It’s important to look at your circumstances as well before committing to a change.

And lastly, don’t forget to have fun during your trip!

Here’s our list of sustainable tips for Filipino travelers. Do you have more sustainable travel tips you can share with fellow Filipinos? 🙂

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10 Comments

  • HsinYu

    Great ideas! And here is also an easy way to care about our planet while traveling! For every booking that originates on bedandtree.com, one tree is being planted – without any charge to the user. Cooperation partners include the world’s largest booking platforms, such as Booking, Skyscanner, Expedia, TripAdvisor etc, hence you can plant trees when booking hotels, flights, cruises, rental cars etc.

    It doesn’t cost you a single Cent, just one click of your mouse:)

  • Blair villanueva

    Philippines have lots of potential to offer sustainable tourism just like in Thailand and other countries. It’s all start on discipline and being mindful to our actions and surroundings.

  • Gel Jose

    I recall someone telling me that the mantra for travelers is “Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but memories.” I guess we as travelers have to take into account how we affect the places we travel to. If we don’t keep ourselves in check, many of the charms of our favorite travel spots will not last.

  • Wendy

    I let my sons bring their own water bottle whenever we go out. so even if we eat in fast food restaurants, I just buy them the actual meal and not a set meal. 1) soda isn’t good for them 2) we reduce the need for paper/plastic cups… in restaurants where they are allowed to buy drinks, they don’t ask for straws. just drink up the way we always do before the world knew about straws (plastic, bamboo or metal).

    i am intrigued by the Masungi REserve in Rizal sinve my cousin showed me her photos in thos exciting ropes. hopefully when my sons are bigger we can do the same.

  • Yin

    Thank you for being informative without being judgemental in this piece. I’m encouraged to take a more active part in caring for PH and the environment in general when I travel. One sustainable travel tip I can share is to practice cultural sensitivity. Being more aware of locals’ customs and your actions makes tourism less intrusive and also create memorable learning experiences for both the traveler and local.

    • Katherine Cortes

      Thanks for saying that. I tried to keep this guide as positive as possible because when the environment is the topic the mood tends to be on the gloomy side and, with the finger pointing, people get defensive and un-receptive. I want to show that we still have time & resources to make change.

      Also thanks for the added tip!

  • Karla Niña Mallannao

    Oooh. Now ko lang nalaman yung tungkol sa coral-friendly sunblock. Will consider yung sa Human Nature next time.

  • Charlyn June

    I love how you focused on being eco-friendly here in your blog post. We also have a set of those reusable straws pero lagi kong nakakalimutan dalhin. Might as well buy another set na laging nasa bag lang din. 🙂

    • Katherine Cortes

      That happens to us too with our reusable bag and we have a few already. We use it (for grocery shopping usually) then take it out and forget to put it back in my shoulder bag.

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