There is something about traveling that brings out the best in us.
It’s the joy of seeing new places, discovering new cultures, meeting new faces, and exploring the unknown that makes traveling addictive. The more you travel, the more you realize there’s so much you haven’t seen. And the more you realize there’s a lot more you haven’t seen, the more you want to find out for yourself. It’s this feeling that got thousands and millions of people around the world to hop on the plane and discover another place on the map.
Like many other industries and sectors that gradually change towards being greener and more eco-friendly, tourism has also started to change. You hear a lot of “sustainable travel” being the buzz word and more and more people are choosing to go green with the way they travel. Whether it’s traveling sustainably or choosing to be sustainable during their travels, sustainable travel is here to stay, buzz word or not.
But what is sustainable travel? What does it mean to be a sustainable traveller?
Let’s take a look at what sustainable travel is to understand its significance and role in the world of tourism. Then we’ll take a look at ways you can practice so you too can travel sustainably.
Sustainable travel is a concept that is a direct response to overtourism.
Overtourism, as the word implies, is a situation where an excessive number of tourists visit a particularly popular destination or a local attraction that results in often irreversible damage to the local environment and/or historical sites, which also lead to poorer quality of life for the local residents. Sustainable travel aims to limit this from happening as it’s important for popular destinations, local attractions, and historical sites to be preserved for many years to come.
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Sustainable travel doesn’t only concern itself with protecting destinations or sites. It involves a large framework where travelers, travel agencies, airlines, and local residents all work together to support green tourism goals. These goals include efforts that protect the environment, minimize and reduce plastic consumption, expand economic development, and address climate change and improve the quality of life for the local residents.
Before the term sustainable travel became popular, you may have heard the term ecotourism. While the two belong in the same category, sustainable travel is broader in its meaning and considers many other factors than just the environment. Ecotourism tends to lean towards responsible travels to natural areas that focus on conserving the environment. Sustainable travel includes aspects other than just the environment, where it also needs to consider the current and future economic and social impacts of the travels.
In simpler terms, sustainable travel takes full account of every aspect of the factors and parties involved in the travel process cycle.
Fun fact! rü was actually born on a beach in a faraway land. Excess pollution inspired rü's founders to promote reuse and sustainable living.
Tourism is one of the fastest-growing industries in the world. From the year 1990 to 2018, there were 1.4 billion tourist arrivals recorded around the world. That’s equivalent to almost 45 arrivals per second worldwide.
While tourism has helped lift many countries out of poverty and increase local’s quality of life, it puts pressure and stress on many local resources that affects the environment and condition of the areas. Not to mention that tourism can also cause exploitation, appropriation, pollution, habitat loss, and overconsumption. In their excitement to discover and explore new places, tourists are often oblivious to the essential resources used to accommodate them.
One of the main reasons tourism is not sustainable is the destruction of the natural environment and habitat loss. It becomes necessary to clear many land areas to make tourist development, such as hotels and resorts. Clearing lands destroys nature and the habitat of wild animals. Even though many tourist destinations boast about bringing tourists back to nature by having a resort in the middle of a rainforest, the development often doesn’t include inclusive sustainable development plans or strict environmental protection policies.
Due to the increased number of tourists around the world, many of our historical sites are gradually becoming damaged due to high human traffic. Amazing structures and places such as the pyramids, Angkor Wat, the Spanish Steps, Cozumel Island, and Venice have suffered many forms of damage due to overtourism. While tourists have helped the local economy in these areas to a degree, the damage from human traffic and pollution is higher that it has caused these treasures to erode slowly. From vandalism to littering to destroying public property, from congestion to disrupting the local daily routine, the world’s historical sites and places are taking the brunt of overtourism.
Without sustainable travel, perhaps in the near future, there will be no Venice to visit, there will be no more beautiful corals of Cozumel to see, there will be no more ancient temples in Cambodia to revere. We need to ensure that we preserve our historical treasures and respect and protect the natural environment, the local cultures and lives as well as the interest of future generations.
The good news is, more and more people are becoming aware of the importance of sustainable travel.
If you’re a passionate traveler and want to do your part in traveling sustainably, here are 30 ways you can practice to make sure that you’re causing as minimal impact as possible whenever you’re traveling. These are great ways to make a difference not only in the places you will go, but also in doing your part to preserve the natural environment, contribute to a healthy local economy, and contribute to the social harmony of your travel destination.
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It’s always exciting to pick a place on the map to see where you will go next. Whether it’s an obscure town or a well-known locale, choosing your destination is essential in sustainable travel. But we’re not just talking about choosing a city or a country to visit here.
Choosing the right location in sustainable travel means considering many other aspects in that location in order to be sure that you can contribute to the place’s sustainable efforts.
Best places to visit that highly value sustainability are European countries like France, Denmark, and Switzerland. These destinations not only have efficient sustainability policies for their countries, but they also value their cultural heritage and natural environment. Choosing destinations that value sustainability enhances your traveling experience, making you appreciate sustainability efforts even more.
If you choose to travel to places for its nature and natural beauty, please make sure these places stay that way by respecting them. Many natural places are often marked for specific reasons like for hiking or as trails. Don’t wander off from these places because these markers are ways to minimize human traffic and keep tourists away from animals or surrounding natural habitats.
Many organizations register for sustainable tourism practices for animal experience so you can check before joining any activities. Avoid going to small-scale animal experience programs, because more often than not, these are shady organizers that illegally capture the wild animals to turn a profit from visiting tourists. Never buy products or souvenirs made from wild animal parts no matter how small a trinket. Many countries have big problems with animal trafficking for souvenirs black market so don’t be part of the reason that’s feeding this demand.
It’s not uncommon for many companies in popular tourist destinations to claim sustainability and eco-friendly to attract more customers and visitors. All you have to do is check and verify the certifications they say they have to make sure they’re genuine. Many companies are greenwashing their brands to appear more attractive to eco-conscious travelers. So do your research and don’t fall victim to this tactic.
The coming and going of transportation between accommodation areas to stations or airports increases traffic and pollution in the area on top of the influx of tourists on limited time to cover all the “must-see” places. To help reduce or lower the frequency of transportation, plan your stay for longer. This way, you will have more time to explore the place via other methods such as walking or cycling, which are great ways to reduce pollution.
Be mindful of how much you use in the places you’re staying. Don’t waste electricity and water even though you’re not paying the monthly bills. Your stay as a tourist uses up the local’s resources and can impact on the locals and surrounding areas.
Read up on the situation of the local areas that you’re visiting. If the area has particular shortages of any resources, be mindful when using these resources. For instance, some areas may experience frequent water shortages or have limited emergency services. So be careful of your activities so your presence as a tourist doesn’t disrupt what the locals have.
Whenever possible, choose vacations or destinations that use fewer resources. If you can find places that use fewer resources, it can make less impact on the environment. Instead of staying in large hotels that don’t practice sustainability well, choose places with less harsh activities to the environment such as camping. You can also choose low-impact activities such as hiking or kayaking or sightseeing on foot.
If you’re visiting an area with a lake or large body of water, paddleboarding is also a lovely, low-impact way to get in touch with nature, explore the area, and get a workout in. You can easily bring an inflatable paddleboard with you like Maddle paddleboards, which fit compactly into a transport bag.
Many popular destinations are jam-packed with tourists, but you can avoid this by going during the off-season period. Maybe certain places might look better during the peak season, but you can make less impact on the environment if you choose to travel during the off-season period. Not to mention there are fewer people so you can take your time to enjoy the area.
Many of us dream of seeing the Eiffel Tower or the Pyramids. Traveling to these places is usually by flight, but airplanes contribute to pollution. Before you invest time and money to go and see the world’s famous places, consider traveling closer to home where you can help reduce pollution by traveling via a different mode of transportations.
Another vital aspect of sustainable travel is what you do during these travels. You already made the right decision to go to places that value sustainability and understand how to choose sustainable places for you to visit. What you do at the places you’re traveling is crucial because your presence impacts the place and the resources there. So, make sure you’re leaving behind a positive impact.
To ensure that you can leave a positive impact behind, let’s take a look at what you can do to minimize your carbon footprints at your travel destinations.
Sometimes to get to your destination, there’s no other choice but to fly. Airplanes emit a high amount of carbon and with every take-off and landing, more carbon emits into the atmosphere. If you have no other choice but to fly, then try to get longer flights with fewer connections as this is better for the environment than shorter flights.
This is something that’s picking up. You can offset your carbon footprint by helping to reduce carbon emissions somewhere else. For example, a company called TerraPass lets you calculate your carbon footprint and offset this by contributing to sustainable projects that are helping to reduce carbon.
Garbage is a problem everywhere. To help reduce the trash in the place you’re visiting, bring your own drinking bottle or flask. This way, you don’t have to keep buying new cups when you need a drink.
One of the best ways to enjoy a new place is to take a walk or leisurely cycle. Choosing to do this whenever you’re on vacation is also a great way to help reduce carbon emissions. Whenever possible, choose to walk or cycle as much as possible.
If you practice sustainable habits at home, make sure you bring this habit with you when traveling. “Little things” such as switching off the lights when not using, showering instead of taking a bath, or air drying your towels and clothes instead of using the hotel’s laundry service are all sustainable efforts that are great during traveling.
If you’re always traveling, it’s a great idea to get a multipurpose travel plug. This nifty device is an excellent way to help reduce plastic because you can use it in many countries as the travel plug has many different types of plugs and also USB connections. This way, you don’t have to keep buying new plugs every time you’re in a new place.
Eco-hotel or sustainable hotels operate the same way as any commercial hotels, but they go the extra mile to do their bit for the environment. If possible, try to find eco-conscious accommodations where they have sustainable facilities such as using solar power for electricity, low-pressure water installations, no single-use plastic utensils, etc.
As much as it’s convenient, travel-size toiletries contribute a lot to plastic waste in travel destinations. These plastic bottles are discarded after use by tourists, leaving many plastics in the local landfills. Choose a better way to bring your toiletries such as in glass bottles or recyclable packages.
The heavier your luggage is, the more your transportation emits carbon into the atmosphere. Remember, traveling is about experiencing new places and not so much about fashion. No one’s going to know if you only bring four pieces of t-shirts on your trip!
To help extend the life of your clothing while on your trip, bring clothes made of natural materials like merino wool shirts and base layers—especially if your trip will be an active one. Merino wool naturally regulates your body temperature and wicks moisture away, keeping clothing fresh for longer than other fabrics like cotton or polyester.
If possible, choose a different mode of transportation to get to your destination. Even though a car also emits carbon, it’s much less than an airplane. Even better, you can choose to travel by rail. Not only is it cleaner, but it’s also fun and a wonderful new way to discover a different style of traveling.
Traveling in small groups is better than traveling in a large tour group. You’re able to manage your activities better as well as work together towards traveling sustainably.
Other than visiting unique places or seeing beautiful cities, another great thing about traveling is the chance you get in meeting the locals. Being able to see the world from someone else’s eyes is a gift that many tourists enjoy. Not only that, the opportunity to experience life through different cultures is the wonderful reward you get from traveling.
In sustainable travel, supporting and respecting locals is extremely important. It’s not uncommon at all for locals to endure disruption to their daily activities, have their privacy invaded, or their properties damaged due to overtourism. Through sustainable travel, we can help to ensure that our travels don’t interfere with the locals’ activities or cause any inconvenience or damage to them.
It makes sense to follow the travel guide when you’re in a new place. However, it’s enjoyable if you can experience the local colors on your own because travel guides tend to only bring you to hot-spot places. If you get to stay longer during your travels, then you have the chance to experience more local things and really learn about the place.
As a tourist, you tend to visit as many must-see places as possible. Established businesses or vendors often dominate these places. If you have the time and chance, visit the smaller businesses surrounding the areas. These smaller businesses sometimes struggle to survive, so making it a habit to visit smaller businesses on your travels can make a difference to the community.
While it’s exciting to see and learn about other cultures and traditions, always respect the locals. Chances are, the locals from popular travel destinations are friendly and will answer any question you have, but that doesn’t mean you can take this for granted. Always keep a respectful distance, especially when witnessing any local traditions.
It’s worth remembering “When in Rome.” Certain cultures, traditions, or words may seem odd to you and you might want to react by saying something. However, be careful when you ask questions because you can’t be sure how the locals will view your questions.
Many countries now have e-hailing services with local drivers. Traveling with local transports is a better way to travel than to take travel buses or vans because not only is the price lower, you will also be helping the local livelihood. Plus, having a local driver drive you around is like having a personalized chauffeur that will tell you everything you need to know about a place.
It’s understandable when you’d want to stay in established accommodations because you already know the standard. However, the next time you travel and as part of your sustainable travel efforts, why not try local accommodations or a local boutique lodging? Chances are, you’ll enjoy yourself more with their personalized and intimate service.
Many locals are also playing tourists in their own country. If you want to get a real feel of what’s local at your travel destination, try seeking out local tours instead of commercial ones.. These tours are often very small in number and consist of the people from the travel destination. You can get to know the place and make some new friends too!
Remember, just because you’re not paying for the electricity, it doesn’t mean you can leave the air conditioning on the whole night even if it’s in a warm place. Be mindful of your usage and wastes. Do not litter or waste any resources in the place you’re staying.
At times, the influx of tourists often causes some disruption to the local’s activities and businesses. If you want to make an impact during your sustainable travels, you can find ways to make a place better than you found it. You can help recycle or you can join any community service as a volunteer to clean up the tourist attractions places. This way, you can contribute towards keeping a place better than when you came.
Visiting new places is also a great way to learn about others and what’s important to them. If you want to become a sustainable traveler, one of the things you can do is to give back to the community that welcomes you as a traveler. Find out any ethical volunteering program in the place you’re visiting and see how you can help. Many tourists like to volunteer at animal shelters in the places they visit. This way, not only do you get to enjoy new places, but also help other souls in need.
Tourism will always be one of the most active industries, which is why sustainable travel is extremely important. Besides saving the environment through lower carbon emission efforts, it’s also important for everyone involved in the tourism industry to work together to protect and preserve the things that make traveling exciting. Whether it’s about preserving landmarks and structures or improving the lives of the communities affected by tourism, we need to work together to ensure that tourism becomes a sustainable industry.
Even though the world took a break from traveling in recent times due to the pandemic, many people can now take vacations and travel again. Now’s your chance to make a difference in the world since you’ve understood and are aware of what tourism does to the environment.
There are many benefits when you choose sustainable travel. Not only will you find your travel experience richer and more rewarding, but you're also helping other people, and future generations enjoy all the wonderful and amazing travel destinations our world has to offer!
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