Being aware of our ecological impact when traveling has never been more important, and for those of us who want to explore the world, it’s important to try and reduce our travel footprint and overall impact on the planet. Sustainable travel is becoming more and more popular, and hopefully, it’ll one day become the only way to travel. However, many of us are still confused by what sustainable travel really means. In this short guide to sustainable travel, I will tell you all you need to know to make your next adventure more eco-friendly.
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What is the impact of tourism on the environment?
Travel and tourism are growing industries, and unfortunately, they have a negative impact on our planet. To help you understand what really happens when we travel, I’ve gathered informative facts about tourism and its impact on our environment:
- There are 1 billion tourist arrivals in the world every year. That’s 30 every single second. By 2020 the number will increase by 60 percent. Tourism often puts pressure on natural resources through over-consumption, often in places where resources are already scarce.
- An average golf course in a tropical country, for example, uses as much water as 60,000 rural villagers. It also uses 1500 kilos of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides per year.
- Tourism puts enormous stress on local land use and can lead to soil erosion, increased pollution, natural habitat loss, and more pressure on endangered species. These effects can gradually destroy the environmental resources on which tourism itself depends.
- Tourism contributes to more than 5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, with transportation accounting for 90 percent of this.
Yeah, I know it’s quite depressing. But fortunately, there are ways to reduce our impact on the planet when traveling and contribute to a greener world.
What is sustainable travel?
Every year, more countries and regions develop their tourism industry. This massive development produces significant impacts on natural resources, consumption patterns, pollution, and social systems. Therefore, the need for sustainable and responsible planning and management is imperative for the industry to survive as a whole.
Sustainable travel is defined by the World Tourism Organization as “Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment, and host communities.”
In other words, sustainable travel is a way of traveling that respects and supports a cultural, natural and local environment.
Sustainable travel means respecting local cultures by supporting authentic travel experiences, supporting healthy work environments, being aware of your carbon footprint, opting for activities that are not harmful to the animals, flora, and fauna of your destination, spending your money in local shops and restaurants, and supporting local heritage and culture.
Why is sustainable tourism important?
Well if you think about it, the environment is the most important to tourism and travel in general. Why do you travel? To see natural places and historic buildings, to admire beautiful beaches, hike in lush forests and climb breathtaking mountains. So without them, there is no tourism. In order to make an area environmentally sustainable, we must preserve our environment (forest, beaches, mountains…) and our local heritage (historic buildings).
If we all traveled in a sustainable way, we could reduce our environmental footprint, and ensure future generations would also get the chance to see wonderful places.
Some destinations are being harmed by the presence of too many people (like Venice, Angkor Wat, Barcelona…) and tourism has become a big problem. So much that in some places, the locals just don’t want tourists anymore! Travel is a beautiful thing, and it shouldn’t be harmful to local populations and the environment. We should definitely travel in a way that supports local communities and has a positive impact on local populations and businesses. It’s important for our future and the future of our beautiful planet.
How to travel greener?
Pack eco-friendly items
Packing fewer disposables is a great way to travel sustainably. There are many eco-friendly alternatives nowadays, so you can easily swap shampoo bottles with shampoo bars for example. Same goes for the shower gel, take a soap bar instead. Sunscreen is harmful to coral reefs, so consider using an eco-friendly sunscreen as an alternative to the big brand names. If you’re willing to use bug spray, try using DEET free sprays which are friendlier to the environment.
Stay in eco-hostels/hotels
We all need a bed to sleep, but staying in hotels and hostels is not a really sustainable option. It’s easy to forget to turn off the tv, lights or air conditioning before leaving the room. Hotel Rooms are cleaned every day (unless you put the Do Not Disturb sign on your door), towels washed, and bedsheets are changed for every new guest. But now, you have the alternative of staying in Eco hotels/hostels, which are greener accommodations. Indeed, these accommodation options are considered Eco because they made important environmental improvements to their structure in order to minimize their impact on the environment. The basic definition of an eco-hotel is an environmentally responsible lodging that follows the practices of green living. Eco-friendly accommodations are gaining in popularity, and you can easily find them on websites like The Green Key.
Avoid flying if you can
Ok I know it’s not easy to avoid flying especially if you’re planning on long distance travel, but there are still ways to reduce your carbon footprint whilst flying. For instance, you could simply stay longer someplace and travel slower, which will reduce your impact on the environment. If you’re planning on long-distance travel, it’s most likely going to mean a flight but there are still lots of ways to reduce your environmental impact whilst traveling this way. One that you probably already know is carbon offset programmes. Carbon offset schemes allow individuals and companies to invest in environmental projects around the world in order to balance out their own carbon footprints. The projects are usually based in developing countries and most commonly are designed to reduce future emissions. These programmes are offered by some popular airlines like Quantas, Emirates or British Airways.
Another option is to take the train or the bus which are more sustainable alternatives. Next time you plan a trip, check if there isn’t a train or bus that goes to your destination. And also, the price should be a lot cheaper.
Support local businesses
Immerse yourself in the local culture. Talk to the locals, connect with them and support local businesses. Buy handmade souvenirs instead of made in China, eat at local restaurants instead of well-known fast food restaurants. By supporting local businesses, you are helping local populations and you will have an authentic travel experience.
Eat less meat
Meat and dairy industries are on track to be the world’s largest polluters, and contributors to climate change. In fact, going vegetarian or vegan is the best way to reduce our impact on the environment. With so many alternatives to meat and dairy in the western world, it has become really easy to stop consuming meat. Try going to a vegetarian or vegan restaurant when you travel, and have a taste of the local cuisine. Some countries have vegetarian-friendly cuisine, like India, and it’s so good you won’t even notice you’re not eating meat.
How is sustainable travel different from regular travel?
Well, regular travel often involves a lot of wasting and an ‘I don’t care, I’m on holidays’ kinda attitude. For instance, many travelers go to luxury hotels that waste a considerable amount of water, food, and resources in general, which obviously, is not sustainable at all. When you travel sustainably, you are simply more mindful of where you stay and eat, you leave nothing but footprints, and most importantly you try to leave a place better than you found it. The table below is a quick comparison between regular travel and sustainable travel:
|Regular Travel||Sustainable travel|
|Rent a car||Use public transportation|
|Stay in a hotel||Stay in a local/eco-friendly hotel, Couchsurfing of Airbnb|
|Eat in popular fast food chains||Eat at a local restaurant, go to a local market|
|Do a wildlife tour, touch or interact with wildlife||Go to a national park and try to spot wildlife|
|Go on a big bus tour company||Try going on a walking tour|
I’m not saying regular travel is a terrible thing and nobody should do it, because let’s face it we‘ve all done it at least once (even I did!), but traveling in a more sustainable way is definitely a different experience, and on top of that it’s good for the planet. So give it a try!
Sustainable travel is growing fast, and for the better. If you are thinking of traveling anytime soon, consider choosing greener options and changing your habits to help keep our planet beautiful. In the end, it’s all about information, consciousness and willingness to make a change.
Are you traveling soon? Don’t forget your travel insurance!
Travel insurance is the only thing I don’t go anywhere without. Your travel insurance covers you against travel risks such as lost or stolen luggage, trip cancellation, and most importantly, unexpected medical costs abroad. I like WorldNomads because they are backed by reputable insurers, have 24h assistance providers, and are affordable. Get a quote and read the policy details to ensure that it’s right for you. For more information, read my travel insurance page.
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