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 the world starts to reopen its doors to vaccinated travelers, tourism hot spots could soon start to fill up again. Will crowds, lines, and overflowing trash cans still accompany our bucket list items?
Surveys reveal people’s desire to travel in a more eco-friendly, equitable way. Sixty-eight percent of respondents to an American Express survey said they are trying to support sustainable travel brands.
If we want to travel sustainably, first we need to understand the problems linked to the rising tide of global tourism.
What’s wrong with international 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.
However, 80% of the world’s population has never taken a flight. Anyone who travels by air can definitely make an impact by choosing alternative transportation options.
International travelers also produce a lot of waste. In 2018, 6.7 million tons of waste from airline cabins filled landfills. Cruise ships carrying an average of 3,000 passengers dumped roughly a billion gallons of sewage into the ocean in 2013.
Is sustainable travel the solution?
Sustainable travel arose in response to the problems associated with international tourism.
Ethical travel companies use a variety of marketing buzzwords to indicate their environmental and social missions. Here are a few:
Eco-tourism: Hotels or tour companies that prioritize ecological conservation as part of their mission.
Voluntourism: A form of travel in which tourists spend time providing humanitarian aid or other forms of work in exchange for the experience of visiting a unique location.
Off-grid travel: People visit destinations that use facilities and equipment that can be powered through self-reliance such as local renewable energy sources, well water, and other forms of lowering visitors’ use of natural resources.
Slow travel: Similar to the slow food movement, slow travel prioritizes building lasting connections to places and the people who live there by spending more time with them.
Local tourism: Take the international travel piece out of the equation. Local travel helps you gain a deeper understanding of your own region and its natural and cultural significance.
The problem with some of these labels is that there are no clear standards for phrases 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 a set of environmental, social, and economic criteria, so that you can measurably lessen your negative impacts. Here are some tips on how to be a sustainable traveler.
Eco-friendly tips while traveling
Avoid gas-powered vehicles
This includes 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.
It can also mean substituting shorter, local trips for longer international trips that require flights. In cities and on trails, there are usually lots of human-powered mobility 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 part of your travel plans. No flight-shaming can stop you.
When you offset your carbon footprint with our Klima 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 much 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
We often travel to witness the natural beauty of destinations like the Great Barrier Reef or the Amazonian Rainforest. Unfortunately, many famous landmarks are suffering incredible losses of life and resilience due to climate change and deforestation. Choose tour operators or activities that support local conservation initiatives.
Avoid single-use food and drink packaging
When we travel, it’s incredibly easy to want to take food to go in packaging and wrappers that can be disposed of easily. But when you refuse the freebies or plastic straws that come with your plate of food, 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 direct reservations to locally owned and operated hotels and guesthouses. By choosing family-owned, local women-owned, indigenous-owned or minority-owned artisans, restaurants, and tours, you’ll contribute directly to the local economy and improve the welfare of the people living there. A popular way to work and lodge at local organic farms while you travel is by booking stays through the organization WWOOF.
Learn local customs, history, and news before traveling
International travel takes you to places where the customs and lifestyles of locals can differ greatly from your home. Prepare for your trip by reading about the location you’re traveling to. Read about the local customs related to 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, since some places have local dynamics that don’t always make it onto international news sites.
In general these tips are to help you travel deep, not wide. When we practice empathy during travel, it makes our experience more memorable and it can help us build longer lasting connections to the places we visit.
Avoid crowds and travel off-season when possible
Crowds have intensified at popular tourist locations in recent years, because the number of tourists able to travel worldwide has increased. This causes “overtourism,” a word coined to describe how allowing too many visitors can harm and degrade the nature and cultural sites in an area. This not only degrades the sites, it impacts locals and diminishes visitors’ experience.
One way around this dilemma is to travel to local, lesser-known sites. Your personal interests such as history, food, or geography can guide your visit and make places come to life. When you travel off-season, it also helps distribute funds to destinations year-round.
Research sustainable travel companies
Before choosing a vendor, research how well tourism companies 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 Long Run is a non-profit that assesses and lists resorts based on the criteria of conservation, community, culture, and commerce.
B Corp is a general certification for businesses to report and benchmark their progress on a number of social, environmental, and economic sustainability criteria.
Purchase souvenirs that are handmade from locally and ethically sourced materials
You’d be surprised by 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 to 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 local rental market rates. 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.