Eighty-six percent of all travelers want to do their part to lower their environmental impact by taking more sustainable trips, according to Accenture. And although tourism is responsible for approximately 8% of the world’s carbon emissions, it is also a key driver of socio-economic progress. It generates 1.7 trillion dollars globally and a significant percentage of the overall income for the least developed countries.
So, how can you travel in a way that supports both the planet and people? Let’s start by defining sustainable tourism and understanding why it matters. Essentially, it’s finding the appropriate balance between economic growth, human well-being, and environmental health; in other words, maximizing the positive benefits to communities, cultures, ecosystems, and the planet while minimizing the negative impacts.
SafetravelRX, an app that helps you stay safe while on the road, has five tips to ensure you can enjoy the pleasures of travel without guilt.
Five Best Practices
1. Do Your Homework
While most of us think that green hotels, eco-lodges, and sustainable hotels are all basically the same, they can actually be quite different in terms of their practices. For example, although a green hotel and an eco-lodge might be recycling or using grey water, they might not necessarily adhere to all three pillars of sustainability, which is environmental, social, and economic. To understand more about the differences, this article from the Rain Forest Alliance will get you up to speed. You can also confirm that your hotel or tour operator meets certain criteria by going to the global sustainable tourism council, which sets standards and validates compliance.
2. Go Local
There are plenty of ways to give back to the communities you visit. You can try to eat at restaurants that serve locally grown food or shop at a farmer’s market. Stay in a guest house or hotel owned by community residents rather than a large resort. Avoid buying from big box stores or chains and instead try to support small shops. Get to know the destination more authentically by booking a local guide to show you around. Consider taking a class offered by local artisans such as cooking, pottery, or weaving. And finally, immerse yourself in the culture by learning about the history, etiquette, and traditions. Practice a few words of the language and be aware of what attire is appropriate. Also, be cognizant of local taboos that might be offensive to locals, such as certain gestures or words. By respecting the people and their culture, you will have a more meaningful experience and leave behind a positive impression.
3. Take the Road Less Traveled
Many destinations in the world are literally being “Instagrammed” to death. Too many people traveling to the same tourist hot spots are causing pollution, congestion, and the degradation of historical sites. Try getting off the beaten path and avoiding places where everyone else is headed. Not only will you be helping protect some of our most precious resources and historical monuments, but you will probably have a more enjoyable trip if you aren’t competing with other tourists for every photo opportunity or standing in long lines for every attraction. You also might get a much warmer reception from locals in destinations that aren’t literally being overrun by tourists.
4. Use Efficient Transportation
It may be impossible to get where you’re going without getting on a plane, but you can reduce your footprint once you arrive at your destination. Instead of renting a car, try to use trains, buses, or metros when available. If you do rent a car, opt for an electric, hybrid, or smaller model. Think about staying in places where you can walk to local attractions and if you’re traveling by sea, think about taking cruises that don’t rely on ships the size of small cities. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, a 3,000-passenger cruise ship generates 210,000 gallons of sewage, over 100 gallons of hazardous or toxic waste, and 25,000 gallons of oily bilge water in a week. So, if you want to take to the sea, try smaller vessels like sailboats.
5. Conserve Local Water and Energy
Recycle whenever possible and avoid single-use plastics. Bring your own water bottle and fill it as necessary rather than buying bottled water. Turn off the lights and electronics when not in use and avoid air conditioning when possible, or turn it a few degrees higher. Remember to turn off the water when brushing your teeth, take shorter showers, and ensure faucets are always turned off completely. And don’t be a litterbug. Try to leave each place as pristine as you found it, or do your part and pick up a few pieces of trash that someone else left behind.
For many of us, giving up the pleasure of travel is not an option. And there are many positive outcomes that result from exploring the world. Learning about other cultures, opening our minds to other ways of life, and supporting local communities, not the mention seeing nature at its best. We just all need to remember to do our part so that our lasting impact as voyagers is as positive as possible.
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