Like it or not, travelling and tourism contribute heavily to climate change, the erasure of culture, and the spoiling of natural habitats. The internet is rife with examples of bad behaviour from travellers. From grabbing baby dolphins out of the water for photos to scratching their butts on sacred stones, we have heard of some obvious faux pas that shouldn’t be committed. However, as fans of globe trekking and travelling, it is our responsibility to go beyond the obvious to make sure we’re doing as little harm as possible to the sites that we visit. We also strive to do some good in as many destinations as we can. To help you get started, here are some simple and perhaps lesser known ways to support sustainable tourism.
In plane words
Though sometimes necessary, flying has a very high carbon footprint. Flying releases up to an average of 53 pounds of carbon dioxide per mile. Here are some ways to mitigate that.
1. Ditch the flight
One option is to just skip the flight all together. There are loads of other ways to get from one place to another. For example, trains make for a journey that’s romantic and exciting with stretches of scenery between towns and states. Ships make for memorable, expansive views of the water. Both ways of travelling can be far cheaper and allow you to enjoy the journey as well as the destination. Train lines, such as Amtrak in the US, are famous. More unique options are the Yiwu-Madrid line was opened just a few years ago, which is an epic freight train journey that takes its passengers from China all the way to Spain. For Transatlantic crossings, some freighter ships have space for passengers, and repositioning cruises make for cheaper alternatives to cruise ships.
2. Lower the shade
If you really do have to take a flight, keep your windows covered for longer. Why? If it’s a sunny day and you keep your plane windows open, the plane is going to have to use more energy to keep the temperature cool, therefore, releasing more carbon emissions. However, if passengers work together to keep the shades closed more often, the plane can be kept up to 10 degrees F cooler without burning extra energy.
3. Don't hop from one continent to another
Taking off, landing, taking off again — it’s both exhausting for you and the Earth. Rapidly traveling from one continent to another and back again actually takes up the most fuel, so if you can help it, find the most direct flight to your destination as possible.
4. Make your luggage #minimalist
You can still soften the impact of frequent travel by packing lightly. Lighter luggage means a lighter flight, which means that less fuel is burnt by the plane as it travels to your destination. Make it a fun challenge and see how little you need to take with you when you travel!
5. Reducing your carbon footprint through online apps
There are some apps and websites out there that help you keep track of your impact on the environment. By inputting your flight miles and knowing what your impact is, you can do something to offset that impact. For example, you could plant a tree and nurture it until it grows to maturity. One such app is Oroeco, which turns reducing your carbon footprint into a sort of social game to play with your friends. Aside from apps that can track carbon footprint, there are other apps that can help you with your eco-friendly journey. For example, Locavore helps check out whatever local food sources are in season in your area. This way, you can buy more locally sourced food, which reduces the travel miles, consumption, and demand for environmentally taxing imports.
When in Rome ... or wherever you are
Apart from reducing your carbon footprint, part of sustainability involves preserving and protecting the cultures, ruins, and natural habitats that we visit. Here are some things to keep in mind while looking for your next destination.
5. Look closer
What if you don’t really need to cross the Atlantic Ocean for your dream vacation? There are so many underrated places in every continent that a traveller can still explore and enjoy. Try visiting the attractions you’ve never had the time for in your own town, city, or country. If you’re just looking for a weekend of relaxation, a staycation is always a great option — there may even be some boutique hotels out there for you to discover.
6. Do your homework
Whether it’s a nearby island or a distant destination, doing your research on the place will help you to blend in with local population. We should all aim to show respect to the local way of life and shouldn’t try to change aspects of the culture.
And of course, doing your homework will prevent you from sitting on any sacred monuments or stones.
7. Eat local goodies
If you go to a village that produces more fruits than fishes, plan to sample each delicacy. Again, doing your research on the region beforehand will let you know if an area is a great place to look out for big, fragrant durians. Don’t stick to the fast food that everyone knows — travelling is discovery, after all, and these local flavours are fresher here than anywhere else in the world.
8. Cute can be costly
Cuddly pictures of exotic baby animals might seem warm and fuzzy on the surface, but these usually have insidious implications to them. Often, many of these animals have been snatched from the wild or illegally poached in order to become a tourist attraction. Off camera, many are subjected to abuse in crowded cages and ‘trainers’ who torture them in order for them to act in a certain docile manner. Don’t support these tactics by visiting or giving money. Before you go, do extensive online research to find cruelty-free animal attractions.
Green homes and habits
Here are some habits you can adopt while looking for accommodation and packing for your trip.
9. Get rid of unnecessary packaging back at home
If you are bringing along value packs of toilet paper, napkins, or snacks, recycle any excessive packaging before setting off to your destination. The places you may visit might not have the needed facilities to deal with extra waste from tourists. Removing excess packaging also saves space while packing your luggage.
10. Short showers only
This goes without saying, but being more water efficient in all that you do goes a long way. If water is scarce in the region you’re staying in, avoid using the bathtub and keep showers to under 10 minutes.
11. Once again, do your homework
If you’re staying at your hotel, it is a good idea to check the hotel’s website to see if they are eco-friendly. Taking that a step further, there is usually a national or regional authority that checks to see if the hotel is really meeting green standards. Unless you have no choice, keep options to change sheets and towels to a minimum, as on-site laundry requires up to 15% of a hotel’s water usage.
12. Stay in somewhere old, somewhere borrowed, or somewhere recycled
With a multitude of interesting home stays and hosting offers to choose from, try staying in one of them in lieu of a hotel. Apart from saving energy consumption, you might also save money and make new friends. There are even places out there dedicated to providing an eco-friendly stay to their guests. Embrace the spirit of recycling all things big and small by choosing converted school buses, containers, and water towers as your next vacation rental.
Sustainable travels can be tough, but it's worth it
As you can see from these 12 tips, there’s a lot of research that can be done to make your trip more mindful for sustainable tourism. Switching to sea or land travel is just one of the many options available to reduce your impact pre-trip. While in your destination, it’s important to take measures to reduce negative impacts on cultures and the environment; thus, visitors should look to choosing cruelty-free activities and local food. What other ways can you think of to make travel more sustainable?