CEO, Sustainable Travel International
Imagine your fantasy vacation. What comes to mind? An art history exploration across Europe? Backpacking through the Himalayas? Or perhaps you’d rather just be relaxing on a beach in the Caribbean.
Regardless of what your dream trip looks like, when thinking about travel, we often paint a pristine picture in our minds and unintentionally overlook the social and environmental consequences our trips can have. While your individual impact may seem trivial, when you consider that over 1 billion people travel each year, the combined effects can be substantial. From habitat destruction and climate change to income inequality and culture loss, our trips have the potential to cause irreversible damage to the destinations we visit.
Fortunately, as a traveler, not only can you lessen your negative impact, you also have the opportunity to drive positive change for the people and places you visit. By making sustainable travel decisions — from the hotels you book to the food you eat — you can help combat some of the world’s most pressing issues. Below are six simple things you can do to start making a difference today.
1. Leave no trace
Prevent harm to nature and wildlife by respecting the environments you visit. Prior to your trip, find out what species are endangered or vulnerable and learn about animal welfare issues in tourism. Realize that just because a business markets themselves as green or sustainable doesn’t mean they necessarily are. Before booking, ask what they’re doing to minimize their environmental impact and support local conservation efforts. Take responsibility for your own actions by following the Leave No Trace Principles and abiding by regulations in protected areas.
2. Be respectful
Be aware of cultural sensitivities, and read up on local customs prior to visiting a destination. Avoid being that tourist who greets a local with an offensive gesture or shows up to a religious site in a culturally inappropriate outfit. By showing communities that you respect them, you will build better connections that lead to a much more authentic experience.
3. Travel green
Make smarter transportation decisionsthat help to reduce your carbon footprint.Approximately five percent of global carbon emissions are caused by tourism, of which the large majority are due to air travel. When possible, take a bus or train to your destination, or consider exploring your own backyard! If you must travel by plane, choose the most direct route, pack light and purchase carbon offsets.
4. Shop local
Support local people and communities in the places you visit. While traveling, you have the unique ability to help provide economic benefits and improve community well-being. Ensure that your money ends up in the hands of local people or organizations that invest in community development. Choose businesses that hire local staff, eat at restaurants that use local food sources and purchase souvenirs crafted by local artisans.
5. Watch your waste
Reduce wasteby practicing better consumption and waste disposal habits. Many destinations lack adequate waste management infrastructure, which results in problems such as overflowing landfills and marine litter. Each year, at least eight million tons of plastic ends up in the ocean. Experts warn that, at this rate, the oceans will contain more plastics than fish by 2050. Avoid disposable plastic products, recycle when possible and bring along a reusable water bottle and purifier to filter your own water.
6. Keep on giving
Give back to the destinationsyou visited, and continue to expand your sustainability knowledge. Find out if there is a travel philanthropy fund for the destination or identify other local community development or environmental conservation organizations. There are also a number of nonprofits, such as Sustainable Travel International, that help travelers, tourism businesses and destinations to become more sustainable. In addition to supporting these organizations, visit their websites for more information on becoming a better, more responsible traveler.
Geoff Bolan, CEO, Sustainable Travel International, [email protected]