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What is Sustainable Travel and 15 Ways to Do It




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With the standstill that Covid-19 has placed us in, more and more people are reflecting on their ways of travelling. How can we make more sustainable choices when we travel again in the future, instead of returning to old ways of travelling?

The truth is, the way our travel industry is built is not sustainable in any way. From harmful CO2 emissions to destroying natural lands to built resorts, mass tourism is a threat on the earth’s finite resources.

Travelling should be a learning experience for us all, but not at the expense of the environment, local cultures and communities. This is where sustainable travel comes in.

What is sustainable travel?

sustainable travel
Photo credit: departures.com
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The definition of sustainable travel by the World Tourism Organisation is ‘tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of its visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities’.

This means that sustainable travel is doing so without harming natural environments and local cultures. Instead, tourism should create a positive impact for the local community and native people. It’s about ensuring that the enjoyment we take from the planet will still be there for generations to come.

As people who are privileged and can afford to take holidays, we should be conscious of how what we do can affect the planet and our destination. Sustainable travel may not become the norm overnight, but we can take ownership over our own choices. Here are 15 ways to be a sustainable traveller!

1. Choose other modes of transport

train transport
Photo credit: unsplash.com
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According to the International Air Transport Association, the aviation industry is one of the fastest-growing polluters. A Guardian analysis has found that taking a long-haul flight generates more carbon emissions than the average person would produce in a whole year! Travelling by train can save up to 90% of CO2 emissions in comparison to air travel. Not to mention, it offers sights that you would not be able to see by flying!

2. Fly economy 

fly economy
Photo credit: cheatsheet.com

If you have to fly, opt to fly economy instead. We know, flying business class looks good for the ‘gram, but it also results in a far larger carbon footprint. Flying economy is friendlier for the environment, as well as your wallet.

3. Compare airlines and their fuel emissions

Because sustainable travel is becoming more popular, many airlines are also doing their part to reduce their carbon emissions. Check out the world’s most eco-friendly airlines here, and try to fly with them for your next holiday!

4. Be a slow traveller

slow travel
Photo credit: blogs.worldbank.org
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A slow traveller is someone who takes lesser holidays, but spends a longer time in his/her destination country. There is an emphasis on building connection with the local people and culture. Instead of zooming from city to city, why not take time to really get to know a place? Slow travel allows you to immerse yourself into the local way of life, and has a much lower impact than standard tourism.

5. Explore on foot or cycle

sustainable travel
Photo credit: unsplash.com

Try to use the most sustainable modes of transport when you’re at your destination country. Explore on foot or cycle wherever possible. Make use of local public transport, or car share for longer distances. It’s a great way to reduce your carbon footprint, save some money and make new friends along the way!

6. Stay at locally-owned accommodations

Instead of big chain hotels and resorts, try to stay in locally-owned accommodations. This can include guesthouses, B&Bs, couchsurfing and Airbnbs. Check out your host’s profile to get a better idea of who owns and runs the property! Staying at locally-owned places is a guaranteed way of ensuring that your money goes directly into the local economy and supports local businesses.

7. Check for green certifications

eco resort
Photo credit: plumdeluxe.com

That said, not all big chains are the enemies. Green hotels are on the rise with sustainability practices such as using solar power, locally-sourced building materials and produce. There are also certifications for sustainable hotels and resorts, such as Green Key and Green Globe. Just make sure to do your research into the property – many hotels are labelling themselves ‘green’ without implementing any sustainability initiatives! 

8. Use green tour operators

If you have to go with a tour operator, use one that’s dedicated to supporting locals and preserving the destination it operates in. Look into their green credentials before booking, such as certifications from GSTC, Green Globe, Rainforest Alliance, EarthCheck and other regulatory bodies. Check out their reviews from TripAdvisor for example, especially negative ones to see what concerns other travellers before you have raised.

9. Volunteer

volunteer in thailand - elephant camp
Photo credit: volunteeringsolutions.com

Volunteering is a great way to give back to the local community. Take opportunities to involve yourself in projects with NGOs or local organisations. Always research the organisers behind them to ensure that your time and money will be positively contributing to the place and local people!

10. Only participate in responsible wildlife tourism

ethical wildlife attractions
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Avoid any wildlife attractions and tours that advertise up close encounters, as these are usually unethical. If you’re allowed to touch, hold or ride the animals, this is a bad sign. Opt instead for wildlife attractions that won’t disturb the animals, and allow you to observe them in their natural habitats. If you’re going snorkelling or scuba diving, make sure to only use reef-safe sunscreen to protect the corals and critters. 

11. Avoid animal products

Avoid any souvenirs made out of animal products such as fur, bones or feathers. They may look attractive, but you would be contributing to the illegal wildlife trade! When in doubt, always ask about the origin of the product and how it was made.

12. Eat like a local

sustainable travel - eat local food
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Much like accommodation, spend your money at locally-owned restaurants and cafes. Some of the best meals are usually at hole-in-the-wall places! Or, eat at places that use locally-sourced ingredients. Better if it’s organic and comes from local farmers!

13. Pack eco-friendly essentials

sustainable travel - shampoo bar
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Bringing a reusable water bottle, bag and lunch box will help you to cut down on plastic waste when you’re travelling. Opting for toiletries such as shampoo bars, natural deodorants and bamboo toothbrushes are also more eco-friendly alternatives!

14. Shop from local artisans

sustainable travel - local artisans
Photo credit: unsplash.com

Buying souvenirs back for your friends and family? Buy local handmade souvenirs instead of imported ones. It’s better for the environment, local small businesses and makes for a far more meaningful gift! Also, buy items that you know will be useful, instead of it ending up at the bottom of the drawer.

15. Advocate sustainable travel

Share your sustainable travel experiences with friends, family and people you meet! Talk about the ecoresort you stayed at, the responsible tours and ethical animal attractions you visited. The more we spread the word, the more we make sustainable travel a norm!

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