As a geographer and environmental practitioner I often face a pretty significant dilemma about travel – I am passionate about travel and want to explore the world, but it is really not good for my carbon footprint. So how do I try to ensure my travel is sustainable?
Why Sustainable Travel?
Travel helps us to become good global citizens, aware of global processes and environmental issues, sensitive to other belief systems, and able to contribute positively to environments, communities and cultures beyond our own.
According to a report published in 2009 by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO): “Tourism is an effective way of redistributing wealth and a catalyst for gender equality, cultural preservation and nature conservation.”
But while you’re on your travels you may well witness issues such as environmental damage, waste disposal problems, sex tourism, animal cruelty, and overuse of resources such as water. You will also want to avoid contributing to them in any way.
So to help fellow green-thinking travellers, I have pulled together my top tips for sustainable travel and will regularly feature sustainable travel news and options on Amanda’s Wanderlust.
Sustainable Travel Tips
Sustainable travel is all about promoting and supporting responsible travel practices that focus on the economic, social and environmental impacts of travel.
1. Do your research
Choose a location that hasn’t been put under strain by tourism, like the once pristine Macchu Pichu. Try to find a place that has remained relatively unaltered by visitors, and has a commitment to maintaining the integrity of the site you’re visiting.
2. Use sustainable tourism businesses
Start by choosing businesses, tour operators, activities, and tours that minimise environmental damage and make a positive contribution to the local environments and communities visited.
Consider a green hotel or resort. Ask to see a company’s environmental policy before you book, and find out what they do to promote sustainable travel.
3. Certification Programmes
It’s easy for hotels to market their business as “eco-” or “sustainable” to attract customers; but certifications demonstrate that they are genuinely responsible businesses, tour operators, or service providers.
4. Walk, cycle, take the train or bus
Think about how you travel. Can you walk or cycle during the trip, use public transport, or share transport with other travellers? Aim to make longer journeys by sea, canal or train, rather than by air, if time permits.
Avoid using short haul flights like taxis on internal journeys and short hops. Get best value from long haul flights by going for fewer longer trips and seeing as much as you can see in one go.
5. Offset your emissions
Calculate and offset your emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide through a certified carbon offset scheme, or book with a company that will do this for you like Explore.
6. Stay Local
At least once each year, why not stay in your home country and explore a little part of it you’ve not visited before, or go to a local festival. It’s a great way to keep your carbon footprint from travel to a minimum, and allows you to support the local economy. Check out my Unusual Places to Stay in the UK series for ideas.
7. Volunteer Abroad
There are many organisations offering volunteering holidays, whether in vulnerable communities or on conservation projects, where you can do almost anything from building a well to helping rescue baby turtles.
Opportunities vary from one week to two years. This gives you an opportunity to enhance the environment in the destination you visit and is a great form of sustainable travel.
8. Try WWOOFING
You can stay on an organic farm almost anywhere in the world (including the UK) and learn about organic lifestyles in exchange for your volunteer labour.
9. Avoid supporting damaging activities
Thinking about how you spend your foreign currency is also key to sustainable travel – don’t unwittingly support environmentally damaging activities like deforestation, or animal cruelty, such as the illegal trade in primates or poor conditions for horses and donkeys.
10. Support the local economy
By choosing to book with a local tour guide, or booking day trips and activities locally rather than through your travel company, you can help support the local economy. Book independent, locally owned accommodation and shop at local markets if possible. Buy local and take your own reusable bag.
11. Respect the natural environment
Respect the natural environment wherever you go, and think carefully about natural resource use. Always use water efficiently, this is a scarce resource in many locations. Try to minimise waste, reuse items and recycle where facilities exist.
Ask your tour operator or airline what they are doing to minimise energy use, carbon emissions and waste.
12. Community-based Tourism
Consider community-based tourism or tourism offered by small travel companies or cooperatives set up and owned by local communities. This may include visits to integrate with indigenous communities, but managed in a way that has minimal impact and makes a positive contribution.
13. Always pack light
Not only will this make your trip more enjoyable, as you won’t be struggling with your bags, but you will look like a more experienced traveller.
Lighter bags also result in less carbon emissions, because more weight means more jet fuel is used!
Try to plan ahead and minimise waste at the destination by thinking carefully about what you pack.
Take reusable and multipurpose items and dispose of any unnecessary packaging with care before you go.
14. Always tread lightly on your adventures
Take only photos and leave only footprints. This is what I like to call One Planet Travel, and if it came with a passport stamp it would be the most important one you would ever collect.
Always stay on marked trails when hiking, and never approach or worry the wildlife. Observe any rules in national parks and other protected areas. And NEVER drop litter.
15. Respect culture and heritage
Always learn about, foster and respect the culture and cultural heritage of the places you plan to visit.
Choose excursions run by local guides or tours that will education you about local customs and traditions.
Try the local cuisine and talk to the local people you meet. You can experience so much more this way.
I’d love to know your top tips for sustainable travel? Comment below.
Sustainable Travel Links
Feature image from NASA / National Space Science Data Center via Free Images.