With climate change being one of the biggest, if not the biggest, threats to civilisation, we seriously need to rethink how we move through the world. Sustainable travel is a responsible way of exploring the world that aims to minimise the negative effects of tourism while maximising its positive impact on local communities, cultures, and the environment.
This type of travel takes into account both the short-term and long-term effects of tourism, ensuring that future generations can also enjoy the beauty and diversity of our planet. By choosing sustainable travel options, we can all play a part in creating a better world for ourselves and for future generations.
If you plan on heading out on an adventure, we have some useful tips to help you understand everything there is to know about being an eco-friendly, conscious consumer, everywhere you go.
Shop and Stay Local
Even more so now than ever, it’s getting harder and harder for local businesses to stay afloat. With rising costs of living, the global pandemic and an increasing number of people below the poverty line, as travellers, we have a responsibility to invest locally wherever we can. Just one of the ways in which you can do this while travelling is by giving the big chain hotels and luxury accommodations a miss and choosing to support locally-owned accommodations instead, like a motel or a house share.
The great thing about staying in these places is that you tend to get a much higher level of hospitality and develop a more personal connection with your hosts, many of which will know all the best spots to check out. And if you’re really lucky, they might even give you a tour themselves!
Another way could be to try some of the best local restaurants, rather than the big chains, or buy souvenirs from community creatives and markets. This not only supports the local economy, but it also helps to preserve the local culture and traditions. Plus, authentic experiences are always so much more special! If you’re extra proactive, you could even consider volunteering with local organisations or participating in community-based tourism activities to give back to the communities you are visiting.
Avoid Single-use Plastics
We’ve all heard it before, single-use plastics such as straws, water bottles, and plastic bags, are a major contributor to environmental pollution. They can end up in waterways, cause severe harm to wildlife, and take forever, if ever at all, to decompose. Single-use plastics wreak havoc on the environment, and if you wouldn’t use them in your country, you definitely shouldn’t be using them in places you have the privilege of visiting.
To avoid contributing to plastic pollution, one of the easiest things you can do when travelling is to bring your own reusable water bottle and refill it – rather than buying plastic bottles you’re going to chuck out as soon as you’re done with them. Another way to use plastic alternatives is to bring your own reusable bags for shopping and avoid using plastic bags, as well as bring your own reusable straw if you absolutely need it.
While the amount of plastic production and use is pretty diabolical in many countries, undeveloped countries can suffer a whole lot more – a result of the lack of infrastructure available to support the sorting and recycling of materials, or finding a purpose for them. If we all do our bit to reduce that amount of plastic waste when we travel to different places, we’ll be taking a massive amount of pressure off those communities.
Use Efficient Modes of Transportation
Ultimately, one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions globally is transportation. To combat the damage caused by these types of carbon emissions when travelling, it’s always a good idea to choose more environmentally responsible options such as trains, buses, bicycles or walking wherever you can. Most countries have these modes of transportation readily available, while some in particular – like Denmark or the Netherlands – have so many bicycles it would seem as though there were more of them than people.
Ride-sharing or using vehicles that don’t emit harmful toxins into the air is a big win for the environment, and you’ll also get to see a whole lot more from your seat. If flying is necessary to your travel plans, try to book non-stop flights and choose airlines that have a strong commitment to sustainability.
Nowadays, in a bid to make flying more eco-friendly, many airlines offer the opportunity to offset your carbon footprint when you purchase tickets. This is generally only a small amount on top of the cost of your ticket and goes a long way to making flying more sustainable. Even better still, you could purchase carbon credits to offset unavoidable carbon emissions by investing in projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. From ecosystem protection initiatives to the installation of energy-efficient technology, you can do your bit by purchasing credits and taking responsibility for your carbon footprint.
Get off the Beaten Path
You may or may not have heard of the term “overtourism” – it’s pretty self-explanatory. With historic landmarks, wonders of the world, and the most Instagrammable places on offer when travelling, many places have felt the environmental, economic and cultural impacts of having too many visitors in one place. If you don’t want to further contribute to this damage, it’s definitely worth visiting some lesser-known destinations that might not show up in the top 10 search results on Google.
Doing things outside of the box not only helps to reduce overtourism in popular destinations, but it also allows you to support local communities that may not receive as much tourism when they need it most. Consider visiting small towns, rural areas, or eco-tourism destinations that prioritise sustainability and conservation. You may be surprised at the unique experiences and connections you can make by venturing off the typical tourist trail.
Believe it or not, the third or fourth page on your Google search can be home to some serious hidden gems. Whether it’s an activity or natural spring nestled in the woods or an overnight island adventure where you’ll be served fresh, locally sourced ingredients for breakfast every morning, there are plenty of places full of culture and excitement just waiting to be discovered.
Conserve Water and Energy
If you’ve done a bit of travel before, you will have noticed that accommodation providers are increasingly making changes to ensure that they are saving on water and energy while you stay. A common example is that they suggest guests reuse their towels and linen for several days as opposed to having newly washed items daily. As a rule, it’s always a good option to turn off lights and electronics to conserve energy when you’re not using the room or they don’t need to be used while you’re in the accommodation.
Plus, taking shorter showers and turning off the tap while brushing your teeth can also make a big impact on saving power. There are also a whole lot of options out there when it comes to staying in eco-friendly accommodations that use renewable energy sources and have water-saving measures in place. A quick Google will show you plenty of options!
When it comes to conserving water and energy, a good trick is to think and do the same as if you were at home. If you’re known for being meticulous at saving water during the drier months or have little tips and tricks for conserving heat when it’s extra chilly, you’ll know all about how to save a few dollars and the planet at the same time. It’s no different when you’re travelling – do what you can to help other countries do the same and you’ll sleep well knowing you’ve done the right thing by Mother Earth too.
Visit Parks and Protected Areas
If you love the landscape and wildlife that call the country you’re visiting home, why not give back to it? Most parks and protected areas are managed with conservation at the forefront of their mind, because let’s face it, the environment is struggling to cope with what’s been done to it. Whether their animal population is fading or the natural flora and fauna are being threatened, those who run these sites are dedicated to preserving what exists there for as long as humanly possible. When you visit these places, just by being there you are helping to support the management of what’s there – either through ticket prices, donations, or taking what you’ve learned back home and spreading the word with others.
Not to mention, they also offer opportunities to connect with nature and learn about local ecosystems, which is great if you’re looking to open your mind to different cultures and ways of living. Look for national parks, reserves, and other protected areas in your destination to experience something beautifully unique and do your bit to ensure it thrives. Just remember to follow park rules and guidelines to help minimise your impact on the environment!
Respect Local Communities
One thing we have to remember when visiting other countries is that we’re being invited to someone else’s home. With that comes respect. Respect for the culture, traditions, ways of living and customs – all of it needs to be taken into account when we are lucky enough to visit such diverse and rich places. Embrace it! The beauty of travel is that there are so many opportunities to broaden our horizons and add to our understanding of the world as a whole.
A great way to prepare for your trip is by reading up on the country and its culture, as well as anything that is a no-go – like certain greetings or the type of clothing you should wear to spiritual places or areas that are deeply rooted in religion. If you’re really keen, teaching yourself a few phrases of the local language is a really useful tool for getting around and making connections with some of the locals.
It is a privilege to be able to travel to so many places across the globe, and when we take the time to get to know the communities we are going to be immersing ourselves in, the people who call it home are going to be much more open to really letting us in.
So, there you have it. We’ve covered just some of the many ways in which you can make more environmentally conscious decisions when travelling – now there’s no excuse not to try! From avoiding the need to use plastic products to using more energy-efficient modes of transport, buying and staying local, visiting conservation sites and a whole lot more, you have the freedom to get really creative with how you travel, all while keeping the planet in mind while you do it.