Travel provides an opportunity to relax, explore, and learn about our amazing world. Unfortunately, it’s an industry that harms local and global environments. Around the world, ignorant travelers continue to ride elephants, pet lions, swim in reefs with toxic sunscreens, and disrespect local society traditions. There’s a reason why Americans are one of the most hated tourists. Fortunately, there are ways to travel sustainably.
Sustainable tourists attempt to only make a positive influence on the environment, society, and economy. Some will tell you not to fly due to carbon emissions. I’m not that guy, however here are some suggestions to decrease your impact when traveling.
1) Minimize Your Waste And Pollution
Many travelers use a vacation as an excuse to overuse the earth’s resources and create excess waste and pollution. Meanwhile, in many developing destinations, excess waste can have detrimental effects on their environments due to insufficient waste management. This can be visible on the beaches of popular tourist destinations where garbage disrupts natural beauty. A few simple decisions by tourists (and the world) like bringing reusable water bottles and avoiding disposable plastic products can have a tremendous impact over time.
Considering air travel is responsible for the majority of carbon emissions caused by tourism, tourists should seek out clean transportation options such as walking, bikes, or use electric vehicles. If air travel is unavoidable, pick the fastest route, and look for airlines that have sustainability initiatives like United Airlines’ Carbon Choice program.
2) Respect Natural Environments
In areas with limited natural resources, tourists typically consume more resources in comparison to locals. For instance, travelers to Mexico should be aware of their water struggles and be respectful of their water usage. Other popular destinations with water crises are South Africa and India. All you need is a 5-minute shower when you travel to resource depleted destinations. In general, don’t use a vacation as an excuse to be wasteful of water.
While exploring, seek out local conservation areas, follow the rules, and donate to a local cause. The donation can be direct, like an entry fee, or by hiring a local guide. I highly suggest hiring local guides as they provide unique insights into the local environment, and your support goes directly into the local community rather than a large tour company. If your budget is tight and you adventure out by yourself, explore by the motto:
Leave nothing but your footprints
In other words, be respectful, follow the rules, and don’t litter.
3) Support Local Businesses
I get it. Something is comforting about traveling the world and staying in global chains like a Marriott. There’s consistency, and, of course, you’re receiving those valuable reward points. The issue is that corporate hotel chains’ profits flow up to the corporate entity instead of staying in the community. In almost every city, there are locally owned boutique hotels to fit every budget. These hotels are typically cheaper, have local hospitality flair, employ locals, and are more likely to invest in their community.
The same goes for restaurants and stores. Eat at restaurants that are owned by local chefs, use local tour guides, and purchase souvenirs made within the country.
4) Be Respectful Of Other Cultures
Traveling the world offers a fantastic opportunity to experience and learn about beautiful cultures and traditions. The world is changing quicker than ever, but tourists can play an essential role in preserving cultures. It’s important to celebrate traditions by immersing yourself and being aware of cultural norms. Gestures, gender roles, dress codes can have very different meanings and assumptions in each country. Just because it’s legal in your country, does not mean its legal in another. And of course, do not touch things that shouldn’t be touched like artifacts at religious and cultural sites.
5) Respect Wildlife
We all love animals, especially in the Instagram age. It’s tough to say no to playing with a tiger cub or riding an elephant for that new profile pic. However, most of the popular animal tourist activities harm the animals that you claim to love. A general rule is if the animals are not in something that looks like its natural habitat, it’s probably not a great life for the animal. Meaning you should say no to lion cubs selfies, tiger petting, elephant rides, and dancing monkeys. Fortunately, there are plenty of ethical options that give you close access to our worlds amazing animals like wildlife sanctuaries. And of course, let’s not forget the fish. If you’re spending time in the ocean, make sure you wear reef-safe sunscreen as chemicals in sunscreens can cause coral bleaching.
This article is a very short-list, but almost every tourist can follow these guidelines on their next trip. Of course, there are many other steps you can take to become a sustainable traveler. Traveling is a privilege, so just show the world some respect.