Guide to Sustainable Travel
Earth’s an adventure for travellers. Only here can explorers go snorkelling in crystal clear waters, breathe fresh air while camping in the mountains, enjoy the beauty of four seasons, and discover cultures different from your own. It’s true that tourism allows people to experience these activities, but like with any classic catch-22, it’s also putting these magical wonders at risk. Many have witnessed this occurrence, either first-hand or online. From smoggy skylines to massive bleaching at the Great Barrier Reef, the consequences of human actions are visible to any who dare to look. Smart travellers have begun to take action of their own. By choosing to travel sustainably, you’ve taken a step towards preserving the beauty of Earth.
What Does It Mean to Travel Sustainably? And, Why Travellers Should
Anyone who’s ever been on a hiking trail has likely seen a sign that reads “Leave No Trace”. The same mantra is used for sustainable travel. A tourist’s goal should be to minimise the negative impacts your exploring has on the environment and area you’re visiting. To do so, one must educate themselves: on how travel affects the planet, and what the key princes of sustainability are. Before boarding, people should know that cruise ships are generating waste streams, damaging the marine environment. Travellers should know local taxes in popular small communities are being increased to supply the demand generated by tourism. Luckily, it’s not all bad.
According to Sustainable Travel International, “Because it’s among the world’s largest industries, tourism has the potential to alleviate poverty, hunger, gender inequality and environmental degradation in the world’s most vulnerable regions. But, that takes vision, collaboration, and a collective road map so that all the relevant players—including government ministries, businesses and community leaders and travelers—have a clear path toward change.”
Three Pillars of Sustainability
There are key principles to evoke the change that’s needed, known as the three pillars of sustainability.
- Environmental – focuses on reducing any negative impacts on wildlife and the environment caused by tourism. Minimising carbon footprints, opting for reusable, and hiring responsible tour operators are all considered eco-friendly.
- Social – concentrates on creating a positive impact on the ventured communities. To do so, you would support local businesses that are run by and hire locals. This includes community tourism projects and charities. Travellers can easily research reputable businesses online before any trips.
- Economic – traditionally refers to business being profitable so it can be sustainable. Consumers like you can help by purchasing from local run businesses. These contributions will have a positive effect on the local community’s economy.
Tips on How to Be a Sustainable Traveller
Sustainable travel is a crossover between responsible travel, eco-tourism, and green travel. Each value the idea of travelling consciously to protect and preserve the planet we love to explore. While travellers can’t solve the problem completely, you’re creating a positive impact when you choose sustainably, and you’re encouraging others to do the same. Here are some tips on how to be a sustainable traveller:
- Eco-Friendly Travel Method - When choosing your method of travel, pick the eco-friendliest transportation to minimise your carbon footprint. It’s known that travelling by train or bus is usually more sustainable than flying or driving, but that could differ depending on the destination. Those who are going with a group could consider carpooling in an eco-friendly car. If you’re travelling alone, there are green airlines focused on improving carbon emissions.
- Direct Flights - Take direct flights whenever possible to lessen the emissions emitted during take-off and landing. This is when most are released, therefore damaging the environment more. By opting for a direct flight over one with a change.
- Fly Economy - Choosing to fly economy doesn’t only help you save money, but it helps preserve the planet. While Business and First Class may give ticketholders more space per passenger, it also impacts the environment more negatively. That extra space can result in 5x larger carbon footprint.
- Local Sustainable Transportation Methods - Upon arrival, use the local community’s most sustainable transportation. This usually means travelling by foot or bicycle. When you need to go further than your legs can carry you, consider an eco-friendly carpool or local bus.
- Slow Travelling - Travel Slow to find an array of benefits. These are the people who tend to stay for longer than a month and live as the locals do. Flying less often, funding the locally run businesses, and leaving no trace can yield positive results. Not to mention, travelers who go this route are more like to honour all three of the sustainable pillars.
- Locally Owned Accommodations - Stay at a locally owned accommodation for overnight or slow travel stays. These would include an Airbnb, a Bed and Breakfast, or another local option. Before booking your stay, research the company for information on the business owners. This will ensure the money is going back into the local community and not a foreign company.
- Eco-Friendly Hotels - Choose to stay at an eco-friendly hotel. You can check their websites for green certificates to verify that the hotel is taking steps towards sustainability. They should have solar power, recycling, have gone plastic free, sources their food locally, employee locals, and so on. Do your research. Unfortunately, there are accommodations masquerading around as eco-friendly; when in fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
- Avoid Larger Resorts - Travellers should avoid large resorts. The high consumption of water and energy in these hotels have negative impacts on the environment. From washing the bedding and towels daily to building over natural habitats, they leave their mark.
- Skip All-Inclusive - While avoiding large resorts, travellers should also be wary of all-inclusive accommodations. Choosing to pay upfront may seem like a budget effective tool or a smart choice, but it renders your chances of sustainable travel. When you could be out exploring and investing in the local community, you wind up staying on the resort the entire time. As these are typically foreign-owned hotels, the local economy is negatively impacted.
- Camp - When you can, go camping! People who enjoy the outdoors will love camping in the natural beauty of your destination more than any hotel. Stay at a National Park, permit-camp off the grid, or find a local owner who rents out space. Travellers can find eco-friendly camping gear and hacks online to ensure you’re helping the environment, not hurting it.
3. Green Activities
- Green Accredited Tour - Only hire eco-friendly tour operators. A smart traveller does their research before booking a tour. You’ll want to look for green accreditation's on their website. GSTC, Green Globe, EarthCheck, and Rainforest Alliance are some of the approved endorsements. Be wary of companies pretending to be eco-friendly. Another place to check out the tour operator before is by reading reviews. Often, these can shed light on the company itself.
- Responsible Wildlife Tours - Travellers should way choose a responsible wildlife tour. When you see someone getting up close and personal with a wild animal during a tour, that usually means it’s not sustainable. A responsible wildlife tour will get you close enough to see without disturbing their natural habitat. While you may not be able to pet a monkey, you will be able to protect its home.
- Swim Carefully - When you dive in the water, swim responsibly. The marine environment is fragile and should be respected. Choose a reef-friendly sunblock, avoid damaging coral, go in smaller groups to avoid overcrowding, and never feed the fish. Your choices have an impact on sea life and the world around you.
4. Sustainable Volunteering
- NGOs - Volunteer with NGOs and other sustainable organizations. NGO’s (non-government organizations) give travellers an opportunity to volunteer abroad, gain experience, and learn about the local culture. Non-profits like WWOOF also offer people the chance to work on organic farms to promote educational and cultural experiences.
- Local Community Tourism Project -To help more, you can join a community tourism project. These are focused on helping bring more tourism in to fund the local businesses and community. Their plans are based on the cultural beliefs and natural resources available. The locals have a significant role in creating and executing the project, but there are volunteer opportunities for travellers.
5. Eat Local and Eat Smart
- Dine Local - While experiencing the community, dine at a locally owned restaurant. Not only does this help the economy, but there’s a good chance you’ll make a new friend out of the owner. Don’t let the international chains hold you back when there are better tasting options around the corner.
- Taste Local Cuisines - Take a taste of the culture and eat local cuisine. The ingredients are usually locally sourced and organic, which means it’s better for your health too!
- Street Food - Find a food truck that you like. The locals running these cook up homemade dishes that you’re not going to get anywhere else. If you’re afraid of eating street food, don’t be. As long as they’re practising sanitary practices, you’ll be happy you stopped for a bite.
- Buy Local Produce - When you go shopping for food, purchase from local farmers. You can easily find farmer’s markets or local producers that sell fresh fruits and vegetable in most areas. Not to mention, importing food to local chains and stores causes carbon emission. One of the very things we’re trying to reduce.
6. Shop Sustainably
- Locally Created Gifts - Purchase a souvenir made by a local to remember your trip. To reduce our carbon footprint, travellers should avoid buying gifts that have been imported. Not only that, but it helps fund a local business and economy.
- Ethical Fashion - Another smart way to shop is to avoid purchasing clothes from unethical companies. Always research where you shop to make sure they pay fairly and practice safe labour. You can always purchase clothes from locals in the area for an authentic wardrobe. When you’re done with an outfit, consider donating gently used items to a good cause.
7. Eco-Friendly Packing
- Travel Light - One easy way to travel eco-friendly is to pack light. The weight of the luggage impacts the carbon footprint. Plan well ahead of time and pack only the necessities. Many accommodations already supply some of the items you’ll travel with, like a blow dryer. Do your research and ask yourself, “Do I really need this?”
- Pack Eco-Friendly - Make sure to pack eco-friendly essentials in your luggage. This would include items like a reusable water bottle, lunchbox, natural deodorants, and safe sunscreen. By doing this, you’re reducing plastic, eliminating unnecessary garbage, and avoiding toxic chemicals.
As of right now, tourism relies on burning fossil fuels. This contributes to global warming and puts our world at risk. To make matters worse, not every visitor is travelling with the environment in mind. If there isn’t a global change, the world may not survive. That’s why it’s imperative travellers spread awareness and encourage others to do the same. To get the local governments involved is crucial. Luckily, tourism plays a significant role in funding the economy. Which mean that the more demand for eco-friendly experiences, the more the government will notice. Travellers should always be aware of the impact their travelling has.
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