There’s no doubt that travelling can be good for the mind, body, and soul. We don’t have to convince you of its many personal benefits, but is it as good for the environment? Not always.
International flights, increased foot traffic to national parks and monuments, and development that supports the growing tourism industry can all leave a negative impact. The good news is that there are many ways to practice sustainable travel. With intention and a little preparation, following even a few of these steps can go a long way in helping preserve the treasures we seek around the world.
1. Eat locally and organically when possible
We all get cravings for comfort food while traveling, but try to avoid the familiar chain restaurants. I mean, did you really come all the way to Paris to eat McDonald’s? We didn’t think so. Eating locally and buying from organic farmers markets is a great way to experience the culture and lessen your carbon footprint.
2. Travel to countries who are rebuilding after a natural disaster
Severe weather happens all over the world and can leave a damaging affect on the tourism industry. For many countries this significantly hurts their economy. Consider choosing travel destinations such as Nepal or Haiti that could use a boost.
3. Visit an animal sanctuary
Tiger pics, elephant rides, and circuses are out. Nature reserves, conservation, and animal sanctuaries are in. Visit places that promote and preserve wildlife in their natural habitat and help put an end to cruelty practices. Alternatively, volunteer to help rehabilitate rescued animals at an Elephant Sanctuary like this one in Thailand.
4. Stay local
“Local partnerships and interaction is a key characteristic eco-minded travellers should look out for,” James Thorton of Intrepid Travel states in an article about the importance of sustainable travel. We couldn’t agree more. Volunteering with local families through Workaway enhances cultural exchange and supports many eco-friendly projects like this one in Nepal.
5. Choose sustainable travel gear
What you pack matters. Consider using a BPA free water bottle, reusable bamboo utensils and dishes, and a quick dry travel towel. Clothes that are breathable, versatile, and lightweight will add to your comfort and reduce the weight of your luggage. Quality makes a big difference and products that are easy on the environment will often last longer, too.
6. Purchase socially responsible goods and services
Supporting ethical businesses abroad can be as easy as doing it at home. Companies that sell fair trade products, have a socially responsible mission, or give back to the environment are popping up everywhere. Choose from tours like Context Travelthat provide small, intimate experiences with a focus on sustainability or use a database to find other similar businesses.
7. Embrace the art of slow travel
There’s something sort of enchanting about travelling slowly. It allows you to absorb the sights and smells and to really become a part of the scenery instead of just passing it by. Walking, biking, and taking public transportation are great ways to experience the landscapes and the culture. If you’re pressed for time, consider a carpooling option like BlaBla Car, or taking a low-cost, long-distance bus.
8. Offset your carbon footprint
Air travel is unavoidable in some cases, but there are ways to lessen its environmental impact. Many airlines now give passengers the option to purchase carbon credits which go toward programs that invest in solar energy, reforestation, and other sustainability initiatives. Start by using a carbon calculator to determine your impact and then learn about projects that help balance it out.
9. Unplug fron technology
Smart phone, laptop, kindle, camera, tablet… Do you really need all those digital devices while you’re travelling? Electricity consumes energy and many developing countries are still susceptible to blackouts. If you need to take them with you, try buying a solar charger you can use without an outlet. If travelling with a friend or group, think about sharing devices.
10. Leave no trace
This simple, but effective rule for hikers and campers applies to every traveller. Pack out what you brought with you and nothing more. Leave the sea shells, flowers, and driftwood where you found it. Instead, pick up any surrounding litter or trash and leave an even better footprint behind.