Conscious Americans are often concerned about how to be responsible tourists in some of the most heavily-traveled places in the world. It’s true that tourism can make or break a local way of life. Which is why we’re offering you a few key ways that you can travel responsibly in Spain and Portugal.

Responsible travel is not about blending in or avoiding museums. It’s about being aware of your surroundings, caring for the local environment, and giving more than you take. That’s how these treasured places keep their magic, and locals keep creating the unique cultures we have the privilege of experiencing.

Travel in Off Season  spain town in catalonia in winter

Most areas of Spain and Portugal are highly seasonal. Which means an average town could experience an overwhelming influx of visitors in July, but seem more like a ghost town in February. Traveling in low season offsets the unbalanced cash flow in restaurants and hotels, and helps out local guides who are often working nonstop one month and scraping by the next. It also gives you the opportunity to see how folks live and work in their normal lives. You’ll avoid the crowds and save a good amount of money in the process.

Take Public Transportation

train station portugal

Opting for public transportation instead of a car is a great way to practice sustainable and responsible tourism. Most major cities are a total nightmare with a vehicle, so riding the bus or metro is a no-brainer. But when it comes to getting from one city to another, trains are an excellent eco-friendly option. Spain in particular has a fantastic and comfortable railway system, with high-speed train travel connecting most of its major cities and normal trains connecting smaller ones.

Choose Eco-Friendly Accommodations

eco friendly hotel in portugal

All sorts of new hotels are popping up around Spain and Portugal, with sustainable practices built right into their business model. They’re using clean energy, producing less waste, and saving water. Some are even opting for more plant-based options in their dining facilities or sourcing hyper-local ingredients. Offset your carbon footprint and look for eco-friendly accommodations.

Try to Speak the Language

person writing and studying language

Our clients often ask if it’s better to try and speak the local language, or simply resort to English. We always encourage people to try! Whether you’re fluent or barely remember how to count to three from your high school Spanish class, a little goes a long way to show locals you’re adaptive and recognize you’re on their turf. If they speak back to you in English, don’t sweat it and go with the flow. They’re just trying to be accommodating! If you don’t know a lick of Spanish or Portuguese, try taking a language immersion class before your trip. And if that’s not in the cards, the Duolingo app is a great way to get down some basics. Even memorizing a few key phrases and greetings is a true courtesy.

Be Kind to Service Workers

woman ordering food at restaurant

Much like a “muchas gracias,” a little kindness goes a long way. As a tourist, so many of your interactions are likely to be with service workers in restaurants, hotels, tours, etc. These hardworking people are the heartbeat of these countries’ biggest cities and smallest towns. Even if you’re having one of those stressful travel moments (yes, they do happen!) do your best to treat people with kindness and respect. A smile, a sincere thank you, and a bit of patience is one of the best ways to travel responsibly in Spain and Portugal. And it will also make your trip more enjoyable.

Eat Local Food

casa paca restaurant in salamanca

Skip the Starbucks and McDonalds and eat local dishes at locally-owned restaurants. Eating locally is a key way to travel responsibly in Spain and Portugal for a few reasons. You’ll get an inside look at how people in different parts of the world approach food (there’s always a lot of history involved!), you’ll contribute to the local economy, and you’ll eat far better. Spain and Portugal are very regional countries, meaning the gastronomy changes drastically from one area to the next. Find out what the local dishes and drinks are and look for those. Insider tip: Only eat paella in Valencia.

Book Private Tours

woman walking in Barcelona under arch

While big group tours may be more economical, small or private tours help manage foot traffic and keep a calm, quiet, local vibe, especially in big cities. In Seville, for example, there are actual legal limits on group tour sizes. Additionally, large tour companies are often owned by folks outside of the countries in which they operate. Hire a private local guide and you’ll not only get a far more unique experience (and probably see some off-the-beaten-path gems), you’ll keep more money in local pockets and keep the peace.

Yes, You Should Tip

euro cash

While it’s true that tipping culture is different in Spain and Portugal than it is in the U.S., tipping is a great way to show your appreciation for services. Keep in mind that the average annual salary in Spain in 2018 was 29,994€ and 18,236€ in Portugal (before tax), and tourism can inflate housing costs for locals. Leave a few extra euros at dinner, some cash on your nightstand for hotel housekeeping, and generous tips for all of your tour guides.

Buy from Local Artisans

man throwing pottery in portugal

Skip the gimmicky tourist stores (where most of the stuff is made overseas) and look for small artisan shops selling local products like handmade ceramics, jewelry, or textiles. You can even check out small art galleries to decorate your home and office, or wine shops for local bottles and preserved snacks. Flea markets are also great spots to get funky local goods.

Give Back

man cleaning out river

A great way to travel responsibly in Spain and Portugal is to give back. Look for local community organizations and non-profits, and donate or volunteer your time while traveling. If you need a few options, we’ll be happy to suggest some close to our hearts.

Use a Local Travel Designer

For an insider experiences, access to locals, and a responsible mindset, hire a local, on-the-ground travel planner to design your itinerary. Folks like us at Spain Savvy are living where we work, which means we care deeply about what happens to our local economies and social systems. We design all of our itineraries with local preservation in mind, which means you can trust you’re traveling responsibly in Spain and Portugal. To get started on your tailor-made itinerary, reach out to us here.