Use these tips to reduce your impact on the planet the next time you travel.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve caught a case of wanderlust but you don’t want your adventures to cause further harm to an already struggling planet. Familiarizing yourself with sustainable tourism, travel that protects the environment and empowers local communities, is a tricky balancing act, but not an impossible one.
Sustainability is a lifestyle, and it starts at home.
If you’re in a foreign country and environment, navigating the space to make sustainable decisions can be challenging, but if you’ve already incorporated many of those practices into your day-to-day life, sustainable choices become habits.
Some tips you can implement today include decreasing single-use plastic consumption by switching to alternatives; buying food from local shops and vendors and eating produce when it’s in season; be mindful when purchasing clothing, products, and souvenirs, thinking about how the item was made and who benefits from its purchase.
Once you incorporate such habits into your everyday life, it’s easier to carry them out in your travels, and incorporating mindfulness into all components of your journey can go a long way.
If you can, choose to travel by train instead of air, as trains are more efficient in their emissions and use less energy to run. If air travel is necessary, book direct flights. No matter your method of transportation, opt to pack light to lessen your carbon footprint (because less weight means less fuel).
Use a city’s public transportation system, which is a more environmentally friendly habit, and helps thin over-crowded streets. Opting to explore by foot or by bike is an earth-friendly way to get around, plus it gives you a more intimate understanding of a destination.
Where to stay
Sustainable lodging options are far more than just eco-lodges, and whether you’re looking to stay in a hotel or a home rental, there are opportunities to incorporate sustainability.
If you’re opting to stay in a hotel, seek out those that prioritize local economic development as well as environmentally friendly practices. For chain hotels, Hilton and Marriott both have reputable Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs. A little research on a hotel’s website to learn more about their initiatives goes a long way. If something isn’t listed, ask questions. A reputable hotel should be transparent about their practices.
For a homestay, make sure you’re not inadvertently contributing to rising rent costs for locals by staying in spaces that are used only by vacationers. ViaHero is a platform that connects you with a local to help plan your trip, and you can ask for local advice on best-practices in their home base.
What to do
Learn about a destination’s cuisine and culture by attending local cooking classes or dining with locals in their homes. If eating out is your preference, visit independently owned restaurants and bars that source food and ingredients from area farmers, butchers, fishermen, wineries, distilleries, and breweries. Doing so reduces the carbon footprint of shipping food products from other places.
Support women and minority-run businesses, especially in countries where civil rights and equality are lacking. Lokal is a great resource to find women-run lodges and shops as well as female-guided tours.
To protect wildlife, choose tour companies that have strict ethical standards around wildlife interactions and bring you to see animals and vegetation in their natural habitats versus in a staged or enclosed environment – whether it’s a whale watch in Maui, a sea turtle hatchery in Mexico, a bumblebee conservatory at Sequoia National Park, or a red panda conservation in Nepal. Doing so allows ecosystems to thrive and offers at-risk species a chance to recover.
There are numerous ways to see the world while helping to minimize the impact on the environment and destinations. It just takes some thought and creativity.