You’re here because you’re environmentally conscious… and, if you’re anything like us, after a year of lockdown, ready to hit the road. When the bags are packed, tanks filled, and tray tables in their upright positions, here’s how to take those green-minded practices and travel sustainably wherever you go.
OK, I’m ready to get on board… but what exactly is sustainable travel?
“Sustainable” accounts for economic, social, and environmental impact together. For travel, this means visiting in a way that not only promotes lasting tourism (a major industry for most economies, supporting 1 in 10 jobs worldwide) but also preserves the sites, environments, wildlife, people, cultures, and heritage we’ve come to experience. And with (pre-COVID!) 1.4 billion of us traveling each year, your small choices can make a big impact.
The journey starts before you even leave.
All things sustainable typically take a little planning and prep. For travel, it’s being mindful about where and when you go, what you do there and what you bring as the first step:
- Pack light. Bring only the best-case essentials and what you need to feel comfortable, but don’t overdo it. You can always pick up items along the way, and of course, you have to leave room for mementos and souvenirs! Take tags off new clothes and packaging off any new items so you’re not bringing or leaving extra waste. Choose made-from-recycled products that take less energy to produce and reuse resources.
- Do your research. Planning? Consider non-peak travel times and off-the-beaten-path places. Book hotels with green practices and airlines who already carbon offset. Going with a travel company? Awesome! There are incredible experiences to be had, and just a little extra legwork can ensure your choice has clear responsible travel and business practices.
- Choose to reuse. When shopping for travel gear, aim for BYO, reusable low-waste items from quality water bottles and bamboo silverware to eco-friendly containers for toiletries (egads, skip those mini bottles!) and collapsible shopping bags. Why not try plastic-free, liquid-free options to breeze through TSA like shampoo bars, toothpaste tabs and lotion sticks that save budget and skip plastic waste.
- Plan to cut your carbon. Flying? Book direct, as the highest emissions are from take-off/landing. Driving? Map the most efficient routes and times and don’t leave your car idling. Go even greener when you travel slow by train, shared motor coach or bike. Choosing how to get around the city? Walk or jump on a bike where you can. Grab a tuk tuk or a black cab, or support another local provider.
- Shop, eat, and experience local. Though you’re only visiting, those who call the destination home rely on tourism for their livelihood—but sadly, often as little as $5 of every $100 spent stays in the local economy. You play an important role in protecting what makes each destination so special:
- Find the local favorites. Skip the chain restaurants you can find back home and opt for neighborhood eateries, coffee shops, and cafés. Nix the generic souvenirs which are likely not even made in the destination and choose crafts from local artisans. Go beyond the sites and get to know the story behind the people and places you visit.
- Respect the local culture. Do some research ahead of time to learn a bit about your destination. Practice a handful of phrases in the local language (it will be appreciated!). Dress respectfully in consideration of religious and cultural norms. Immersing yourself in the culture will make your experience more authentic—trust us, you’ll be glad you did.
- Enjoy wildlife from a safe distance. We all love wildlife, and while it is tempting to join activities that get you up-close and personal, many of these will sadly have you inadvertently supporting harmful and unethical practices. Steer clear of things like the close-up selfies, elephant rides, or souvenirs with animal parts.
- Donate or volunteer the right way. Sometimes our best intentions can do more harm than good. Do your research and ensure your actions are not actually taking jobs from locals, spurring the institutionalization of children at orphanages, or perpetuating begging schemes that only keep the impoverished trapped in the same cycles.
- Keep cutting your carbon footprint—save energy and resources. Turn off your lights and lower cooling/heating when you leave your accommodations. Watch your water usage, especially in drought-prone areas. Pack travel-friendly cleaners and fresheners for clothes so you’re not using wasteful hotel laundry services. Choose electronic tickets, documents, and keys, where available. Find fun solar-powered gear to stay charged.
- Spread the word and keep on [sustainably] traveling. Unlike your vacation suntan, the effects of sustainable travel can last long after you’re home! After you’ve unpacked your incredible local keepsakes, lead by example and share your stories of sustainable travel: the meaningful impact you and the people and places you visited had on each other.
- Plan, pack and repeat! Just remember, simple and rewarding actions will see you leaving a more positive impact on the people and places you visit—and deliver a more meaningful experience in the process. And in a time when a break in visitors has shown us just how much overtourism threatens to change our best-loved destinations forever, your choices have never been more important when we get back out there.
For more tips on ways to travel sustainably, visit www.sustainabletravelandliving.com, offering over 400 low-waste, nontoxic, recycled and other eco-friendly gear items great for every day, every journey.