Sustainable travel is important in preventing environmental degradation. It is all about maintaining long-term tourism without harming the cultural and natural environments. It has been an important topic in recent years.
We all love traveling! But travel contributes to greenhouse gas and plastic waste. It is easier to stick with the old “reduce, reuse, recycle” when in the comfort of our homes. But when we are on a holiday, we value ease and convenience that could sometimes put that environment in jeopardy. It is important to value the environment and look after the different natural resources during your trip.
The good news is that being mindful of our environment doesn’t mean we have to give up vacations or stick to camping in our own backyards. We can all make a few changes, big or small, to be more sustainable when traveling.
Impact of Tourism
We can’t deny that tourism is the leading and resilient sector of the economy [until the global pandemic shut down most of it ]. Thanks to the tourism industry, tourists spend money on accommodation, transportation, attractions and events, and food and beverages.
Consequently, more jobs are created to provide these goods and services to tourists. It is also a great avenue to understand and appreciate other cultures.
However, we have seen over-tourism in destinations such as Barcelona, Venice, and Rome. Overcrowding, congestion, damage to urban development, and other disruptions to the quality of life for local residents are some of the negative impacts of tourism.
Online accommodation sharing platforms such as Airbnb had started to impact the rental market which makes it no longer affordable for locals to live in, or close to, the city center. Aircraft, cruise ships, and motor vehicles contribute to the total greenhouse gas emissions (Markwell, 2020).
What is Sustainable Tourism?
The UN World Tourism Organization defines sustainable development 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“.
Furthermore, UNWTO states that sustainable tourism should make optimal use of the environmental resources, respect the socio-cultural authenticity of host communities, and ensure viable, long-term economic operations.
In short, long-term sustainability means a balance between the environmental, economic, and socio-cultural aspects of tourism development.
Green tourism means adopting practices that cause the least damage to the environment and do not destroy natural resources.
Sustainable tourist practices try to use resources that can be replenished/recycled and also try to minimize the use of non-renewable resources.
Sustainable tourist behavior is more concerned about purchasing products or availing services that do not harm the environment and also try to act in a way that has the least negative effect on damaging the environment.
So now that we are equipped with the proper knowledge, here are the best ways to become a more sustainable traveler.
Ways to be a more sustainable, responsible, and respectful traveler
1. Explore new places
Sometimes we are so engrossed in our carbon footprint that we forget our physical footprint. Over-tourism, or overpopulation of the destination with visitors, is a real problem in many places that have become popular on social media.
Even I have lots of popular destinations that I want to tick off my bucket list. I mean who doesn’t want to visit Venice or Rome or Barcelona? However, these cities are suffering from over-tourism.
That doesn’t mean that we can’t go there anymore. What they want us to do is to explore other new, least-known places. Maybe you can consider traveling to these congested cities during the off-peak season.
2. Take a train instead of an airplane
Even I am guilty of this! I mean, my husband is a pilot, so air travel is our default way of traveling. Plus it is the fastest way to go to the next destination.
My son is 6 years old, and his next flight will be his 100th flight. That’s how much we travel by air. *cringe* And I have been traveling for more than a decade. *double cringe*
If you are traveling by plane, book non-stop flights. It can be long, but here are some tips to survive long-haul flights!
Why not consider a road trip this summer? or a train ride? And while train travel can take longer than a short flight, the route (considered slow by many) is often serene and well worth every penny.
3. Use public transport at your destination
If you fly to a distant country this year, limit your carbon emissions when you return to a hard surface. Instead of flying around Europe on cheap flights, take the train.
Instead of renting a car in a congested city, use public transport, carpooling, or ride-sharing. Bonus points if you choose to bike or walk!
4. Rent an electric vehicle
Yes, it will cost more. But you are reading this list because you care, right?
Electric vehicles are very green because it curbs oil use and fights climate change. HOWEVER, they can still have their own environmental impacts, depending on how much coal is being burned to charge up those plug-in vehicles.
5. Opt for Green Hotels and Resorts
You should opt for hotels that are LEED-certified or following different measures to protect the environment. LEED takes into consideration the energy use, water use, indoor environmental quality, material section, and the building’s effects on its site when rating building projects. This should help reduce environmental degradation. It’s one of the best tips on how to become a sustainable traveler.
According to the U.S. Green Building Council, “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification is a globally-recognized symbol of sustainability achievement and leadership. LEED provides a framework for healthy, highly efficient, and cost-saving green buildings“.
Green building is an effort to amplify the positive and mitigate the negative effects of a building on the environment. Again with the word ‘mitigate’. Just because it is green, doesn’t mean it will have no negative effects on the environment. It is just mitigating them.
Anyway… Yup! Sustainability can be expensive.
6. Avoid daily fresh bed linen and towels
Yes, it’s a pleasure to be made perfectly with crisp, clean sheets every day… But consider how much water is wasted in hotels and resorts where maids provide guests with fresh linens every day. Instead of dropping a damp towel on the floor for the maid to change during your absence, hang it back up and use it for a few more days, just like at home.
7. Save energy just like at home
When we’re on vacation, it’s easy to feel condescending and forget about common sense. Please, at home or away, turn off the lights when you leave the room. Opt for a shower rather than a bath. Don’t take too long in the shower.
8. Be especially aware of waste in countries where there are no recycling facilities
It is another ideal way to become a sustainable traveler. Not sure? Just remove all packaging before leaving your home.
If it’s impossible, take your trash with you. (And you’ll be shocked to see how much plastic waste you use in one long weekend!)
9. Avoid plastic if possible
Can you eat street food with your hands? Can you pack bamboo picnic utensils? Can you avoid buying water in a plastic bottle? Yes, you can.
10. Avoid disposable travel goods
Instead of storing disposable toothbrushes, wet wipes, and shampoo bottles, invest in the packaging in reusable approved containers. Fill them up using the full-size soap and beauty products you already use at home.
11. Shop at local stores
Once you ensure your souvenirs are from the city or region you are visiting, you support the local economy and eliminate the additional cost (and carbon) of getting goods to the store.
12. Eat and drink at local places
Who would have thought that being a sustainable traveler is more fun? Instead of waiting for your favorite food and drink, try the local cuisine. This is a great way to keep the environment and new culture in mind.
13. Drink water from a reusable bottle
We all know that single-use plastic is an enemy of the environment. Water is often needed on the road, so bring reusable bottles with you to avoid splurging on expensive disposable water bottles at the last minute.
14. Avoid drinking straws
You should look for alternatives like stainless steel straws that can be reused to prevent environmental degradation.
15. Pack snacks without packaging
Next time you go camping, why not grab an apple or banana instead of a wrapped protein bar? Another piece of plastic may not seem like the end of the world, but these little decisions add up over time.
16. Use mineral, not chemical, sunscreen
National Geographic recently reported that we dump about 14,000 tons of sunscreen into the ocean every year. So what happens to all these chemicals in the water? They pollute coral reefs and marine life.
Mineral sunscreens containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are less harmful to underwater habitats. They are also recommended for kids and for those with sensitive skin. Hawaii was the first to pass a law that makes it illegal to sell sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and/or octinoxate.
17. Don’t play with nature
Do not steal souvenirs from the environment. Pick up the wildflowers using a camera, not your hands. It is always best to leave seashells and corals on the beach to offer shelter for small creatures and remain part of the sand cycle.
If you cannot see the sorting bins, ask the hotel concierge. If you spot fellow travelers or even residents littering on the beach, direct them to the trash cans that are closer. If you are approached by a travel agent selling you an elephant ride, let them understand why being kind to the earth and its wildlife is important.
19. Leave every place better than you found it
It only takes a minute to pick up a plastic bag flying down the street or a water bottle on the beach. It’s nice to be part of the solution, not the problem.
Reflection on sustainable tourism
While I was writing this article, I realized how much I am NOT contributing to sustainability. Sure I love Mother Earth, but I have not been showing it through actions. Personally, it was only during the pandemic that I started recycling our waste, and religiously driving to our municipality’s recycling center. It’s a little bit of a hassle. But our daily waste significantly reduced.
I love traveling. But right now, we can’t afford slow traveling yet. My husband has work, and my kids have school. We want to do as much as we can in a small period of time. We prefer air travel. It is faster and more convenient. We also love cruises (who doesn’t?!). And as I have mentioned in one of my posts, I don’t like road trips.
The thing is… They only want us to minimize or reduce air travel or cruises. In my 10 years of full-time traveling, I have only gone to cruise twice. But, yeah, I have traveled by plane more than 100 times.
Sure, we prefer staying in hotels, and we haven’t stayed in Airbnb’s. We use our own water bottles, minimize plastic use, and don’t litter. Every little thing counts!
What about you?
On a final note…
I wrote this post to educate myself and everyone on sustainable tourism and how to become a sustainable traveler. I included all, if not most, of them. Let’s face it! We can’t and won’t be able to do everything every day consistently and religiously. And it can be expensive! But at least we are knowledgeable about what we can do, and we can choose.
The keywords here are ‘try’, ‘minimize’, ‘reduce’, ‘least’, and so on. No one is saying to quit traveling, or to totally stop using this/that. Or find/use products with no damage to the environment. That’s just impossible. Just minimize the use of this. Reduce the use of that. Use products with the least damage.
April is Earth month, and April 22 is Earth Day. That doesn’t mean we will practice green and sustainability only in the month of April. Let’s practice this every day.
So, let’s take the first step – your commitment! Your willingness to consider your own travel behavior and aspirations.
Bhagat, R., & Chauhan, V. (2021). Environmentally sustainable consumer behaviour: A study of tourists visiting Northern India. International Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Systems, 14(1), 21–29.
Markwell, K. (2020). Is it time to re-think tourism? Creating more sustainable and responsible tourism. Geodate, 33(3), 3–7.
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