Travelling is amazing. I mean it has become our “only way” to blow off steam , enjoy the well deserved vacation and to take a break from normal life. With so many apps and cost-saving websites dedicated to bring low prices to potential travelers, it’s never been easier to reach any corner of the world. We all have our bucket lists and we have the means to tick things off. But at what cost?? While we undoubtedly deserve to see the world in the comfort as we desire, it so turns out that tourist travel is a huge contributor to environmental degradation around the world. And Yes, I am part of this travel bandwagon that is creating environmental imbalance – one trip at a time. Sounds scary, isn’t it? I think more scary is the fact that while travelling in bubbles of luxury and convenience, the harms caused by our spending and other actions to our environment are generally invisible to us.
The prediction is that we have only 20 years left before the changes we have made to our environment become irreversible. So should we stop travelling and stay at home? Definitely not. There are many places that completely thrive on tourism but exploring the world is a real privilege which we need to pass on to our future generations with utmost beauty and care. Hence , the way we travel has to be sustainable. So this brings up an important question – What can we do so that in the long term we don’t destroy the things that made us want to visit. Enter a relatively new but increasingly popular movement: Sustainable Travel.
As a blogger who often showcases places, share travel tips and cheap deals to the destinations, urging people to visit them and basically contributing to the madness of reaching places and see it all, I’ve started to become more conscious of the impact of my own travels. I want to maintain mindful attitude to minimize my carbon footprint. Every action we take directly impacts the environment. If we advocate a mindful way of life, it’s only fair to extend that philosophy into how we travel. – Right?? So before I go in detail of things that I do to make sure my travels are sustainable and are less obtrusive to the environment , let me start with something basic –
What is sustainable travel anyway?
Sustainable travel” ,”Ecotourism” , “Green Travel” are buzzwords that are bit difficult to define. To some, it may evoke images of luxury resorts with high price tags. And to others, it may seem like volunteering in remote villages where electricity is scarce and WiFi is non-existent. Not an ideal vacation you had in mind , correct? But traveling sustain-ably encompasses so much more than that. It goes beyond offsetting carbon- footprint or choosing a “green” or eco-friendly hotel. It touches the three aspects of tourism – Environment , Society and Economy.
To travel sustain-ably means :
1) Being mindful of local environment and your impact on it. Enjoying it and preserving it for the future.
2) To be respectful to the local heritage and culture. Connect with locals before and during a trip to discover what they really think , how tourist activities relate to them and basically to get a local perspective on things you plan to enjoy.
3) To make sure that money you spend on your trip , helps the local businesses.
Easy -Peasy . I can assure you that anyone who has the ability to travel can travel responsibly. This brings to the biggest question :
How to Travel Sustain-ably ?
So now you have the idea of what sustainable travel means and all you have to do is to make sure that some aspects of your travel touch sustainability. It does require a little research and planning, but our beautiful world and 8.7 million other species that we share it with , are worth it. Don’t you agree? So here are few things that you can easily include in your travel routine.
Before you Jet Off :
PACK LIGHT :
Packing light is an art that I am still trying to master. Being a person who loves to get photographed for my social media channels , I used to carry too much stuff. So much that some of it used to come back from the trip un-used – sounds familiar ? The fact is, the more you pack , more the plane ways and hence more the carbon emission. Packing only what you’ll really need means less stuff for to carry around and less chance to indulge in a series of fast fashion impulse buys at destination. As an additional bonus, travelling with carry-on only means less time standing at the baggage claim (or tracking down lost suitcases), less money spent on baggage fees, and more time and money to spend, well travelling! A win – win.
DONATE OR FREEZE LEFTOVER FRESH FOODS :
While you are focusing on packing light , you would also want to perfect the art of pre-vacation grocery shopping. Since more than 20 percent of the food in America goes to landfills which is non biodegradable, you might want to consider the option of giving away or freezing the fresh food items. The items that go in landfill release methane, which is a huge contributor to climate change. More often I chop my veggies and fruits and freeze them. Specially even avocados and berries as I love them in my smoothies. For all the other organic items like potatoes , onions etc., I give it to my neighbors , friends or family. And they are happy to use them rather seeing it getting wasted in trash.
CHOOSE AN ECO-FRIENDLY TRANSPORTATION METHOD:
There are so many things to take into account while deciding how to get to a destination. Air travel is the natural enemy of sustainable travel because it wreaks havoc on the environment. The Swedes have even coined a new phrase, ‘flygskam’ or ‘flight shame,’ referring to the feeling of environmental guilt travelers have over flying. Unfortunately though, sometimes flying is non-negotiable. So the best solution is to fly less. And if you do fly , take direct flights. The most of the carbon emission is at time of takeoff and landing. By taking direct flight one can definitely reduce the carbon print.
For all the ground transportation on the destination , resort to public transport or go by foot whenever possible. On my recent travels to South America , for all the in town activities , I used local buses or ride share. It worked perfectly fine. I also love the fact that in Europe , train travel is so convenient and it is by far the greenest transport option.
OPT FOR CARBON OFFSET WHEN FLYING
A Carbon offset is a way to compensate for your emissions by funding an equivalent carbon dioxide saving elsewhere. From airlines to tour providers, some travel companies offer ways to offset carbon. Some airlines also partner with programs that let you purchase carbon offsets that are relative to your flight. There are some airlies like Qantas whose Future Planet scheme claims to be the largest airline off-setter. The carbon offset programs are generally a mix of reforestation, forest protection and renewable energy projects. So you can really chose a program you really believe in. Other verified schemes include Air Canada’s work with Less Emissions, Brussels Airlines with CO2 Logic, KLM’s CO2 ZERO and Austrian Airlines with Carbon Austria.
CHOOSE HOTELS WISELY:
If you are booking your stay , ditch big chains for once and try to find some local boutique hotels or hostels that are eco- friendly. While environmental care and standards are important, try not to fall for green-washing. Check the sustainability policies of the hotel. Hotels worldwide are earning sustainability certifications via organizations that evaluate their green efforts, such as LEED and Green Globe. This reflects their commitment to sustainability, from water and energy conservation to supporting the local community.
I was not big on staying in shared accommodations , but my trip to Chile for W trek changed it totally. While travelling to Europe or South America , I prefer hostels over hotel chains. Not only does it give a chance to meet fellow travelers but also keeps the water resources usage to minimum. Shared accommodations keep the energy usage to minimum as well and are a better choice for the environment.
DON’T PRINT YOUR ITINERARY:
Its a digital age. We have literally everything on our finger tips so I really do not understand the need of printing flight tickets and hotel bookings. Most of the airports and hotels use electronic devices to let you check-in. If wifi is the problem, you can download your flight tickets or take the screenshots and save it in your phone. You will always have access to it. Please – Save Trees , Go Green.
RESEARCH WELL ON THE ACTIVITIES YOU PLAN TO DO:
As per WTO , of each $100 spent during a trip, only $5 benefits the destination, meaning there’s a tremendous missed opportunity for travel to support local economies. If you are like me , who plans and books the activities before reaching the destination , search for tour companies that support local guides. That way you are supporting the local economy and helping the locals to stay in business. For people travelling to Africa especially Kenya , checkout YellowZebraSafaris , they have some amazing curated safaris and affinity to give back to African community to give authentic experience. For Europe Travelers , most of the cities have free walking tours where locals work of the tips. Try finding such walking tours as they are the best way to know a city inside out.
While these were the things to prep up for the sustainability , here are few things that will continue you to be on the path of sustainability ,
During your Trip –
MINIMIZE LINENS AND TOWELS WASHING :
It goes without saying that for short stays , you generally do not need fresh linens and towels every day. Those linens and towels get washed by detergents which are not eco- friendly using gallons of water. Not only does it leaves the toxic trace but also its wastage of water. I often travel for work and since I am the only one in the room , I generally
1. Talk to housekeeping and let them know that I do not need sheets and lines washed everyday, so do it upon request.
2. I reuse shower towels when possible.
I feel this one should be no brainer. More often when we leave the hotel rooms we forget to switch off all the lights.So even though we are not paying the electricity bill of a hotel , I don’t think its fair to be careless about such things. If you think its too many things to remember on a vacation , you can have a dedicated person in your group , making sure all lights are switched off when no one is in the room. Kids love to have a sense of responsibility and if you give them such tasks , not only does it make them responsible but also is a fun way of teaching them the impact of every small action.
BRING REUSABLE BOTTLES, LIMIT THE USE OF PLASTIC:
Very often when we are on vacation , we buy a plastic water bottle , we finish it and then we trash it. Plastic bottles account for a lot of waste. And it is something that we can totally avoid.
Here are few steps you can take to avoid this waste :
1) You can carry your own re-usable water bottle. TSA lets you carry water bottle if it is without any liquid. You can fill water from the airport for your flight.
2) If you are traveling in countries where the tap water is drinkable , re-usable water bottles will save a lot of plastic waste.
3) If you are traveling in countries where the tap water is not drinkable, carry water purification tablets or water filter with you.
Re-using the water bottle will not only reduce the carbon footprint but also save us a lot of money.
WATCH BEFORE YOU BUY :
This goes specially for souvenir shopping. Think twice before you buy any products made from any endangered species, including animal hides, fur coats, tortoise-shell, ivory, or coral . Not only they could be illegal but also it is at the cost of another living being. For me generally a souvenir is a bill saved from local currency that goes in my currency collection. A memory that I will always cherish and can pass along. And when you do buy souvenirs , make sure – BUY LOCALLY MADE PRODUCTS AND SOUVENIRS .
BE AWARE OF ANIMAL TOURISM:
Yes we all enjoy playing with dolphins and riding elephants , but do you think these animals enjoy being treated like that. Though I agree there are few ethically operated sanctuaries but in general it is very difficult to evaluate the authenticity of such places. Avoid these activities since the animals used for such activities are not kept in best of the conditions. These animals are often drugged, cruelly trained and/or overly stressed captive animals. Tours and attractions that allow or involve feeding of wildlife should also generally be avoided, as this can alter the animal’s natural diet as well as the surrounding ecosystem..
Of course, this is just a short list of everything we could be doing. I realize that travelling sustainably can be trickier than travelling green or in a culturally-aware fashion. But a little effort on our part will really help us in preserving this planet for our future generations.I will love to know your thoughts on sustainable travel. Leave me a comment below with your tip for sustainable living and how you make or plan to make your travels sustainable. As always, thank you so much for stopping by.