Living a sustainable lifestyle is a consistent mind-set, even when we’re on the move out in the world.
Travelling is one of the most rewarding experiences in life. It connects us with the essence of diversity, gifts us with global human interaction, a sense of adventure and brings us back to our natural selves.
However, travelling is also an industry.
An industry that creates value for societies, generates employment and enhances people’s well-being but can also be exploited by hyper-commercialization and breed harmful environmental practices.
Transport-related emissions from tourism alone are expected to account for 5.3% of all man-made CO2 emissions by 2030. That’s a rise from 1,597 millions tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2016 to 1,998 millions tonnes by 2030.
The tourism industry is also a significant pressure on domestic water and energy resources and a large contributor to global waste and pollution.
Electricity we use at our accommodation, modes of transport we use to get from place to place and the foods we consume, when stressed in high-concentration visitor destinations, can exhaust local resources.
By making some simple changes to the way we travel, we can promote local and global sustainability and ensure the negative side-effects of our travels are minimized, for the benefit of both host and guest.
So, What Exactly Is Sustainable Travel/Tourism?
The UN World Tourism Organisation defines sustainable tourism 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.”
There are many other aspects of sustainable travel and associated taglines that we might have heard of like eco-tourism and regenerative travel.
Each have their own intended purpose:
- Eco-Tourism: “responsible travel to natural areas that conserve the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education;”
- Regenerative Tourism: considered the next step of sustainable travel, it measures tourism beyond financial benefit towards a holistic approach focusing on local people, ecosystems, natural resources, communities, cultural traditions and industry infrastructure.
At the core of it all, we are being called to re-examine our individual travelling behaviours and shift the tourism industry into a more holistic, conscious manner of operating.
How then Can We Adopt this Ethos When We Travel? Below Are a Few Sustainable Travel Hacks
… Leave Your Money with the Locals…
Whether it’s the food we eat, the places we stay or the activities we do, try opting for buying local products or using locally run operators and services.
United Nations Environment Programme research records that for every $100.00 spent by a tourist on holiday in a developing country, only $5.00 remains in the host community.
This is ‘Tourism Leakage’ and a large one at that sitting at about 95%.
Our tourism dollars that are leaked out of host communities are typically going to foreign-owned tour operators, large commercial hotels, airlines and imported drinks and food, etc.
Buying our produce from local marks instead of superstores and eating out at local restaurant’s ensures our spending money is being re-invested into the local communities, supporting local business enterprise and contributing to the development of local economies.
Stay at alternative accommodation or home-stays instead of hotel or resort chains.
AirBnB is wonderful tool that connects us with accommodation providers directly from a host community ensuring our money is kept local.
By ‘living like a local’ we can get our money to support community development by not participating in hyper-conventional mass tourism.
… Move slowly…
Many travel to experience a change of pace from our typical fast-paced, hustle and bustle societies. Lean into that slower pace when travelling and avoid the temptation of packing too much into a travel itinerary. Opt to stay in one place for longer rather than darting around to many places, which limits our opportunity to fully immerse ourselves in our surroundings and to be present.
Staying put can provide a more authentic experience of that location, culture or country. By doing so, we inadvertently end up further supporting local communities with our travel dollars and reducing resources pressure on larger cities and transport infrastructures.
Minimising the amount we move also reduces our carbon foot-print. Planes and cars are the top emitters of carbon. If we must fly from one destination to another, take a direct-flight route avoiding unnecessary stop-overs.
If destinations are relatively close, consider taking public transport e.g. trains and busses.
… Plan a little, consciously…
While the adventure and spontaneity of travelling shouldn’t be overlooked, having a rough idea of where we want to go and how we might get there can make a world of difference.
Going from Berlin to Milan via the EurRail might be the more carbon friendly option compared to air-travel, although the same isn’t true for Berlin to Madrid.
The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) highlights the real need for people to recognize their impact and how much water, waste and energy should be consumed compared to the local population of the destination location.
During the excitement of planning and imagining our next trip we could use any one of the countless online carbon off-set calculators to see just how much of a foot-print our travels may generate, it may prompt re-consideration.
We may discover an incredible alternative destination that we might not have considered before, opening ourselves up to limitless opportunity.
A 2020 study from Booking.com showed that 54% of travellers surveyed wanted to reduce over-tourism by visiting second-cities and 51% would swap a major city for a similar destination if a lesser environment impact would result.
… Eco-Tourism over Conventional Tourism…
With over 1.4 billion tourists travelling per year, the larger cities are becoming evermore dense and over-visited.
Eco-Tourism gives us an alternative, ecologically sustainable way of travelling with a focus on experiencing natural areas that foster environmental and cultural understanding, appreciation and conservation.
Why travel to St Lucia, Jamaica just to play golf (an average tropical golf course uses the same amount of water as 60,000 rural villages) when you could float on a bamboo raft on the Blue Lagoon or hike the Blue Mountains to lessen environmental footprints.
Eco-Tourism also provides further opportunity to support locals, whom are the primary operators for such services, using all that acquired traditional knowledge to maintain their environments, whilst inspiring and educating those that visit.
Travel differently. Travel sustainably. Travel well.
- Which destination are you going to next?
- How are you going to get there and what sustainable travel habits will you cultivate to ensure you’re next trip is memorable for all the right reasons?
- UNEP – UN Environment Programme
- World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC)
- Negative Environmental Impacts Of Tourism