Sustainable travel is on the rise. From improving cultural knowledge and richness to helping in the preservation of wildlife, there’s no disputing the positive impact travel has on the world.
The travel industry is one of the most important sectors in the world – according to the World Travel and Tourism Council – as it provides almost 350 million jobs worldwide.
That’s over 10 percent of the world’s jobs!
However, the travel industry has unwanted consequences, as well.
For once, visitants are putting a lot of strain on the cities they visit.
Then, the use of fossil fuels by airlines remains a severe source of global pollution.
Thankfully, the number of sustainable travel agencies that take into calculation all negatives and positives is on the rise.
However, if you’re looking for sustainable travel ways on your own, here are a few tips on how to offset your environmental impact.
1. Choose the right location
According to the 2020 Environmental Performance Index, European nations such as Switzerland, France, and Denmark take the top places as the world’s most sustainable nations.
Also, despite the spike in tourism, Albania and Croatia moved up in sustainable travel ranking, thanks to the protection of wild areas, backed by the Global Environment Facility and United Nations Development Programme.
But, if Europe is a place you know like the back of your hand, it is time to explore the African continent.
Namibia has become the first African nation to place environmental protection right into its constitution.
Moreover, with the assistance of the World Wildlife Fund, local communities are empowered to conserve, manage, and benefit from the wildlife on their lands.
“Choosing to travel to a conservation-minded destination is one of the most important things travelers can do.
Destinations that value natural and cultural heritage elevate the quality of the experience and support the livelihoods of those that work in the travel industry,” said Jim Sano, the WWF’s VP of travel, tourism, and conservation.
Sustainable travel is defined by the idea of choosing a country that respects the environment.
2. Book sustainable accommodation
Let’s get this straight from the beginning – a sustainable resort doesn’t mean that it sacrifices luxuries for its visitors.
Thus, while you book your sustainable travel holiday, consider where you stay.
Your choice of accommodation has a great impact on the local ecosystem.
There are many hotels in Africa with minimal environmental impact, with a zero-plastic policy, such as the Angama Mara in the Maasai Mara of Kenya.
If you travel to South Luangwa in Zambia, know that Time + Tide’s Mchenja and Chinzombo camps use renewable energy from solar panels.
Furthermore, thanks to powerful filtration systems, these hotelier complexes recycle rainwater.
Finally, most of these locations were built using renewable materials like grass, thatch, and recycled composite.
Hotels building back the natural areas are another great asset on your sustainable travel list.
For example, there are hotels in Costa Rica being built without cutting down a single tree during their construction, such as Nayara Springs.
Similarly, in Rwanda, Wilderness Safaris has planted 20,000 trees at Bisate Lodge since opening in 2017.
In Brazil, Pousada Literária de Paraty has replenished the surrounding greenery to the extent that it has attracted so much birdlife that the hotel decided to create the country’s first-ever private bird reserve.
In Mexico, the founder of Habitas Tulum went to great lengths to cut down as few trees as possible and even replanted 3,000 new palms.
“We let the land dictate where our structures would be built. It was the most insane game of Tetris, but until we got it right, we refused to break ground,” says Castillo.
3. Sustainable transportation is the key
Global air quality has been listed by the 2020 Environmental Performance Index as one of the most severe hazards to public health.
For that alone, it is critical to reconsider how you reach your sustainable travel destination.
Often, traveling by plane is the only viable way to reach some of the world’s more remote destinations.
However, while one of the easiest ways to travel around the world, it is also one of the worse for the environment.
Thankfully, you can offset your carbon footprint by selecting an eco-friendly airline.
Begin your sustainable travel journey by selecting airlines that use sustainable aviation biofuel.
I know some are over the top of my head – United, Qantas, and KLM – but you better check to ensure those airlines are available in your area.
Even better, one of the most sustainable travel alternatives to flying is to travel by train.
According to the International Transport Forum, traveling by train generates up to 10 times fewer carbon emissions than by airplane.
Eurostar is the best example of a carbon-neutral high-speed train.
Eurostar is three times more energy-efficient when compared to regional trains and fifty times more efficient than a flight.
Also, if you’re looking to book a cruise, consider economically efficient small ships instead.
Sustainable travel companies that arrange 10-passenger charters are preferable to big wasteful giants.
Moreover, most of these small cruise companies are working to protect local habitats, such as the wild fjords of Alaska.
Another example that comes to mind is Aqua Expeditions, a company that funds paramedic care to the communities they visit while protecting the fragile and increasingly endangered environments of the Peruvian Amazon and Mekong River.
4. Reduce energy and water usage
Long and steamy showers are a great way to scrub off and relax after long travel days.
However, the staggering amount of both water and energy used by travelers impacts locals in so many negative ways.
“Two billion people around the world don’t have clean running water. Turning off the tap when you brush your teeth, reusing towels, and taking short showers isn’t just a moral imperative; it’s common sense,”
Says a spokesman of the United Nations Development Programme.
Bruno Correa, the founder of the sustainable travel association Bee + Hive, believes conscious tourists should demand more of their hotels when it comes to water and waste.
“In a developing country, a village of 1,400 people uses an average of 1,000 liters of water per month. At the same time, a luxury hotel guest uses 1,800 liters per night,” says Correa.
If you’re not sure if your hotel operates a sustainable scheme, ask the hotel manager about their approach to water conservation.
Ask what you can do to achieve a higher sustainable travel quote and minimize your impact; it should be much more than washing towels less often.
5. Reduce your plastic waste
Here are some worrying facts, plastic-related: According to a study published by Science Advances, only 9 percent of plastic is recycled.
Even worse, nearly 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic have been produced in the last six decades.
If those trends continue, that figure will jump to 12 billion by the year 2050.
Therefore, when packing for your sustainable travel, you should always consider recyclable food packaging options.
Moreover, some packaging companies do more than recyclable containers but actively provide solutions to climate change through food.
Back to our choice of where to travel, certain countries such as South Africa and Ethiopia ban or tax plastic bags.
In Kenya, it is illegal to produce, sell, or use plastic entirely.
But, as a conscious traveler, you should know that of all plastic waste, single-use bottles are the most harmful.
Joint research organized by the Adventure Travel Trade Association in association with Travelers Against Plastic has concluded that each adventure travel operator uses almost 30,000 single-use plastic water bottles per year.
“Reducing plastic waste while traveling is critical. Plastic ends up in nature, poisoning the environment, killing wildlife. We can reduce the waste generated with reusable bottles and filtration systems,”
Says CEO Shannon Stowell.
That’s why, if you’re approached by a self-called sustainable travel operator, ask if they use single-use plastic bottles in their holidays.
6. Support sustainable local trades
From each $100 spent during a trip, only $5 benefits the producer, shows a recent report by the World Tourism Organization.
This means that there’s a tremendous missed opportunity, even for sustainable travel companies, to support local economies.
That’s why you have to take the matter into your hands.
Make sure you choose local companies that make an effort to provide environmentally-conscious activities.
When you travel internally in the city you’re visiting, try to avoid fossil fuel transport.
A bike takes you deep into the countryside, reaches remote villages, and travels on the level of local people.
But best of all, the environmental impact of a bike is zero.
If bikes are not your thing, try to use an electric taxi, there are plenty out there nowadays.
For local activities, choose low-impact hiking, biking itineraries, and sustainable scuba diving activities that do not impact the surrounding biosphere.
Ultimately, the idea here is to strike the perfect balance of exploration and immersion.
7. Leave the world a better place
Make sure you always choose a sustainable travel company that leaves the place you’ve just visited better for others to enjoy as well.
Certain holidaymakers ensure that each departure has an environmental donation built into the trip price.
For example, Volcanoes Safaris uses a portion of each booked safari to support the local communities and conservation of Rwanda and Uganda’s apes.
To Tom Marchant, the co-founder of Black Tomato, this concept is critical to supporting communities when they need it most.
“I’m proud to see people choose to visit areas that have suffered recent hardship resulting in economic difficulties such as the wildfires in Sonoma, the earthquakes of Mexico, the water drought in Cape Town. These communities need travelers more than ever, and many of our clients are inspired to make further charitable donations after they visit.”
To summarise, there are many ways you can help and support a sustainable travel landscape and the bettering of our world.
But, to simplify, it boils down to your choices and the seven tips above:
- Choose a sustainable country/location to visit.
- Select a sustainable hotel.
- Use sustainable transport to get there and to travel around.
- Reduce your energy and food waste.
- Use only recyclable plastic.
- Support sustainable local trade.