Although our travels change us forever, it’s easy to forget the lasting effects we have on the places we visit and the people who inhabit them. Take the example of Venice in Italy. Overtourism is draining the city’s resources and making life there too difficult for the locals, so they leave in droves and the city sinks. This is just one example of a growing problem, highlighting the need for sustainable vacations.
What is sustainable travel?
Maximizing the positive effects of tourism while minimizing the negative effects is the essence of sustainable travel.
Why is sustainable travel important?
Repeated studies have shown that tourism can have both beneficial and detrimental effects on locals, as well as on communities and the environment.
Environmental impact of tourism
We have witnessed the damage that visitors, both innocent and malicious, have caused to coral reefs, national parks and other cultural sites. A good motto to follow is “Take only memories, leave only footprints”. Do not take anything from the beach with you, especially sand or shells, and please do not litter. Bringing products like water bottles that can be reused reduces waste and saves money.
Influence on the economy
When tourists prefer hostels and independent restaurants to chain establishments, local economies are strengthened. Rather than buying mass-produced trinkets from China (which will then need to be delivered to the region), consider investing in a one-of-a-kind piece created by a regional artisan. It is beneficial to the community as a whole that as much money as possible can flow among local residents.
Effects on society
What we mean when we talk about the “social effect” of the destination is how it changes the lives of the inhabitants. It has the potential to either strengthen community and foster a sense of pride, or undermine cultural identity by making people feel bad about themselves and their traditions. It goes without saying that tourists should respect local traditions and consider locals as equals when visiting a new destination. The best part of traveling is meeting people from all walks of life and learning that despite our differences, deep down we are all the same. These days, it’s easy to find a tour that allows you to do some good on your trip. From spending time with elephants in Thailand to hiking with Himalayan shepherds, there are plenty of tour operators that will allow you to make a difference as you experience the world.
Switch to a greener means of transport
Although walking, cycling and public transit are the most sustainable options, they are not necessarily the most practical. Emissions from fossil fuel-powered transport, in particular planes and automobiles, are the main causes of climate change. Traveling with a carpool in a fuel-efficient vehicle can reduce the environmental impact of a long trip, but the train remains the more sustainable alternative.
To reduce their impact on the environment, several airlines “offset” their emissions by financing carbon-neutral initiatives such as reforestation or the installation of solar panels and wind turbines. If you’re environmentally conscious, it’s best not to fly at all.
Sustainably improve your vacation meal plan
Since around half of the plastic that ends up in the seas comes from takeout containers, it’s best to eat in if you’re staying somewhere with a kitchen. Visit your neighborhood farmer’s market for the freshest seafood, fruits and vegetables and to show your support for the area’s independent food producers. You can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by buying locally and consuming less food transported over long distances. Remember to bring your reusable bags! Meet merchants and build relationships as you shop. They can be great for learning the ins and outs of a place and getting recommendations from locals.
You should seek farm-to-table experiences and eat at local establishments whenever possible when dining out. Many hotels grow their own food or buy it from local farms.
Sustainable packaging practices
Less is more when it comes to sustainable packaging. Less weight means less energy required by airplanes, trains or vehicles carrying luggage, which helps reduce carbon emissions. Consider the following:
It’s a good idea to bring things that can be reused. Traveling with reusable items like water bottles, coffee cups and straws can help you save money and reduce waste on the road. You should also bring reusable zipper bags and durable tote bags. They are compact enough to fit in any suitcase and are useful for picking up snacks and souvenirs from the local market.
Use solid, biodegradable shampoos, conditioners and shaving bars to eliminate leaks, or pack refillable travel containers with your favorite shampoo, conditioner, body wash and lotion.
Instead of printing out your tickets, itinerary and boarding permits, download them and save them on your phone to avoid using too much paper.
Consider buying eco-friendly and durable luggage. For environmental reasons, you want the parts to be used as long as possible.