From selecting transportation and accommodations to authentic cuisine and souvenirs, get off the beaten path and start taking steps towards sustainable travel

Sustainable travel means minimizing the negative impacts of tourism on local communities, while maximizing the benefits. The goal is to preserve natural resources, cultural heritage and the economy of the local community, while still allowing travelers to enjoy new experiences. As a traveler, you are responsible for making choices that benefit the well-being of the environment, community and culture within the location you are visiting. Below you’ll find ten easy ways toward sustainable travel.

Choose Eco-Friendly Transportation

One of the easiest ways to minimize the negative impacts of travel is to choose eco-friendly transportation. Utilize public transportation, carpool, take a train or bus, and walk or bike whenever possible. If you must rent a car, choose an electric vehicle or hybrid. If you’re taking a flight to your destination, select a direct flight rather than connecting flights. Taking off and landing a plane uses more carbon fuel than does time in the air, so direct flights are a better option toward sustainable travel. Only fly airlines that are focused on fuel efficiency. Select airlines are beginning to decrease the maximum weight limit for luggage as they work towards being more fuel efficient, while other airlines are focused on using biofuels to decrease their carbon footprint.

Conserve Resources

Just because you are not paying the utility bill, does not mean you should over consume! Conserving energy by turning off the lights, TV, and adjusting the thermostat before you leave your hotel room for the day are easy actions toward sustainable travel. Any opened toiletries are usually thrown away, so if you’ve opened any, take them home with you to use on your next trip. Put the “Do Not Disturb” sign on your hotel room door to let housekeeping know you do not need your room cleaned and bedding changed. This reduces chemical waste they would have used to clean surfaces, conserves energy that would have been used by vacuuming or turning on lights, and conserves water because your bedding and towels won’t be washed daily. You don’t wash your towels and bedding at home daily, so why do it when traveling?

Carbon Offset Programs

While directly reducing emissions is the best way to travel sustainably, sometimes there are inevitable carbon emissions. Carbon offsets aim to compensate for emissions by investing funds into reducing carbon elsewhere. When booking a flight, many airlines provide an option for you to pay an extra fee towards carbon offset programs. However, it is important to do your research on where and who you are donating to. Be mindful not to use carbon offset programs to justify or buy your way out of the responsibility of reducing emissions directly.

Take the Road Less Traveled

It might be tempting to travel to destinations that celebrities and influencers promote, but this leads to over tourism. Too many destinations are being “loved to death.” They’ve become such popular tourist destinations that they are being destroyed and depleted of their beauty. If you want to explore a popular tourist destination, consider going during off-season to alleviate stress on the environment. To be a sustainable traveler, we advise exploring places not as well known. You’ll avoid crowds and have a peaceful, less stressful trip. Another option is to stay in a smaller city just outside of your bucket-list destination. You’ll still be able to explore the location while spreading tourism dollars farther.

Minimize Wildlife Impact

When planning activities for your travels, choose responsible wildlife tours and sanctuaries that prioritize the well-being of the animals and their habitat. Find state parks, marine sanctuaries and other protected areas that require entrance fees. These fees are used to help preserve local wildlife. Additionally, you should adhere to all guidelines when interacting with animals and wildlife. Use a quiet voice and refrain from feeding or touching the animals. Avoid attractions that exploit animals, such as riding elephants or swimming with dolphins. It is a bad sign if you’re allowed to touch, hold or ride any animal! Follow the “leave no trace” principles when interacting with wildlife. After your departure, the environment should look as if you were never there.

Respect Local Culture and Traditions

Traveling sustainably includes both respecting and embracing the local culture of your destination. Research customs and traditions of your destination prior to arrival. Respect the dress code and try to follow it as best as you can. Resist egocentrism, or, resist the urge to impose your customs, culture, perspectives and beliefs on the community you are visiting. Many of us enjoy a good burger, but don’t be that person searching for a McDonald’s on your travels. Instead, immerse yourself in the new culture. Try locally-owned restaurants that offer authentic cuisine. Participate in community development projects, celebratory events or holiday traditions. And most importantly, ask before you take any photos.

Support Sustainable Accommodations

When planning your trip, look for hotels, hostels and vacation home rentals that have eco-friendly certifications. There are two types of reputable certifications: operational and building. Operational certifications involve evaluating various processes within an organization to ensure they are reducing their environmental impact and promoting sustainability. Examples of operational certifications are: EarthCheck, Green Globe, Green Key and Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC). Building certifications focus on evaluating buildings that adhere to responsible construction practices and promote healthier, more sustainable structures. For eco-friendly building certifications, one should look for: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) and Green Star.

Buy Responsible Souvenirs 

Stay away from gift shops that mass produce souvenirs. Instead opt for a locally-owned shop selling souvenirs. These items are usually handmade by people in the community and are typically produced using sustainable methods. Responsible souvenirs include but are not limited to preserved fruits, vegetables, spices, soaps, bags, jewelry, decorations and artwork. To travel sustainably, one should also consider transporting souvenirs back home. Bulky or heavy items will increase transportation emissions. As technology expands, so does the option to purchase digital souvenirs such as music or e-books from local artists. Where you decide to spend your money when traveling matters. Our decisions leave an impact on the social and economic components of a community just as much as they impact the environment.

Bring a Reusable Water Bottle

Simply put, bring a reusable water bottle for your travels, preferably stainless steel, glass or BPA free plastic. Not only is this cost effective for you as a traveler, but it significantly cuts back on the amount of plastic you use. Select a water bottle with a leak-proof design to avoid any spillage in your bag. Airports, train stations and other public places often have water fountains or refill stations. It is important to research the water quality of the destination you are traveling to. In some areas, tap water may not be safe to drink. This will also help you plan ahead on what locations offer safe water refill stations while you’re exploring. Don’t forget to clean your reusable bottle regularly and personalize it to make it easily recognizable from others.

Stay Awhile

Slow down and stay awhile. Quickly traveling from place to place increases carbon emissions and you won’t fully get to know your destinations. Instead of taking several shorter trips throughout the year, consider planning a long vacation in one single location. This gives you time to fully explore the new environment and truly experience the culture, traditions and cuisine. If you are someone who is passionate about exploring new places, focus on traveling locally throughout the year. You’d be surprised at the hidden gems within a short commute from your location. You’ll fulfill the longing desire for adventure while taking steps toward sustainable travel.

Don’t forget, travel comes with responsibility! You are responsible for making choices that benefit the well-being of the communities you are traveling to.

By Debbie Taylor

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