People around the world love to travel. It’s the adventure that connects people to faraway lands and cultures and lets you experience something you’d never thought you would ever get to see and do. There’s a certain kind of magic and feeling one gets when they’re far away from home whether that’s a road trip, plane trip, or even long-distance cruise. Despite the fun and excitement of travel, sometimes it can be a pain. Long lineups at the airport, long layovers, or maybe even eating something you probably shouldn’t have. So generally speaking, people go to lengths to make their travel endeavors more comfortable.
But in this day and age, how can people travel both responsibly and still enjoy the comfort of new travel experiences? Sustainable tourism is not necessarily anything particularly new but in the last decade, worldwide travelers have begun taking some initiative to travel in new and less-impactful ways. Companies, hotels, and places worldwide have also taken it upon themselves to integrate more eco-friendly ways to travel. If you’re heading out to somewhere new, here are some great tips for eco-friendly tourism.
We admit that we have not always been the most responsible travelers relative to being sustainable. And it still is something that we have to think about sometimes as it still is not second nature for us. But we have become better and try to be the least impactful as possible. We also look to stay in places that are eco-friendly. It helps the world and makes us feel better.
Don’t Participate with the local Wildlife
One of the best things about travel is experiencing unique things and seeing new and exciting places, people, and yes sometimes animals. When you’re a newly arrived tourist you’ll want to see the local flora and fauna and that is totally normal, but activities involving the animals directly is generally not a very eco-friendly way to travel for a few reasons.
If you’re a traveler that is interested in seeing the local wildlife either through hiking or guided tours, it might seem obvious to not interact with wild animals, but people do anyway. Feeding or touching the wildlife makes them dependent on humans and can even sometimes lead to an attack if you’re unfamiliar with how to handle the animal in question. And unfortunately, when animals attack tourists, it is likely the animal might be put down.
A lot of companies and places also advertise a more “hands-on” approach to wildlife, offering tourists the chance to pet or feed animals and take pictures with them. Depending on the organizations some of the animals are illegally captured and treated poorly while in captivity. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to experience local wildlife but it is important to know what you’re getting into ahead of time.
This actually really bothers both Kati and I. We have seen many tourists interact with wildlife. We have even seen it on social media and people love it. But it is wrong and has to be stopped. It is not good for the wildlife and possibly harmful to others.
Reduce plastic use
While a lot of places in the west have started to adopt measures to help people reduce the use of plastics, some other places around the world haven’t necessarily caught up. Things like packaging and especially single-use plastics like straws might seem inconsequential but all those straws being used eventually adds up. For something you’ll use once, it’ll take over 200 years for it to decompose when you’re out at a restaurant, ask your server for no straw. Learn how to say it in the local language just so you can get your point across.
Many areas of the US seem to lag Europe and other parts of the world. Sad really, but plastic is ruining our water and it continues to fill our landfills.
Catch a direct flight when possible
If you’re going to travel you’ll probably end up on a plane. Although plane travel is not really the most sustainable way to go, there are ways you can minimize your carbon footprint while flying. One of the biggest things you can do is take a direct flight to your destination. Sometimes it’ll cost more but on the upside, you won’t have to deal with layovers. Moreover, taking a direct flight to your destination means that there will be less carbon emission from taking more than one plane.
If you’re traveling around places like Europe consider flying in and taking the train if you plan on touring the rest of the continent. Moreover, there are 30+ members of the IATA which is an airline alliance that aims to invest in carbon reduction projects.
Carry your own Reusable Bags
Similar to the point made above, carrying your reusable bags for your purchases is a good idea for eco-friendly tourism. Many places around North America and Europe offer reusable bags that can be purchased in just about any grocery store. If you know you’re going to be buying some souvenirs abroad, then make sure to stuff some of those reusable bags in your suitcase.
Plastic can take up to centuries to decompose but carrying a reusable bag will help reduce your plastic consumption when you buy things abroad. You’ll sleep better at night knowing your plastic bag isn’t rotting in some landfill.
Book Eco-friendly accommodations
While traveling abroad, you’ll most likely need to find some kind of accommodation. There are a lot of eco-friendly travel companies that can help you find sustainable hotels and even Airbnb’s but there’s also a lot of research you can do yourself. In the U.S check if your accommodation is LEED-certified or if you’re traveling internationally EarthCheck, Green Globe, and Green Tourism Business Scheme are all programs that certify sustainability.
And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Eco-friendly tourism is a burgeoning market so plenty of hotels and accommodations offer some kind of green initiative.
Leave a place in good condition
Whether you’re staying in a hotel or spending a few days out on a campground it’s important to leave a place in good or even better condition than you arrived. Although this point might sound like a no-brainer, leaving a place how you found it is probably one of the easiest ways for sustainable tourism.
There are probably eco-friendly things maybe you haven’t considered before. For example, while out hiking, make sure to always stick to marked hiking trails. Not sticking to the designated path can lead you to harm the underbrush and the flora balance, not to mention there might be something dangerous lurking off the track anyways. Another good thing to consider is packing your own garbage bags and making sure not to leave any waste and trash behind.
Shop locally and avoid larger Organizations
This tip has a few layers to it and is a great way to make your travel very special and of course, eco-sensitive at the same time. Choosing local businesses over large franchises is what you should be doing in the first place. When it comes to eating out at restaurants or getting food, heading to a local place will not only be an authentic and better experience but chances are, the food they will serve will come from local producers, thus giving the meal a very small carbon footprint.
But obviously, there is more to a local business than just food. Eco-friendly travel companies will always look out for the locals and the local environment before putting the traveler’s needs ahead. Responsible tours and shopping areas owned and operated by the locals will have profits going to the locals and the people that live there. Many of these businesses will pride themselves on their transparency and social responsibility.
Find out if your accommodation’s resources are local
Similar to how you should seek out local restaurants, it is also important that the hotel you stay in is eco-friendly and uses resources that are local.
Many hotels will make a point to let you know that on-site amenities like food, power, and labor are local. Local workers mean there’s less carbon footprint when they come and go from work to home and also improves the lives of the locals more directly. Food should come from local producers for the same reason and power from solar or local generators are also much more eco-friendly.
Get around with Public Transport
When you’re in a new country it might seem a little daunting to get around. Taxis and Uber is always an easy option, but for those who are interested in eco-friendly ways of transportation, public transport is the best way to get around. Just about any major city in the world has some sort of public transport infrastructure and not only is it the most eco-friendly way of transportation, but it is also the most affordable. It’s good for the earth and good for your wallet!
Plenty of places around will also have a bike rental program where you can rent a bike for a day or even for a few minutes if you just need to get across town. It’s a great eco-friendly way to get around town, it’s generally affordable and best of all, you can stop when you want and admire a new city. You don’t get the same experience in a car as do you when you’re walking or biking.
Take shorter showers
We’re human and we have to clean ourselves sometimes. When you get off a long plane ride, sometimes the first thing you want to do is hop in the shower. But showers can be a pretty big strain on local water supplies. Always look for more sustainable ways to bathe.
If you’re staying somewhere where toiletries are included, make sure to use all of it before getting more and take home whatever you don’t end up using. Avoid taking baths as baths can use up to 70 gallons of water while showers use 10 to 25. If you’re traveling with a partner, get frisky and consider showering together
Create your own sustainable travel kit
Before you head out to your next adventure, pick up a few things to make your trip a little eco-friendly. Preparing ahead of time like packing your travel kit can make your experience all that better. Pack essentials like snacks in reusable containers, a reusable cutlery kit so you don’t have to rely on plastic or single-use ones, and of course a refillable water bottle saves on money and plastic-use. Other things you might want to consider is a quick-dry travel towel as they are compact, and environmentally-friendly sunscreen. Some sunscreens have chemicals that affect the balance of aquatic plants and animals so many places around Australia, Hawaii, and Florida have begun trying to push the use of reef-friendly sunscreens.
Our Final Word
Although people will always want to travel, there’s no reason why international or even local travel can’t be done in eco-friendly and green ways. There are tons of things people don’t consider when they are trying to travel green like buying locally and bringing your own reusable bags as well forgoing the use of plastic straws. Everything from where you stay to what you eat can be done in the most sustainable way to travel. Traveling comfortably while also being conscious of the environment and its impact on our travel is not an impossible feat and there are tons of things we can all do to make the experience of travel better for both tourists and locals alike.