What It Is, Why We Need It, And How You Can Do It

The effects of sustainable travel have a further reach than many people even realize, and this is why it’s something travelers should be aware of.

When travelers visit a destination they have an impact on it. Climbers at Mount Everest are famous for leaving trash behind. National Geographic reported that in 2019 the Nepali government cleared 11 tons of trash off the world’s highest peak. In Peru, Rainbow Mountain is an increasingly popular site. Locals have found a new source of employment and economic growth, but many are losing touch with their traditional pastoral way of life. Every year during tourist season, Spain’s Mallorca Island experiences shortages of freshwater. In the meantime, guests there are busy taking long showers, hotels launder linens daily, and resorts water impeccably landscaped green lawns. Thinking about travel in terms of leaving an eco-friendly footprint could help humanity preserve natural and cultural gems, keeping them intact for generations to come.

rainbow mountain in peru

via Shutterstock

What Is Sustainable Travel?

Travelers have an impact on the places they visit. Sometimes, they have a positive effect. This could be on the economy by creating new jobs or on the environment by putting pressure on local authorities to protect unique natural areas. At other times, visitors negatively affect the places they visit. For example, climbers leave trash on Mount Everest or guests use too much water at a resort.

According to Sustainable Travel International, sustainable travel is when visitors positively impact their vacation spots and the world in general. There are four main concepts to consider when planning sustainable travel. These include protecting the natural world, combating climate change, supporting community growth, and eliminating waste and pollution. More about that later on. The best way to achieve sustainable travel, though, is thoughtfully planning vacations. People might consider how choices of destination, transport, cuisine, accommodation, and tours affect the world.

related: These Were Some Of The Greenest (Eco-Friendly) Destinations As Of 2020

Why Does The World Need Sustainable Travel?

Traveling conscientiously is tremendously important. Fundamentally, it ensures that people can continue visiting new places and communities. If sustainable travel does not become the norm, authorities may choose to make attractions off-limits. Thailand temporarily closed Maya Beach on Phi Phi Island after beachgoers damaged the coral reef. In other cases, intervention comes too late, after visitors have already destroyed their destination. A selfie-seeking tourist climbed a statue of King Dom Sebastian in Lisbon’s Rossio Railway Station. The 16th-century statue tumbled to the ground and shattered.

Governments can ensure sustainable travel through policy. Bruges, Belgium has asked its boat companies to convert to electric motors. That way, when they provide tours of the city’s legendary canals they’ll cause less noise and air pollution. More controversially, African wildlife parks use the money raised through trophy hunting towards conservation efforts.

In many destinations, lawmakers have yet to protect their natural treasures and cultural heritage. That leaves the responsibility to travelers and service providers to act sustainably. Simply considering the consequences of their travel choices is the best way for tourists to preserve and protect the sites they love.

related: Eco-Conscious French Couple Travels The World Without Ever Boarding A Plane

How Can People Travel More Sustainably?

While much of sustainable travel depends on the communities at destinations, visitors can contribute to preserving destinations and cultures. Here are ways that travelers can act responsibly.

Protect Nature

When tourists pay entrance fees to national parks and protected nature areas, they support the conservation of fragile environments and native wildlife. By following the rules at these parks, they avoid damaging fragile ecosystems.

  • Visit protected nature areas
  • Pay entrance fees
  • Follow rules and stay on designated paths

Combat Climate Change

Air travel accounts for a huge part of greenhouse gas emissions. That means that alternative transportation is better for reducing climate change and global warming. Of course, often it’s necessary to fly in order to reach far destinations. When that’s the case, travelers can offset their carbon footprint by donating to organizations that plant trees to absorb CO2 or create wind farms to generate energy. Sustainable Travel International provides a list of such organizations.

  • Drive in a car with 3 or 4 people
  • Take trains or buses
  • Only fly when necessary
  • Make donations to offset carbon emissions

Empower Local Communities

When tourists spend their money at local businesses they improve the economy and increases the employment rate. Rather than eating at a chain restaurant, visitors can choose to eat at locally-owned establishments. That probably means they’ll get a more authentic meal as well. By using Airbnb or small local hotels, travelers leave their money in the community. Finally, tourists can hire local guides. Often, they are more knowledgeable since they’re from the destination and this creates jobs opportunities for people from the area.

Tourists can also support communities by resecting the people who live at their destination. This means following local laws and customs. Learning to say thank you, please, and other phrases in the language is welcome in many places. Taking cooking, dancing, or music classes is a way to respectfully learn about another culture without alienating or stigmatizing people.

  • Eat meals at locally-owned restaurants
  • Stay at local hotels
  • Hire local guides
  • Buy arts and crafts created by local artists
  • Buy concert tickets for a show by a local musician
  • Show authentic interest in learning about the way they live

Avoid Leaving Behind Trash And Pollution

To keep their destinations pristine, travelers can practice the same conservation measures as they do at home:

  • Turn off the lights
  • Turn down the heater or air conditioner
  • Walk or bike when possible
  • Avoid single-use plastics like PET plastic water bottles
  • Take shorter showers

next: The 10 Most Beautiful Eco-Friendly Hotels In The World (And Where To Find Them)

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Linda W. Davis

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