What is the one thing you always forget when you are planning your trip? Is it booking transportation from the airport? Is it forgetting to exchange your money? I’m willing to bet the one thing you and many people forget about is traveling sustainably.
You may have heard that phrase thrown around from time to time. However, in between planning your visits, making sure you’ve packed enough pairs of underwear, and finding those backup batteries, you probably haven’t given sustainable travel much thought. Here’s why you should.
Imagine going for your first surf lesson in Costa Rica, and you see some transparent substance in the water. You first think it’s probably a jellyfish. But as you paddle out, you notice some red floating object with the letters Cola written on it. Then you start to notice that you are surrounded by plastic bags, soda cans, and other pieces of trash. Surfing waves of garbage was probably not what you had in mind. What if instead of arriving at the famous wet markets of Singapore for exotic foods, you are met with flashing neon lights of fast food chains and overpriced fried wok noodles?
All of these scenarios are a result of not traveling sustainability. Sustainable travel, according to Aware Impact, focuses on helping to lower the negative impact that tourism has in certain locations. Tourism and traveling affect the environment and communities in three major ways. There is the environmental component that focuses on preserving all those cute animals you want to take pictures of and the beautiful habitats they live in. There is the economical component, which has to do with supporting the local mom-and-pop restaurants rather than the McDonald’s. Lastly, there is the social component, which means not forcing the locals to change their culture and traditions just because of an influx of tourism, along with the promotion of education and acceptance of local values and cultures.
More and more it’s becoming necessary for every person who takes a trip or a vacation to make sure they do it in a sustainable way. If you’re not sure where to get started, here are five things you can do on your next journey.
Choose a sustainable destination
One of the easiest ways to get started with traveling sustainably is to choose a sustainable destination. Culture Trip published an article on the best sustainable destinations in 2021, which included Montenegro, Valencia, Maldives, and many more places throughout Europe and the Americas.
What many of these destinations have in common is their ability to maintain eco-friendly environments when it comes to transportation, hotels, and general tourism. Setting a great example is Hachinohe City, Japan, where they have the bullet train that consumes significantly less amount of energy than a normal train. Amongst these popular destinations, the hotels are doing their part to reduce plastic use and are encouraging guests to be conscious of their consumption and waste.
Support the local economy
Once you’ve found your sustainable dream destination, it’s time to do the work when you’re on the ground. This includes paying attention to where you shop. The key is to buy ethically, which means knowing where your products are coming from and how they are being made. An easy way to ensure they aren’t coming from a child-labor factory is to buy souvenirs that are marked fair trade. You can often find fair trade stickers in the windows or in the advertisements of local shops. If an item or store isn’t marked as fair trade, you can always ask the store owner about the origin of the product. If they are made locally and sustainably, that’s definitely where you want to be putting your money.
Reduce waste and monitor consumption
Your bag of TSA-friendly toiletries is probably one of the simplest ways to reduce waste on your next trip. Bringing your reusable water bottle, eco-friendly toothbrushes, and container-less shampoos and soaps can make your traveling environmentally friendly. The problem is, many of the popular soaps and facial gels can contain microplastics, which, once they flow down the drain, can be harmful to the environment. Even using the wrong sunscreen can be detrimental to ocean life. And although it can be tempting to just pick up travel-size cosmetics, try to buy empty 3.4-ounce containers and refill them with the products you already have at home. Avoiding accessories that are made of plastic and one-time use only products like disposable razors, cotton pads, and make-up sponges are small changes that can make a significant difference. Here is a list of eco-friendly travel products you can use for your next trip.
In addition, when you’re staying at your hotel or Airbnb, be conscious of how much energy you are consuming. Don’t let the water run when you’re not using it. As Meredith mentions in her blog, turn off the light when you leave the room, don’t let the A/C run nonstop, and unplug your phone chargers.
Leave the place better than you left it
Although many of us travel to temporarily escape our lives, providing a relaxing and welcoming environment for our arrival is often the job or profession for thousands of people working in tourism. If you want to really make a difference, you can join a clean-up event or volunteer during your trip. This is a great way for solo travelers to meet other people. If you weren’t planning on getting your hands dirty while on your vacation, that’s perfectly fine. Even donating a few dollars to a local organization or charity can help improve the lives of many local people and make the destination ready for the next group of visitors.
As you plan out your next trip or vacation, ask yourself why you are going there and what you love about that place. By asking yourself those questions, you can start to counteract over-tourism. This is when a place becomes so overwhelmed by tourism that the culture, uniqueness, and identity of the place are lost because of the demands of tourism. If we aren’t careful and we don’t start traveling ethically and responsibly, traveling will lose its appeal. We’ll eventually be traveling to places that are just poor imitations of where we live, and no one wants that.
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Kiersten is a freelance writer and coach. As a writer, she has written for Travel Noire, Passion Passport, BAUCE mag, and various travel and lifestyle blogs. As a writer, her goal is to write content that inspires others to take action. As a coach, her goal is to empower women to be their most authentic selves. In her free time, you can find her dancing to any song any where.