Love to see the world, but concerned that travel could be causing more harm than good?
It’s somewhat true. Tourism makes a huge impact on the environment, accounting for around 8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. And it affects humans too – ill-informed tourism can commercialise cultures and damage local economies.
But people are well aware. Booking.com’s 2018 sustainable travel report showed that 87% of global travellers want to travel sustainably. However, 48% never or rarely feel that they are able to do so.
With enough research, it is possible to be more thoughtful when making choices. Be taken around the world in a day with some ideas of how you can make a positive impact while travelling.
First things first: choose an eco-friendly destination
There are many cities around the world which are environmentally aware. Working alongside governing bodies and with the support of their inhabitants, these cities invest in eco-friendly projects.
They plant numerous trees, encourage the use of electric vehicles or bikes, look after local farmers, implement schemes to eliminate waste, or run other initiatives. Some of the world’s greenest cities which also offer unique travel experiences include Vancouver, Sydney, Helsinki and Singapore.
By choosing an eco-friendly destination we are supporting their actions. Conversely, choosing a poorer country to visit and spending money mindfully there will help to boost their economy.
Early morning: get there green
Flying may be the most time-efficient way to travel, but the aviation industry is one of the worst for the environment. Consider other methods for long-distance travel, such as the train – it may take a while but it can be cheaper and add a whole different experience.
If flying is the only way then opt for an airline which is working towards reducing its carbon footprint. Airlines can do a lot to be conscious about the environment, from funding biofuel research to serving vegan food options on board. Some of the greenest airlines include Virgin Atlantic, KLM, British Airways, and even Ryanair. Once you’ve reached your destination, take public transport, car share or hire a bike.
Breakfast: ethical eateries
Social enterprise cafés allow you to experience the culture, give something to the community and also eat delicious authentic food. Take the Daughters of Cambodia Visitor Centre Café, which works with rescued sex trafficking victims in Phnom Penh. By providing education, support and positive employment opportunities in the café, spa and boutique, the girls are able to feel more empowered and lead new lives.
And there’s no need to visit a big chain if you fancy western food – many places such as Daughters of Cambodia serve a range of western dishes as well as delicacies from the region.
Morning activity: change your perspective
You can see the sights of a city by opting for tours run by small local business where you’ll know your money is going somewhere worthwhile. Alternative walking tours offer unique experiences, such as poverty walks by the social enterprise organisation Street Voices in Copenhagen.
You’ll be shown unconventional sites of the city and hear stories from a guide who has experienced homelessness, addiction or a different hardship there. These tours give the socially vulnerable a voice and help to improve their standard of living.
If you wish to experience animals, be aware that many organisations still use brute force to tame them for the entertainment of tourists. Instead, find conservation projects or sanctuaries where you can support animal welfare.
And if you’re looking to volunteer, make sure to do enough research on ethical volunteering so that you know you will be making a positive difference.
Lunch: plant power
Social enterprise cafés and restaurants may not always be the easiest to find, but there are many organic, vegan, vegetarian and generally sustainable eateries all around the world. Just as you may be conscious about eating somewhere close to home that has zero waste or sources its produce from small businesses, you can do the same while travelling. Cutting down your meat intake will also reduce your environmental impact.
Seek healthy goodness in restaurants like Tel Aviv’s Meshek Barzilay. It serves delicious vegan food using only fresh ingredients from local producers, alongside a welcoming atmosphere. If you’re looking for something a little less pricey, try vegetarian buffet restaurant Birenbaum Cafe, a friendly market spot with a wide variety of tasty dishes.
Afternoon: shop smart
This one’s simple – if you’re going to buy a gift or a souvenir, resist visiting tourist shops or waiting until you get to the airport on your way home. Instead, purchase something from an artisan vendor (as long as it’s not made from animals). It may be slightly more in price, but at least you’re giving money to people who need it more than putting it in the pockets of big profitable companies.
Dinner: make your own
Try something different for dinner, like cooking with a social enterprise such as Ecowave near Arugam Bay in Sri Lanka. A local village woman will teach you how to prepare and cook several authentic and delicious dishes. She’ll impart family cooking secrets and you’ll all enjoy eating what you’ve cooked together at the end. Activities like this support the community and promote culture.
Evening: no-waste nightcap
For those in need of an evening tipple, pubs and bars can be eco-friendly, too. The Perennial in San Francisco, USA, is a zero-waste bar committed to providing flavorful drinks while standing up to climate change. There is minimal use of ice, and straws are made from real straw, so are biodegradable and compostable.
Night: sleep sustainably
From budget homestays to high-end hotels, more and more eco-friendly accommodation options are springing up around the world. To be sustainable, accommodation could be built out of wood from nearby forests, use a rainwater collection system, or source food and material from local people.
Family-run Cerro Chato Ecolodge near La Fortuna, Costa Rica, is nestled among a stunning volcanic and tropical backdrop, far away from mass-tourism. The reasonably priced lodge is hugely eco-minded and makes for a unique and peaceful stay.
If you’re looking for something a little more luxury, Arenas del Mar beachfront and rainforest resort in Manuel Antonio strives to have zero negative impact to biodiversity or people. Sites such as Ecobnb can help you find eco-friendly accommodation like this.
Respect, research and be aware
There is much more you can do than what’s suggested above to travel responsibly – all it takes is a little research. And if you can apply what you do in your daily life to be sustainable then it’s not difficult; if you use minimal plastic at home, then do the same wherever you go.
When visiting a new place we must remember to respect the local people and environment and give back wherever we can. It’s up to us to travel the world well, and it may not always be easy. But if we all work towards minimising our footprints, it really will make a difference in helping to preserve our planet and all life on it. If we wish to continue seeing the wonders of the world for years to come, it’s completely necessary.