We vote for the world we want every time we open our wallet, which can be as frightening as it is empowering. Being mindful to make travel sustainable is more important than ever to ensure a healthy planet for future generations. Travel can be resource-intensive, produces a lot of waste, and tends to have a bigger negative impact on low-income areas.
Thankfully, being eco-conscious doesn’t mean giving up adventures in faraway lands. You can keep your travel sustainable by planning ahead, choosing environmentally-friendly options, and changing the pace you travel. Don’t forget to consider how sustainable your travel destination is. You can check out our blog post on the top sustainable travel destinations in 2021 for more information.
Here are 10 tips for making your travel sustainable that won’t take away from the experience.
- Choose non-stop flights when possible
- Minimize single-use products
- Travel slowly
- Be mindful of the souvenirs you buy
- Support eco-conscious businesses
- Choose wildlife tourist attractions carefully
- Reduce distance and use ground travel
- Eat locally-sourced food
- Travel outside of peak season
- Avoid large cruise ships
Choose non-stop flights when possible
Non-stop flights are rarely the cheapest option, so the budget-conscious may opt for those irritating airport-hopping flights that will get you there a day late but with extra spending cash. Unfortunately, much of the carbon emissions from a flight come from taking off and landing. The more take-offs, the less sustainable your trip becomes.
Aim for non-stop flights when you can. Better yet, choose ground travel rather than flying if you aren’t going far.
Minimize single-use products
Since you can’t bring your whole house with you while you travel (though some people may try), you end up relying on buying and discarding items as you go. Water bottles, packaging from pre-packaged snacks and meals, coffee cups; your trail of waste can accumulate quickly.
In locations without safe tape water, the water bottle situation can be unavoidable. You may want to consider countries with easy access to clean drinking water so you can refill your reusable bottle any time you’d like.
Think about what else you can pack that will help reduce your use of single-use items. Reusable coffee cup, steel straw, reusable makeup rounds. When deciding what to eat, head to a grocery store or market for fruit and nuts rather than survive on small bags of crisps.
A lot of travellers want to see the world, but there is only so much money and vacation time available. Multi-stop vacations are one way to fit in as much adventure as possible. Why just see one area when you can hop on a train or plane and be somewhere new each day?
Unfortunately, fast-paced travel uses a lot of resources. Your hotel room will need a full clean each day for the next guest. There is a taxi ride to the station or airport, the travel itself, then another taxi ride to your new hotel. Slower-paced travel can go a long way in reducing your carbon footprint. You may not check off as many countries as you could have, but you’ll have the opportunity to really get to know the places you travel to.
Be mindful of the souvenirs you buy
Mugs, magnets, t-shirts, keychains, shot glasses, pens… These fun little souvenirs are typically made in China and travel however far so tourists can stock up on cheap, gimmicky souvenirs for their friends. The production process can be harmful to the environment, as are the CO2 emissions from being shipped, and will likely end up tossed away to be more plastic polluting the Earth.
Thankfully, they are rarely the only options. If the destination has souvenirs like those, it probably also has locally and ethically-made options, too! You can support local artists who use environmentally-friendly materials to create fascinating, unique gifts tied to the local culture.
Support eco-conscious businesses
Businesses are taking notice that more people are choosing to make their travel sustainable. They are responding by making their operations carbon-neutral, reducing waste, supporting other local businesses, and putting some profits towards local improvements.
Cities and countries are appealing to sustainable travellers with label programs. Finland is a great example; businesses that meet sustainability standards are awarded the Sustainable Travel Finland label. This helps tourists choose companies they know are doing their part.
Choose wildlife tourist attractions carefully
The pandemic has shown many of us that there is nothing enjoyable about being locked inside the same 4 walls every day. Hopefully, that will give people more awareness of the lives of captive animals.
Some of the animals used in tourist attractions were captured in the wild and shipped long distances to find themselves in a small enclosure. Others were born and bred in the only place they will ever know, for a life of dragging tourists around aquariums or being drugged for Instagram photos.
Many wildlife tourist attractions will use “sanctuary” in the name to reassure the hesitant travellers. However, that is rarely an honest representation. To make your travel sustainable usually requires some planning and research ahead of time which is especially applicable if your trip will include interacting with animals. If an activity involves an animal behaving unnaturally, it may not be something you’ll want to support. That includes elephant rides, dolphin shows, playing with tigers, etc.
Reduce distance and use ground travel
You’ve probably noticed by now that a major theme of making travel sustainable is reducing travel in CO2-emitting forms of transportation. Rather than take a taxi around town, consider walking or renting a bike as long as it is safe to do so. Take a bus or train between cities instead of renting a car, and consider reducing the number of side-trips you go on during your vacation.
This is where the increasingly-popular “staycation” comes in. When you only have a few days to explore somewhere new, how about skipping the flight and be a tourist in your own country?
Eat locally-sourced food
Restaurants in tourist-heavy areas often make their menu more appealing by using a lot of imported foods that will be familiar to travellers. Food that has been transported large distances has a bigger carbon footprint, typically uses more waste, and isn’t very representative of the place you’re in. There is nothing wrong with wanting familiarity while you’re away, but embracing the local cuisine is a great way to keep your travel sustainable.
Plus, that money will go to local producers and support the community you’ve travelled to experience.
Travel outside of peak season
Those irresistibly cheap flights have serious consequences for the people living in popular tourist spots. Rapid growth in demand is pricing people out of their own cities, especially where short-term rentals are taking housing from locals and setting them aside for tourists.
Mass tourism has prompted protests in popular destinations like Barcelona, Amsterdam, and Venice in recent years. It is not difficult to understand why. Amsterdam, for example, can see 20+ visitors for each local during peak times. Mass tourism is damaging infrastructure, ecosystems, and can crowd places to the point of being uninhabitable.
It doesn’t mean you can’t visit these stunning locations. After all, they are favourite destinations for a reason. However, a much more sustainable way to see them would be travelling outside of peak season and avoiding holidays.
Avoid large cruise ships
Cruises definitely have their perks which keep them an attractive form of travel. They are an excellent way for people to see several locations without having to plan any of the travel themselves. They make travel to exotic locations accessible to people who may not feel comfortable travelling without support.
However, the negative impact on the environment from cruise ships can be huge. The most obvious one being the high CO2 emissions; the air quality on the deck can be the same as the world’s most polluted cities. The emissions can have serious health consequences for the people living near the ports. Cruise ships produce mountains of waste from the single-use products they go through. Fuel, untreated sewage, garbage, and other waste can often find itself dumped directly into the ocean.
More standards are being put in place to make cruise ships more sustainable, and some companies are better than others. Just be sure to really do your research before taking to the ocean in a floating city.
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