Sustainable travel continues to evolve as more environmentally conscious travelers are seeking ways to reduce their carbon footprint in response to the climate changes we are all seeing throughout the world. But sustainable travel is more than cutting back on emissions. It is also how you, as a tourist or traveler, treat the countries that you visit and how your decisions from buying bottled water to souvenirs impact the local economy of countries and their indigenous communities…
Let’s begin with reducing our carbon footprint and emissions…
As we continue to see some of the devastation the planet is experiencing caused by heat waves, floods, and severe storms, governments, residents, and businesses are becoming more concerned and are seeking solutions. The problem remains that there are not enough of us changing our behavior, especially when it may affect our lifestyle.
Travelers every day commit the biggest misstep towards advancing climate change by jumping on a plane. The amount of fuel planes use exceeds any effort travelers make to be eco-friendly. However, there is some good news, airlines are moving toward purchasing more sustainable jet fuel made from trash (yes trash! Kudos to innovation). Check your airline. I mostly travel with United Airlines whose entire alliance of partners is part of a green energy fuel program, but it’s going to take time to get to 100%.
Talking about trash, when traveling every bottle of water, can, or use of disposable plastics impacts the destinations you go to. Small and big countries are struggling with the disposing of trash caused by tourists. Using eco-friendly toiletries and your own filter bottle water is a start, especially as traveling is becoming more paperless with the use of mobile phones.
There are also a growing number of hotels and resorts whose brand and mission is to be environmentally conscious. There are several apps that support eco-friendly or green hotels and resorts that you can download. How you spend your money can help the planet recuperate.
The other side of sustainability, where you can make a bigger difference, is how you engage with the locals, being respectful of their culture, natural resources, and way of life.
When traveling especially to developing countries, think hard about how you spend your money by supporting local artisans and businesses where your purchase gets reinvested in that community and not at some corporate board room. I love the concept of “decolonizing travel “. It makes you think to check your conscious by recognizing that the privilege to travel has some obligations on our part to be respectful of other cultures. In low-income communities, accept and value the price that they seek for their products and invest in these communities as a fellow traveler, not a tourist. Remember, in most places, the exchange rate favors you, so easy on the haggling. If you feel you paid too much, so what? Somebody that night got to pay the rent and feed their children. Family-owned eateries, pop-up stalls, street vendors, and street performers are an essential cog in the economic engine of local communities serving indigenous households. Spending money in these communities in whatever way contributes to their long-term sustainability.
Bear in mind, tourism in many of these countries has vast inequalities worse than the US and we are so privileged to travel and explore new countries and cultures. As we feed our wanderlust, it’s important we also recognize every travel decision we make can impact the world by protecting the earth and helping sustain local and indigenous communities.
Sorry about giving tourists a bad name (you can blame Anthony Bourdain who gave new meaning to the phrase “be a traveler not a tourist”)