As we all anxiously look to return to travel and as the travel and tourism industry looks to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an opportunity for us to rebuild and re-invent what travel means to us. There is an opportunity for us to be more intentional with our holidays and for a sustainable path forward to become the new norm when it comes to travel. But, this takes action. It takes reflection, education, building awareness, and making smarter decisions when it comes to how we travel, who we support with our dollars, and how we approach our experiences.
We, as travellers, are part of the solution. We are an integral part of the sustainable path forward and to creating a better world through responsible travel.
So where does one start on their journey to travelling more sustainably?
Though the topic of sustainable travel has many facets to it, there are some easy places to start that will help you to be more mindful of your activities and your impact on local people, cultures, & environments. This blog post dives into practical tips to help you travel more sustainably.
Choose off-the-beaten path destinations or travel during low season
Pre-pandemic, overtourism was a huge problem in many destinations around the world. Overtourism is said to describe destinations where "hosts or guests, locals or visitors feel that there are too many visitors and that the quality of life in the area or the quality of the experience has deteriorated unacceptably."* Around the world, overtourism has contributed to the depletion of resources, the destruction of land, over-consumption and creation of waste, rising costs for local populations, the displacement of Indigenous peoples, the overloading of systems, and much more.
By travelling to more off-the-beaten path destinations or visiting during the low season, travellers can better contribute to the development and well-being of local communities while also enjoying many perks and benefits that will positively contribute to their experience. For a more in depth look at these benefits, check out my blog post, "7 Reasons Why You Should Travel During Low Season | Responsible Travel."
Research your accommodation and look at their practices
Supporting locally owned boutique and/or eco-friendly accommodations is a great way to give back to the local community and reduce your footprint. Some hotels may have special water management practices, farm-to-table menus, energy-efficient operations, among other initiatives. Here are some sample questions to ask yourself:
Who owns the property?
Do they provide any information on their website about how they protect the environment or give back to the local community?
Do they have any certifications that support the governance of their business?
What tour operators are affiliated with the business?
Eating local is a great way to experience and celebrate culture. It also supports the community, is better for the environment (less carbon footprint), and is fresher too! Usually, the best places I eat when I travel include the local ma and pa shop down the road. Be sure to engage with people from the local community to find out their recommended places to shop and eat
Use shared transportation or rent a bicycle
It's no secret that transportation often contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. By renting a bicycle or using public transport we can reduce the amount of air pollution created during our adventures. It's also more budget-friendly and can allow you to see more of your destination. One of my favourite things to do when I travel to a new city, especially in Europe, is join a bicycle tour. In addition to environmental benefits and providing exercise, bicycle tours are a great way to get the lay-of-the-land, see more of the city, and learn about the local history and culture.
Travel carry-on only
I feel like this one is often overlooked but travelling carry-on only is actually better for the environment. The lighter your luggage, the lighter the plane (or other transportation), which, in turn, reduces emissions. Tips for lightening your load:
Remove unnecessary packaging
Reduce the number of your toiletries
Pack strategic outfits that coordinate easily, and/or plan to do laundry during your trip
Bonus, carry-on travel also reduces a lot of wait times at airports, hotels, and more since you're travelling with fewer bags and aren't carrying around extra, unnecessary things.
Skip the single-use plastics and pack reusables
Single-use plastic and food packaging can add up quickly when you're on the go if you're not prepared. Packing reusables like water bottles, cutlery, straws, etc. can help you to avoid unnecessary single-use plastic and waste during your travels.
If you're interested in more tips and a list of reusable travel essentials, check out my blog post, "Top 7 Zero Waste Travel Essentials | Packing Guide."
Be wary of opportunities to engage with wildlife
Not all harmful animal tourist traps are as obvious, and marketing can be extremely greenwashed, leading travellers to believe they’re helping to support conservation efforts when they actually aren’t. Try your best to research these activities ahead of time and ask providers about what codes are enforced. Avoid altogether things like elephant riding, swimming with dolphins, and lion cub-petting (to name a few examples).
For more information and specific tips on this topic, check out my blog post, "How to be a More Responsible Traveller: Wildlife Edition."
Visit national parks and protected areas
National parks, conservation areas, and the like, play a significant role in protecting our wildlife, natural resources, and biodiversity. These parks often rely heavily on tourism and the dollars spent on park entry fees and permits. These dollars contribute to managing the parks, paying local staff, and supporting the local community. They also help to protect the area from harmful illegal activities such as poaching, illegal deforestation and more. To maximize your impact on the local community and economy, consider booking local accommodation and tour operators/service providers, in addition to paying your entry fees.
Support local artisans
Souvenirs can be a tangible and memorable way to bring home a piece of your travels. By purchasing handicrafts and goods from local artisans, you can support the local economy and community. Checking labels, visiting markets, and asking locals about where to shop can all help you avoid mass-produced factory products. Please be careful when bargaining at markets — be mindful and be sure to show appreciation for the artisan’s work by offering a fair price. No one gets a gold star for bartering down as low as you can go. Many times, it may also be that your dollar will go further for the artisan than it will for you. Be kind.
Slow down and stay a while
It can be easy to get caught up in busy itineraries, scheduling as much as possible into your trip, especially if you're exploring somewhere new and aren't sure if/when you'll be able to return. However, if your focus is primarily on seeing and doing as much as possible, you may not be as perceptive to your surroundings, or really get to know the destination. Slow travel can naturally help travellers establish a stronger connection with the local community, culture, and environment. By spending more time in fewer destinations, you're more likely to engage in the community, build deeper connections with local people, and discover unique places and experiences you may have overlooked if you were just passing through.
Slow travel can also reduce your carbon footprint since you're taking fewer methods of transportation by spending more time in less destinations.