You might think that it’s impossible to be a truly sustainable traveller. You could rack up a huge carbon footprint before you’ve even got there – plus you’ll be using their water and energy, and putting an additional strain on the environment. But tourism generates a huge amount of income – and for some people, it’s their livelihood, and they depend on tourists coming to see what they have on offer. If they didn’t, they might have to depend on activities like logging for income, leading to environmental degradation and deterioration. On top of this, there are things you can do and ways to give back when you’re travelling that can help conserve nature and resources, protect culture, while benefiting local people and communities.
Put simply, sustainable travel is all about making choices – choices about where we travel, when we go and how we get there. It’s also about the way you act and the things you do when you get to your destination. Each one of your choices will make a small difference – which collectively can have a big impact. Here’s our list of tips on how to be a more sustainable traveler.
When to go?
This might not be an immediately obvious thing to consider when it comes to sustainable travel, but visiting during the off-peak period can be beneficial, as it puts less of a strain on local resources and the surrounding environment. It also means that you’re more likely to save some cash on accommodation and activities – and avoid the crowds.
Where to go?
Before you start planning a trip around the world, make sure you get to know your own backyard first. People most likely travel across the world to visit places only a few hours from you that you’ve never even been to, so make the most of them. Is there somewhere you’ve always wanted to go within a few hours drive? Make it the destination for your next trip or weekend away.
If you do plan on going overseas, consider a country that promotes ecotourism. Not only will you get to see some amazing wildlife and scenery, but the money that you bring to the local economy will get put back into projects helping to preserve and conserve the natural environment.
Central and South America in particular have some amazing destinations that promote ecotourism, like Costa Rica and the Galapagos Islands. Ecotourism is also a great way of helping support the preservation of the Amazon Rainforest – so take your pick from any of the nine nations the Amazon stretches across.
If you’d like to stick with the warmer climates, Palau, Kenya and Kerala, India are also great options, with amazing wildlife and crystal clear waters.
But if you’re brave enough to face the cold, Norway, Iceland and Alaska are havens for adventure lovers, and all offer an array of natural wonders. Just remember to wrap up.
Where to stay?
If you can, stay at an Airbnb. It’s more environmentally friendly than you might think – and you’ll be helping local people by providing them with an income, and you get to experience how the locals live. Or, if you’re somewhere more remote, opt for an eco-lodge, or try and find a place that has a recycling program, or any sustainability initiatives like solar panels or rainwater harvesting. And try and stay somewhere that employs local staff and sources food from the area.
How to get there?
If you’re taking a road trip and don’t have a car (or only have a very polluting one) consider renting a hybrid or an electric one. Or you could always travel by train, bus or boat instead.
If you don’t have to, don’t fly. Air travel uses up a lot of fossil fuels, and is one of the biggest contributors to climate change. If you do have to go by plane, try and book non-stop flights where possible. Consider flying with one of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) member airlines who offer carbon offset programs to neutralize the aircraft’s carbon emissions by investing in carbon reduction projects.
When you’re there…
Be a traveller, not a tourist. It’s important to understand that you’re travelling to these places because you want a genuine experience of what this place has to offer. It’s all about experiencing the unique things about where you’re visiting that you can’t get anywhere else, and acting more like a local than a tourist.
Learn some of the language – even if it’s just simple words and phrases like ‘hello’, ‘how are you?’ and ‘thank you’ – it will make a difference to how you’re treated. Find out about local culture and customs. This is especially important in places in Asia like Vietnam, where it’s considered rude to show the bottoms of your feet, and standing chopsticks straight up in a bowl of rice is considered bad luck. The rules of etiquette may seem strange to you, but they can be very powerful and have a much deeper meaning than you realise. So make sure you do your research before you arrive.
Don’t visit big chain restaurants, stay in big hotels, or shop in big malls. Instead, embrace the culture. Eat what and where the locals eat. Take the bus or train. Use the facilities and trips or tours on offer from people who live and grew up there – we can guarantee they have great stories to tell about the area and its history and culture.
Respect where you are. Dispose of any rubbish responsibly, especially at the beach, as this can be dangerous for wildlife and marine life. Also, don’t just take things home as a holiday souvenir, like shells. Buy from locals instead – but be careful – never buy animal or wildlife products. Check where the products are made, and try and find local artisans to get your souvenirs from instead.
Always carry a water bottle with you – and don’t buy plastic ones. Make sure you do what you can to save water and energy, wherever you’re staying. Take a short shower instead of a bath, and always hang your towels up so they don’t get washed every day. Turn off your lights, heating/AC and your TV when you leave your room.
Also if you are staying in a hotel, leave the do not disturb sign on the door to help reduce the impact of cleaning your room and bedding. If you haven’t brought your own bars, cubes or bottles, and have used the hotel’s toiletries supplies, make sure you take these with you when you check out, as you could reuse these for future trips – plus the hotel will most likely throw the half empty ones away.