Sustainable Travel: How You Can Make the World Better
Many of us dream of making the world a better place. But we often give up on that desire because we feel that dream is unattainable. How can a normal person like us make a difference in the world?
Just because you may not be able to transform an entire society doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference. Even positively impacting one person’s life is making the world a better place.
What if you could do what you love and make a positive impact? Well, the good news is you can. We want to share with you how you can pursue your love of travel while making the world better through sustainable travel. First, we’ll explain what it is, why it’s important, and then some specific ways to become a sustainable traveler.
What is Sustainable Travel?
When you hear the term sustainable travel or sustainable tourism you might think of ecotourism or protecting the environment. That’s true, but it’s only a piece of the concept.
Sustainable travel has both a negative and positive aspect to it. On one hand, sustainable travel involves minimizing the negative impact tourism and travel has on the environment and local communities (more on this shortly).
On the positive side, it involves benefiting the place you’re visiting by maintaining the cultural integrity and valuing natural resources. Essentially, traveling sustainably is about protecting the environment and persevering and helping the development of local communities.
Why is Sustainable Travel Important?
Millions of people travel overseas every year but few realize or ever consider the impact their travel has on the earth. It’s so easy to jump on an airplane, stay in hotels, see some sites, come home, and only think about your personal experience, not the wider impact the trip has on the environment or place you’re visiting.
Tourism does have its pluses, including being a primary source of income for many developing parts of the world. If that’s the case, then why is sustainable travel such a big deal?
The reasons are environmental, economic, and cultural. Let’s look at them briefly.
The negative impact tourism can have on the environment has been thoroughly documented. This includes depletion of natural resources, noise and air pollution, waste and littering, and deforestation/natural habitat loss.
Clean water is scarce in some tourist destinations. Golf courses and resorts use enormous amounts of water, and many tourist destinations typically do not attract environmentally conscious travelers. Therefore, millions of gallons of precious fresh water are being taken from local people who need it and are being used wastefully by tourists.
With tourism comes the need for many buildings, and to build these structures often means disrupting the land by clearing more forest or displacing animal habitations. Sometimes other types of resources need by the local people also get depleted.
Tourism is also a major source of pollution, including air, water, and noise. Tourists need to travel to their destination, which can mean multiple plane rides. They often spend a significant amount traveling around the area seeing sites. This causes extra air pollution, noise pollution, and traffic. Imagine multiplying this by many thousands of travelers.
Every person creates waste, and that’s normal. But, tourists tend to be more wasteful because they aren’t at home and are generally more careless on vacation. The increase in waste puts strain on the sewage systems that are usually not built to handle the large volume that the tourism creates.
Cruises are a major source of waste, and that waste isn’t always disposed properly. Due to a lack of strict laws in many areas of the world, the pollution often ends up in the ocean, killing wildlife and harming the environment.
Tourism, which can have some benefits, can actually end up destroying ecosystems.
It’s true many countries depend on tourism as a major source of income, and it can often help local economies as a whole. However, tourism can negatively affect local people financially. As a city becomes a more popular tourist destination, it will draw outside businesses, especially western chain restaurants. This takes away business from local restaurants as local people begin to eat at McDonalds, KFC, or Pizza Hut.
One other way tourism can be financially detrimental to the locals is that the cost of living increases. Tourists are generally more able and willing to pay higher prices, and local business owners come to expect everyone to pay these inflated prices. Furthermore, as the demand increases, the cost of land will also increase, making it difficult for the locals to purchase land for homes or businesses.
Some of the ideas above have been well documented, but one aspect that is lesser known is the cultural impact travel can have on local communities. Many western tourists are uninformed about the local culture, and therefore make decisions that are culturally insensitive. Some examples are wearing skimpy clothing or drinking alcohol in a very conservative area, taking pictures of locals, and the way men and women interact in public.
Not only can this behavior by travelers offend the local people, but the locals might gradually imitate the tourists, which causes the culture to deteriorate.
Another negative impact of tourism is the increase in crime to the local area. People in need see opportunities, and unfortunately, this leads to more theft, assault, and other types of criminal activity.
Finally, tourism may cause an increase in demand for cheap labor and prostitution. Without realizing it, you may end up supporting businesses involved in human trafficking or the unjust treatment of people.
Hopefully, this has helped provide a clearer picture of why the way people travel needs to change. More and more millennials are learning about the importance of sustainable travel and are desiring to see change happen.
7 Practical Ways You Can Become a Sustainable Traveler
Maybe the idea of sustainable travel is new to you or maybe you’ve participated in ecotourism but are wondering if you can make a greater impact in the places you visit. The concept of sustainable tourism has actually been around for over 20 years but has just more recently gained traction.
A survey done by National Geographic shows that 42% of travelers are willing to make sustainable travel practices a priority. However, only 15% of those people understands what sustainable travel actually means and how they can participate.
The good news is you don’t have to drastically alter the way you travel to make an impact. Here are seven practical ways you can become a sustainable traveler and help make the earth a better place.
Way #1 – Book Your Travel Through a Sustainable Travel Agency
How do you normally book and plan your trips? It seems like with an increase in available information on the internet and a plethora of travel booking websites, people would be moving away from using travel agents. But, that’s not the case. There has actually been a recent jump in interest in using travel agents.
While there are currently not a lot of sustainable travel agents, there are certainly quite a few good options. You will find links to some in the next section. We anticipate this list will only grow with time.
Booking with a sustainable travel agency has many benefits. First, these agents have done the hard work and found great destinations and ways to help the communities there. They have also researched to find eco-friendly ways to travel there and setup cultural immersive experiences that would be difficult to replicate on your own. Finally, some of these agencies donate a portion of their proceeds to nonprofits or financially help local communities in need.
Many people assume travel agents are more costly, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Sometimes they can find you a better deal than you would find yourself. Also, your time is precious. Travel agents can save you hours of research and hassle so you can spend your time on other important projects. Lastly, they are great at thinking of details you may not have considered.
Way #2 – Travel as Eco-friendly as Possible
If you’re traveling overseas, you have no choice but to ride on an airplane. No one wants to take a boat across the Pacific Ocean. But some international flights cause you to go hundreds of miles out of the way or add extra stops. Try to find the most direct route with the fewest stops. This is both helpful to the environment and can save you headaches by having fewer transits and decreases the risk of lost luggage.
If you can take a train to your destination, then opt for that mode of transportation. It’s much less harmful to the environment. When you must take a plane, choose an airline that uses sustainable aviation biofuel. For example, United, KLM, and Qantas.
Eco-friendly travel doesn’t stop there. Once you arrive at your destination, there is often still quite a bit of travel that happens. You can be kind to the environment by using public transportation or walking or biking as often as possible. Sometimes this isn’t possible, but do your best to find an alternative to flying everywhere or using individual vehicles around your destination.
Way #3 – Educate Yourself
One of the most important things you can do is to educate yourself before your trip. There are so many things you could learn about before your trip, but you’re incredibly busy. So, what should you prioritize?
Your primary focus should be learning about the culture and beliefs of the people you will be visiting. Find out what offends them and what to avoid. What do they value? Also, learning a few words of the local language can go a very long way because it shows you respect and care about the people.
I’ve experienced this firsthand. Even learning a greeting, please and thank you will most likely earn you a smile.
It’s also essential to educate yourself on ways you can have an eco-friendly trip. Research transportation options in the area, discover local places to eat and stay, and learn about helpful ways to support local communities. Take a little time to read more about how you can have the most sustainable trip possible. It’s worth it.
Remember: Learning doesn’t stop when you leave! Keep learning during your trip, and don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions!
Way #4 – Eat and Shop Locally
More developed tourist destinations are more likely to have western shops and restaurants. It can be tempting to eat at McDonalds or Pizza Hut because it’s comfortable and familiar. However, that’s not helping the local community. You can eat fast food when you get home. Instead of contributing to the large amount of tourist dollars that never benefit the destination, eat local.
There are many good reasons to making eating local a habit. It will probably be less expensive, allow you to experience new foods, and most importantly, it will assist a family in the community. This is a great opportunity to try new things and learn more about the culture!
If you’re one of those people that has to buy souvenirs, then purchase them from a local vendor. Sure, they might charge you more because you’re white, but it’s probably a difference of pennies to you and could make an enormous difference to them.
Way #5 – Be Mindful of Where You Sleep
As mentioned before, resorts and large hotels can be very wasteful and harmful to the environment. We strongly encourage you to stay at a local house, either through a homestay or Airbnb. Homestays are ideal to get the full cultural experience, but they can be difficult to arrange, especially if there is more than one of you.
If this is not an option at your destination, search for an eco-friendly hotel/motel. You can read reviews and see if they offer water-efficient and energy-efficient amenities. One very large hotel can use more water than a small village in a day. Certain places may also not use plastics or may be built from renewable materials. One final item to check is if they treat their employees ethically. If you’re not sure what to look for, there are certifications that can guide you to an eco-friendly option.
Way #6 – Watch Your Waste
Travelers often have the mindset that their destination isn’t their home. Their accommodation includes everything for a flat fee, so they’re allowed to use as much water and electricity as possible and leave trash wherever, including plastic.
The best thing you can do is to travel with the mindset of your destination being your home. This will help you conserve water and electricity. Also, remember to bring your own water bottle. This will reduce a lot of plastic waste.
Just about everyone knows the damage plastic trash can have on the environment. According to Science Advances, only about nine percent of plastic in the world gets recycled. Bring your own reusable water bottle!
Way #7 – Give Back
Usually when we travel, we think about ourselves and how can we get the most enjoyment out of the trip. It’s all about me, me, me.
If you’re considering sustainable travel, then you’re in the right mindset. You’re already thinking about helping the environment and other people. One way to do that is by giving your time or money.
Volunteering your time is a great way to give back. Check out some different ways you can make a difference while traveling overseas. Or maybe there are ways you can take time to listen to the needs of the local community where you are staying and find ways to help meet those needs.
Another method of giving back is contributing financially. There are many great organizations you can give to, or you can discover ways to support the local people. But, it’s important to be wise in how you do this because you can get taken advantage of, or if you’re just handing money out to people on the street, it can end up harming the wider community instead of positively contributing to community development.
Sustainable Travel Resources
If you would like to start traveling sustainably, here are a few resources to get you started.
Sustainable Travel International – Organization working to transform travel by protecting the environment and empowering communities.
Responsible Travel – Activist travel company offering trips that minimize negative impact and maximize positive impact.
Village Ways – Offers sustainable trips to certain villages, primarily in Asia.
Kind Traveler – Travel booking site that gives back to charity and ensures travel positively impacts local communities.
Tourism Cares – Aims to advance the travel industry’s positive social and environmental impact.
Andbeyond – Offers amazing sustainable trips that make the world better.
Operation Groundswell – Provides backpacking trips that benefit local communities.
We Are Bamboo – Offers experiences that are amazing and beneficial for everyone, including the locals.
Book It Green – Eco-friendly travel booking website.
Reality Tours and Travel – Provides authentic experiences to create change in communities in India.
G Adventures – Offers small group trips that create positive impact.
Plan Your First Sustainable Trip Today!
Now that you know you can make the world better while enjoying your love for travel, plan your first sustainable trip today! Figure out which of these steps is manageable and start there. You can always increase your positive impact on future trips.
While you can plan how you want to make a positive impact, not everything will always go according to plan. This includes your health and wellbeing. Unfortunate things happen during travel, so that’s why it’s always a good idea to purchase travel health insurance as a precaution. This way you’ll be protected in the case of an emergency.
Plus, when you purchase travel medical insurance from Good Neighbor Insurance, you are making a positive impact. Good Neighbor gives back to many great organizations throughout the world, including this one.
Contact us if we can help you plan your trip or answer any questions you may have.