Being a more sustainable person is all about making choices. So being a more sustainable traveller means making choices about where we travel, when we go and how we get there. It’s also about the way you chose to act and things you do when you get to your destination. Each one of your choices will make a small difference – which collectively can have a big impact.
You might think sustainable travel is impossible. You could rack up a huge carbon footprint just getting to your destination, not to mention the environmental impact you could have once you arrive. But people all over the world depend on tourism for income. Plus there are loads of things you can do and ways to give back when you’re travelling that can actually help protect culture and conserve nature and resources, all while benefiting local people and communities. Here’s our top ten tips to help you travel more sustainably.
When to go?
This might not be an immediately obvious thing to consider when it comes to sustainable travel, but visiting during the off-peak period can be beneficial, as it puts less of a strain on local resources and the surrounding environment. It also means that you’re more likely to save some cash on accommodation, meaning you’ll have more to spend on activities and giving back to the local community.
Where to go?
Before you start planning a trip around the world, make sure you get to know your own backyard first. People most likely travel across the world to visit places on your doorstep that you’ve never even been to, so make the most of them. Is there somewhere you’ve always wanted to go within a few hours drive? Make it the destination for your next trip or weekend away.
Visit Eco-Friendly Destinations
If you do plan on going overseas, consider a country that promotes ecotourism. Not only will you get to see some amazing wildlife and scenery, but the money that you bring to the local economy will get put back into projects helping to preserve and conserve the natural environment.
Central and South America in particular have some amazing destinations that promote ecotourism, like Costa Rica and the Galapagos Islands. Ecotourism is also a great way of helping support the preservation of the Amazon Rainforest – so take your pick from any of the nine nations the Amazon stretches across. There’s also some amazing volunteering opportunities in this area with organisations like Fauna Forever, ARCAmazon and Ecuador Eco Volunteer.
If you’d like to stick with the warmer climates, Palau, Kenya and Kerala, India are also great options, with amazing wildlife and crystal clear waters. But if you’re brave enough to face the cold, Norway, Iceland and Alaska are havens for adventure lovers, and all offer an array of natural wonders. Just remember to wrap up.
Where to stay?
Stick With The Locals
If you can, stay at an Airbnb. It’s more environmentally friendly than you might think – and you’ll be helping local people by providing them with an income, plus you’ll get to experience how the locals live. If you’re somewhere more remote, opt for an eco-lodge, or try and find a place that has a recycling program or any sustainability initiatives like solar panels and rainwater harvesting. And try and stay somewhere that employs local staff and sources food from the area.
How to get there?
If you’re taking a road trip and don’t have a car (or only have a very polluting one) consider renting a hybrid or an electric one. Or you could always travel by train, bus or boat instead.
If you don’t have to, don’t fly. Air travel uses up a lot of fossil fuels, and is one of the biggest contributors to climate change. If you do have to go by plane, try and book non-stop flights where possible. Consider flying with one of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) member airlines who offer carbon offset programs to neutralize the aircraft’s carbon emissions by investing in carbon reduction projects.
When you’re there…
Be a traveller, not a tourist
People travel to new places because they want a genuine experience of what this place has to offer, so it’s all about experiencing the unique things about where you’re visiting that you can’t get anywhere else.
Respect the culture
Learn some of the language – even if it’s just simple words and phrases like ‘hello’, ‘how are you?’ and ‘thank you’ – it will make a difference to how you’re treated. Find out about local culture and customs. This is especially important in places in Asia like Vietnam, where it’s rude to show the bottoms of your feet, and standing chopsticks in a bowl of rice is considered bad luck. The rules of etiquette may seem strange to you, but they can be very powerful and have a much deeper meaning than you realise. So make sure you do your research before you arrive.
Purchase ethically and locally
Avoid chain restaurants, big malls and huge tour operators. Instead, embrace the local culture, using the facilities and trips or tours on offer from people who live and grew up there – we can guarantee they have great stories to tell about the area and its history and culture.
Don’t just take things home as a holiday souvenir, like shells from the beach. Buy from locals instead – but be careful – never buy animal or wildlife products. Check where the products are made, and try to find local artisans to get your souvenirs from.
Conserve water and energy
Always carry a reusable water bottle with you – and try not to buy plastic ones. This can be difficult if you’re somewhere that doesn’t have safe drinking water- but easy solutions do exist, like boiling water for at least three minutes and letting it cool down.
Make sure you do what you can to save water and energy, wherever you’re staying. Take a short shower instead of a bath, and hang up your towels so they don’t get washed every day. Turn off your lights, heating/AC and your TV when you leave your room. Use local public transport, and leave the car behind.
Also – if you are staying in a hotel, leaving the do not disturb sign on the door can help reduce the impact of cleaning your room and bedding. And when you leave, take any leftover shampoo, soap or toothpaste with you, as they’ll just be thrown away otherwise.
Eat like a local
When it comes to buying food, eat what and where the locals eat. Not only will be most likely be delicious, but it will have been made using local products and techniques. If you’re planning on eating in, visit a food market to get your ingredients. And make sure you do your research about what food you should avoid while you’re there. In some places, like South America, cattle farming and demand for beef is destroying the rainforest. So if you’re not already, consider going vegetarian while you’re travelling, or at least cutting down on the amount of meat you’d normally eat.