Sustainable travel tips for kinder travel
Not all travel is good for the places you visit. Help preserve the wonders of the world by reconsidering your impacts.
As countries reopen their doors to vaccinated travelers, tourism hot spots could soon start to fill up again. But will crowds, lines, and overflowing trash cans still accompany our bucket list items?
There is, at least according to surveys, an appetite for more eco-friendly, equitable travel. 68% of respondents to an American Express survey said they are trying to support sustainable travel brands. First, we need to understand the problems linked to the rising tide of global tourism.
Let’s start with the environmental impacts.
The first issue worth considering is the immense scale of tourism. People take an unsustainable amount of international flights for travel: 1.3 billion in 2017. Aviation is responsible for 2.5% of the world’s carbon footprint. By booking more environmentally friendly options, like a train, you can make a positive change even before leaving your house.
International travelers also produce a lot of waste. In 2018, 6.7 million tons of waste from airline cabins entered landfill. And cruise ships carrying an average of 3,000 passengers dumped about a billion gallons of sewage into the ocean in 2013.
Is sustainable travel the solution?
Sustainable travel rose in response to the problems associated with international tourism.
Ethical travel companies use a variety of buzzwords to outline their environmental and social missions. Here are a few:
Eco-tourism: Hotels or tour companies that prioritize ecological conservation.
Voluntourism: A form of travel where tourists volunteer their labor in exchange for the experience of visiting a unique location.
Green tourism: A term describing small-scale tourism that aims to minimize the negative impacts of the industry.
Off-grid travel: A resource-light type of travel, visiting destinations with self-reliant facilities, such as local renewable energy sources or well water.
Slow travel: Like slow food or fashion, slow travel builds lasting connections to places and locals by spending more time with them.
Local tourism: Take 'international' out of the equation. Local travel gives you a deeper understanding of your own region, and its natural and cultural significance.
The problem is that there are no hard standards for labels like “eco-tourism.” Companies sometimes exploit people’s desire to travel more responsibly, without effectively addressing the problems associated with global tourism.
In general, it helps to plan trips according to environmental, social, and economic criteria, to lessen your negative impact. Here are some tips on being a sustainable traveler.
Eco-friendly tips while traveling
Avoid gas-powered vehicles, including jets, cars, scooters, and motorbikes. Even if they don’t get their energy from renewable sources, electric-powered vehicles still save on energy. Plus, traveling in less common forms of transportation can offer a unique, memorable experience.
In cities and on trails, there are usually lots of human-powered options, from trekking to cycling. If you pack light, you’ll be able to add healthy physical activity into your trip.
Offset unavoidable flights. Airlines contribute more carbon dioxide emissions per trip than any other form of travel, but sometimes flights are an unavoidable. When you offset your carbon footprint with our app, you also offset your travel emissions. That said, offsetting shouldn’t be used as a greenlight to travel as much as you want. We still need to reduce as many emissions as possible.
Never buy products made from wildlife. Whether you’re interested in elephant tusks or sea shells, keep in mind that the biodiversity of a region is one of its greatest assets. When you contribute to the wildlife trade, you put species and their habitats at risk.
Support local conservation efforts. Natural areas like the Great Barrier Reef or the Amazonian Rainforest are list-topping travel destinations. Landmarks like these are suffering incredible loss of life and resilience due to climate change and deforestation. Choose tour operators or activities that support local conservation and responsible travel to natural areas.
Avoid single-use food and drink packaging. When we travel, it’s easy to grab food in packaging and wrappers that can be disposed of easily. But when you refuse the freebies or plastic straws, you’ll minimize the amount of waste that can fill up tourist sites. Pack reusable utensils, fabric napkins, and a refillable water bottle in your day-pack.
Social impact tips for travel
Support local businesses. Whenever you travel, try to book reservations directly with locally owned hotels and guesthouses. By choosing family-owned, local women-owned, indigenous-owned or minority-owned accommodation, restaurants, and tours, you’ll contribute directly to the local culture.
Voluntourism is another way forward. Every year, thousands of international volunteers see new parts of the world while giving something back to the local community. WWOOF is a well-known voluntourism program, facilitating work and lodging at organic farms worldwide.
Learn local customs, history, and news before traveling. International travel takes you places where the customs and lifestyles of locals can differ greatly from your home. Prepare for your trip by researching the location you’re traveling to. Read the local customs around dining, beliefs, families, and holidays before you travel. Learn a few phrases in the local language.
Browse a Wikipedia page for an overview of some major historical events of the country and region. Check the local news, too, as some places have local dynamics that don’t always make international news.
In general, these tips help you travel deep, not wide. When we practice empathy during travel, it makes our experience better, helping us build durable connections to the places we visit.
Avoid crowds and travel off-season when possible. With traveling becoming cheaper and more accessible, crowds at tourist locations worldwide have intensified. This causes “overtourism,” a word coined to describe tourism activities that, en masse, can harm natural and cultural sites in an area. This not only degrades the sites, it impacts locals and diminishes visitors’ experience.
One solution is traveling to local, lesser-known sites. Your personal interests such as history, food, or geography can guide you and animate your surroundings. When you travel off-season, it also helps distribute funds to destinations all year round.
Research sustainable travel companies before traveling, checking if they adhere to sustainable business practices.
EarthCheck is a non-profit that certifies travel and tourism businesses.
Friends of the Earth published a report card for cruise ships.
The World Tourism Organization, run by the UN, is the world’s authority on responsible tourism.
The Long Run is a non-profit that assesses and lists resorts based on the criteria of conservation, community, culture, and commerce.
Purchase souvenirs that are handmade from locally and ethically sourced materials. You’d be surprised how many of the trinkets sold in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar are produced in China. Shop around to meet the artisans and buy local, traditional goods.
Diversify your spending across different businesses and tour operators. You can benefit more local people by spreading your money across a variety of vendors.
Consider where you spend the night. Short-term rental apps like AirBnb are a popular and convenient way to visit local homes, but they can have a negative impact on the local rental market. Consider staying in established guesthouses or vacation homes that are properly zoned and regulated for the tourism industry. Here are some accommodation options that protect the environment and cut your carbon footprint.
Every time we travel, shop, and eat, we have an environmental impact. Now we all can return the favor to the planet when we offset our emissions with Klima.