Updated: Dec 11, 2020
MINIMIZE YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT AND MAXIMIZE YOUR POSITIVE IMPACT
Most travelers don’t even realize that many tourist shops, hotels, restaurants, and tour companies in popular travel destinations may not be owned by locals. That means that the destination and its residents absorb the negative impact of tourism, but the economic benefit is exported elsewhere.
With over 1.4 billion people traveling the world, it’s never been more important to make conscious decisions about how you travel and where your dollars go. One way to bring awareness to limiting your negative impact is by looking up your carbon footprint. According to MyClimate.org, a roundtrip economy flight from NY to Rome, with a layover in Paris, puts 2.3 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That’s more carbon dioxide than many people produce in a full year.
A passenger on a cruise ship emits 3x as much carbon as they would on land. As if that weren’t bad enough, cruise ships often dump trash, fuel, and sewage into our oceans’ already-struggling ecosystems.
But it’s not all doom and gloom! Luckily, there are so many easy and fun ways to offset your environmental impact when you travel (besides avoiding cruises altogether)!
For example, through Myclimate you can offset your carbon emissions by funding the purchase of energy efficient cookstoves in Rwanda, a solar power installation in the Dominican Republic, or replace old heating systems with energy efficient heat pumps in Switzerland. The organization Cotap plants trees in India, Malawi, Mozambique, Uganda and Nicaragua. Terrapass funds projects in the U.S. that utilize farm animal waste, install wind power, and capture landfill gases to generate electricity. To calculate the impact of your trip and choose a way to offset it, use this calculator.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg! Let’s dive into 10 Tips on How to Travel Sustainably!
How to Travel Sustainably
Offsetting your carbon footprint is number one when it comes to responsible tourism and finding ways to engage in sustainable travel. But there are some things to keep in mind once you arrive as well.
Overtourism is a problem in many destinations which results in displaced locals, the replacement of “everyday living” shops with souvenir shops, overused infrastructure, degraded visitor experiences, environmental damage, and threats to culture and heritage. Many cities across the world are struggling to exist sustainably alongside tourism, and it simply isn’t acceptable.
The good news? Overtourism can be combated simply by giving a bit more thought to every action, decision, and purchase you make during your trip. Here are 10 ways travel sustainably and leave a positive impact on the places you visit.
How to Travel Sustainably and Feel Good Doing It
10 Tips to Make Sustainable Travel Easier Than You thought
1. Limit the litter. Get in the habit of packing a few trash or grocery bags to bring with you on hikes and beach visits. Picking up trash makes you feel good and serves as a great example for other tourists by demonstrating to locals that not all tourists are disrespectful.
2. Choose lesser-known destinations. Opting for off-the-beaten-path tours takes the strain off over-touristed cities and results in a more authentic and less-crowded experience for you. It also spreads the economic benefits of tourism, making it far more likely that your dollars stay in the hands of locals. A big part of how to travel sustainably is choosing the right destinations.
3. Travel in the off-season. This helps limit the strain on highly-trafficked places and keeps villages from becoming a “ghost town” outside of peak season. A big part of sustainable travel is finding ways for tourism to fit within the natural routine of the locals rather than bombarding them for a few months in the year.
4. Eat local and in season. Some international destinations like Italy are already great about this. A respect for seasonality is ingrained in their culture. But tourist restaurants often ignore it, so look for menus that are handwritten daily for the most sustainable and earth-friendly meal.
5. Respect ceremonies and traditions. Be mindful when entering churches and sacred sites or witnessing religious ceremonies. Taking photos can be extremely disrespectful and sometimes just being there is a disturbance. Follow posted guidelines and pay attention to the locals’ body language to note how welcome you are or not. Your photo is not more important than the community’s right to feel comfortable practicing their culture.
6. Ask. When you’re asking yourself how to travel sustainably, turn the question around on the places where you spend money. Is this restaurant, hotel, or shop locally-owned? Get curious to find out where they source their products and what the backstory of the company is. It’s usually pretty easy to spot whether a company is focused on making a profit or whether it’s focused on passion and community. You’ll likely be faced with choosing between a benefit for yourself (cheaper) or a benefit for the whole (more expensive but local, handmade, and the money stays in the community). Make the decision easy for yourself by accepting a vow before you travel that you’ll opt for supporting locals whenever possible.
7. Choose the right tour. Ask yourself, is this tour operator implementing sustainable tourism practices? Do their values uphold the local culture and community? Are they integrating locals’ voices and hiring locals wherever possible? Are they adding strain to cities already inundated with tourists? These are all important questions when you’re trying to travel sustainably. Always look for companies that specialize in the area you’re going to as opposed to large companies that travel the entire world.
8. Bring a reusable water bottle. In just one day you can go through 5 or more plastic water bottles. Now multiply that by the millions of tourists. Simply reusing the same water bottle and refilling it in one of Italy’s many public fountains, is a big way to reduce waste and lower your carbon footprint! This one by LifeStraw is great because no matter where you go, you’ll have freshly filtered water that you’ll know is safe to drink.
9. Pay attention to quality and authenticity markings on local products. Foreign companies make copies of some of Italy’s famous typical products and pass them off as the real thing to unsuspecting (and overpaying) tourists. Ask the local tourism office or Google how to recognize that the product is genuine. For example, you can tell if Murano glass in Venice is genuine by looking for the trademarked and recognizable sticker, symbol, or label. While you’re at it, buy directly from artists themselves rather than large shops. Tours to visit local artisans are a great way to connect with the culture and travel in a responsible way!
10. Stay with locals. An agriturismo is a farm that has been adapted to also host visitors- a great way to travel sustainably by living sustainably while you’re there! When you stay at an agriturismo, you’ll likely be eating homemade meals with organic ingredients that haven’t traveled at all to arrive on your plate. You’ll also learn about the culture in a more immersive and meaningful way. Be careful, though..many places simply produce jam and call themselves an agriturismo. For the real deal, look for ones that produce wine, olive oil, and have farm animals.
Bonus Tip: Look for accommodations that pride themselves on being carbon neutral and serving organic and local food. In Italy, you can look for terms “bio” for organic and “km zero” which indicates the food traveled zero kilometers.
If you were asking yourself how to travel sustainably before reading this article, hopefully now you can see that many of these strategies for responsible and sustainable travel result in a better experience for both you, the locals, and the environment! It pays to be mindful and spend a little more time researching before you take off!