‘Sustainable travel’ is a subjective term that has different connotations for different people.
However, with the United Nations most recent report suggesting that our planet's health is in an even more dire state than we had imagined – The New York Times summarised the findings as "a world of worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040 — a period well within the lifetime of much of the global population" – travelling sustainably should be top of our priority list.
From excessive air travel that causes harmful CO2 emissions to package holiday resorts that are built on natural areas, international travel and tourism are far from sustainable.
However, as sustainable travel intentions grow, travellers are still looking for ways to more easily fulfil these ambitions.
What is sustainable travel?
Sustainable travel means finding a way that tourism can be maintained long-term without harming natural and cultural environments.
The World Tourism Organization defines it as “development [which] meets the needs of present tourists and host regions while protecting and enhancing opportunity for the future. It is envisaged as leading to management of all resources in such a way that economic, social, and aesthetic needs can be fulfilled while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, biological diversity, and life support system.”
The three pillars of sustainable tourism are employing environmentally friendly practices (reduce, reuse, recycle); protecting cultural and natural heritage (restoring historic buildings or saving endangered species); and providing tangible social and economic benefits for local communities (ranging from upholding the rights of indigenous peoples to supporting fair wages for employees).
Here are ways in which you can do just that:
1. Avoid planes, cars and motorbikes
Opting for trains, biking or walking to get around decreases your carbon footprint considerably. Slow travel is part of an emerging sustainability movement that also allows travellers a deeper sense of place of the place they're exploring.
2. Say no to plastic
Something that should be adopted whether at home or away. Reusable bottles, containers, coffee cups and/or tote bags are your go-tos here. Not only will this cut back on plastic waste, but it will also reduce your carbon footprint–petroleum-based ingredients are a staple in manufacturing plastic bottles and bags.
3. Do your research
When seeking out the services of a tour outfitter, ask three questions before signing on: What are some of your tour company’s environmentally friendly practices? Can you give me an example of how your trips help to protect and support wildlife or cultural heritage? Do you employ local guides on your trips?
They can't answer? Find another one.
4. Support the real local economy
Locally made crafts and souvenirs are not always cheaper, but purchasing them ensures your contribution to the economy will have a more direct and positive impact. 'Traditional' dress or trinkets may actually be shipped from afar, so make sure to ask before you buy.
Same goes for food. Buying or ordering dishes made of imported groceries adds nothing but unnecessary air miles.
5. Pack Light
Extra baggage increases fuel consumption hugely, which explains why we pay for it so handsomely nowadays.
Need the gear? Samsonite (samsonite.ie) now offers a new eco-range of carry-ons and backpacks made from 100% recycled water bottles.
6. (Don't) walk with the animals
Rule of thumb is if you’re riding or kissing a creature you’re likely to see on National Geographic, you’ve inched too close.
When overseas, avoid buying animal products like sea-shells or exotic feathers, resist the likes of camel-riding and exotic monkey selfies, and, by all means, don't pose with a tranquillised tiger in India.
If you really want to get up close with animals in an impactful way, consider activities like walking rescue dogs or volunteering at an ethical elephant orphanage. If the animal is being used recreationally for any reason, it's usually not great.
7. Book eco-conscious accommodations
A sustainable hotel doesn’t mean the property skimps on luxuries. Before you book your next trip, consider how your stay affects the local ecosystem. Idyllic eco-travel lodges made of bamboo and solar panels have cropped up in bulk recently – allowing the lowly traveller to sleep easy under renewable materials like grass, thatch, and recycled composite.
Main image by @lucywilliams02
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