PHOTO: UNSPLASH/DIGITAL SENNIN
Travel is finally open again and everyone is trying to make the most of it. But while you’re at it, think about how you can make your travel more eco-friendly by leaving a smaller carbon footprint behind. Sustainable tourism is all about reducing tourism’s negative impacts and maximizing its positive benefits for communities, cultures, ecosystems, and the planet, both for immediate impact and for future generations to come.
Here’s how to be a more sustainable traveller:
1. Choose a destination that values sustainability
Did you know that choosing to travel to a conservation-minded destination is one of the most important things travelers can do? As a general rule, the shorter the distance you travel from home, the lower your carbon footprint. Likewise, destinations that value their natural and cultural heritage not only elevate the quality of the travel experience, but also greatly support the livelihoods of those who work in the travel industry. According to the 2022 Environmental Performance Index (a measure of the country’s performance on high-priority environmental issues), Denmark, UK and Finland, take the top slots respectively as the world’s most sustainable countries.
2. Get off the beaten path
Avoid over-crowded tourist trips and look beyond the trending Top 10 bucket list destinations of the moment by getting off the beaten path. While it may be tempting to go to the more popular places that everyone else is visiting, it is usually more rewarding to go somewhere that’s still less traversed and off most people’s radars. Instead of going big and expected, visit smaller cities and help spread (economic) tourism benefits to other local communities. If you do choose to visit crowded and popular cities, consider doing so outside peak (tourist) period times. Tip: If you’re planning a cruise, opt for a small ship cruise line because they can visit smaller ports and can help alleviate tourism pressure on common cruise destinations.
3. Visit parks and protected areas – but be responsible
National parks, marine sanctuaries, and other protected areas play an important role in protecting the planet’s natural resources and biodiversity. Many countries rely on tourism fees such as entrance fees and operator permits to preserve these special places and help fund the conservation activities necessary to protect these areas, while also providing income to local communities. Just remember not to litter, to stay on clearly marked trails, and to leave the wildlife alone!
4. Support local economies
According to The World Tourism Organisation, out of every $100 spent during a trip, sometimes as little as only $5 actually benefits the destination! This means a huge missed opportunity for travel to support local economies. Choose to book your trip from travel and environmentally-conscious activity providers that ensure tourism dollars go directly to local communities instead of big-chain businesses. If possible, consider visiting places that need (economical) support such as somewhere that needs rebuilding after a disaster (earthquakes, hurricane, tsunami, etc). Travel and tourism are one of the fastest ways to recovery and travelers can help further by volunteering in environmental and social projects to help rebuild the devastated communities.
5. Use eco-friendly modes of transportation
It’s no surprise that travel is a significant contributor to climate change, with air travel and driving making up the largest part of tourism’s carbon footprint. Though all modes of transportation require energy, some are more efficient and cleaner than others, how you get to and from and around your destination makes a difference. In addition to traveling slowly via trains or bicycles (the environmental impact of a bike is zero) for example, there are other ways that you can reduce travel carbon emissions. An extra bonus: slow travel is also better for the environment since it reduces the amount of carbon emissions generated by flying or driving between destinations.
However, remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all guideline for which method of transportation is best, since carbon footprint also depends on the type of energy being used. Hence the most sustainable option will vary from one destination to the next. For instance, electric trains in the Netherlands are powered by wind energy and public transport in Luxembourg is free, meaning you can save money and help the environment by hopping on a train, a tram, or a bus instead of renting a car.
6. Book eco-friendly accommodations
Before booking your next trip, consider how your choice of accommodation affects the local ecosystem. A zero-plastic policy, using renewable energy from solar panels, a rainwater filtration system, planting trees and serving local produce for meals are all good examples of a hotel being eco-friendly.
7. Limit energy use and conserve water
Everyone loves a long, hot shower after a whole day of sightseeing but give a thought to how much energy and water is being wasted like this. Make your stay as eco-friendly as possible by conserving local water and energy resources, turning off electronics not in use, and avoiding unnecessary laundering of bedsheets and towels.