Travel responsibly means conserving natural resources, supporting local cultures and making a positive impact on the places we visit. Whether you take big steps or small ones, they all make a difference. National Geographic Traveler put together the Ultimate Guide to Sustainable Travel offering 50 tips. The tips are great and you should check them out if you have time. We were slightly overwhelmed and thought we put together a simpler version that highlights the most practical ones that most travelers could easily do.
1. Choose tour operators that support sustainable tourism through their bookings and operating policies.
“When I book a trip with a tour operator, I always do it directly and I always start with one key question: ‘How do you support sustainable tourism practices?’ If they do not have a clue what I am talking about, or cannot put me on to someone in their company who does, I just move on to another company,” says Costas Christ, president of the Adventure Council and founding member and former chairman of the board of the International Ecotourism Society.
2. Stay Simple
When looking for a place to stay, choose the smallest, simplest option. Smaller properties with fewer amenities consume less energy, and typically provide more personal, and authentically local, service.”You don’t have to go to some exotic location to be an eco-tourist and help the environment,” says Josh Dorfman, author, The Lazy Environmentalist. “Live simply, recycle, reuse, conserve energy wherever you are and wherever you travel. You don’t have to go to the rain forest to help save the rain forest. Choosing a green hotel or opting for the small inn over the mega-resort helps. It’s all about the choices we make—and where we stay is a choice we can all make when we travel.”
3. Minimize Waste
Bring Your Own Water Bottle
“Breaking our addiction to water bottles is one of the easiest things we can do to help the environment, ” says Josh Dorfman, “Not only will we keep the plastic out of landfills, but we’ll be helping conserve the 1.5 million barrels of oil it takes to produce all the water bottles we toss each year.”
Bring a Reusable Shopping Bag
Packing a basic canvas tote, or other similar sturdy, washable bag, in your luggage is an easy way to help keep trash out of landfills and off roadsides, conserve energy, and protect marine life. Use the bag—instead of the paper or plastic bags provided by stores—to carry souvenirs and other purchases made during your trip.
Avoid Disposable Items
While traveling avoid buying disposable items for which there are reusable alternatives, such as Styrofoam food containers. This can be challenging with children in tow, especially if you typically use disposable hand wipes, and juice boxes at home, but it’s worth the extra effort, says Thomas Kostigen, co-author of The Green Book. “I was traveling with friends who have kids, and was just amazed by the amount of stuff people bring along for their children,” adds Kostigen. “Use a reusable cloth instead of a disposable wipe. Put drinks in reusable bottles or cups. Bring along reusable containers to store snacks.” If packing a cup, cloth napkin, and plastic-lidded container isn’t possible, then simply look for ways to minimize the waste you produce as you travel, such as purchasing products with minimal or no packaging.
4. Lend a Hand
Make a positive impact on any community you visit by giving back in some way. “A simple thing like picking up the trash you see when you walk down a beach helps the environment,” says Josh Dorfman, “It really doesn’t take a lot to make a difference.”
5. Conserve Energy
Don’t Pre-Heat or Pre-Cool
Since hotel visitors tend to spend more time out of their room than in it, setting the thermostat at a comfortable setting when you are actually in the room is one of the easiest steps you can take to save energy. Energy Star suggests leaving the thermostat at an energy-saving level—8 to 10 degrees above (in warm weather) or below (in cold weather) your preferred comfort setting when sleeping or leaving the room for an extended period of time. When you wake up or re-enter the room, set the dial to your desired temperature.
Shut Off the Lights
When you leave your hotel room, turn off the lights, television, and radio to save electricity. In the summer, close the blinds and/or curtains to reduce heat gain in the room. In the winter, open the blinds and/or curtains on sunny days to let in the sun’s warmth. According to Kostigen, “Seventy-five percent of the energy in a hotel room is used when the bathroom lights are left on for more than two hours.”
6. All Things Local
“Treating others the way you wish to be treated is the basic premise of responsible travel,” says Sherry Schwarz, editor and publisher, Transitions Abroad magazine. “It sounds simple, because it is simple: When we travel, we are visiting the homes of our global neighbors, getting to know them, and experiencing how they live. Only some 5 percent of the world’s population has even been on a plane,” continues Schwarz. “This is a humbling statistic that reminds me how fortunate those of us are who can travel and that we must show great respect and gratitude for the people and places we visit.”
Become a more conscious and conscientious traveler:
1. Choose local guides
2. Stay in locally owned accommodations
3. Eat locally produced food
4. Respect local customs and traditions
5. Buy from local artisans
Travelers’ economic decisions directly impact the survival of the local culture. So instead of buying 100 little machine-made sacks for a dollar each to give as gifts to friends and family back home, spend $100 for a single handmade textile you can display in your home and share with guests when they visit. According to Jim Kane, founder and owner, Culture Xplorers, an immersive cultural adventure tour firm focused on the people and living traditions of Latin America, “By buying the cheapest souvenirs you can find you are unintentionally supporting the mass-market, cheap product and moving people in the area away from their traditional culture. Artisans and people that are maintaining their ancient living cultures are like everyone else. They need to put food on the table for their families, they want a place to live, and they want to sustain themselves. So if they are not selling their handmade textiles, which are taking them months to produce using natural dyes and ancient techniques, they are going to say, ‘I am going to go pick cocoa leaves in the jungle. I am going to go to the city and get a job.’ They are going to lose their roots and their traditions.”
7. Know What’s Endangered
You know not to buy any products made with elephant ivory or reptile skins, but what about black coral or big-leafed mahogany? Before you travel, access up-to-date information on which animal and plant species are considered endangered around the globe by consulting the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). “Local merchants in many countries have jewelry, clothing, and accessories widely available for the tourist trade that are made from endangered species such as sea turtle shell, black coral, reptile skins, ivory, and animal furs,” says Alyssa Johnson, president of Oro Azul, a Seattle-based ecotourism and sustainable tourism consulting, and international small business development firm. “You can help by not purchasing such items, and lessening the demand on these products. Instead, consider buying organic sustainable products such as items made from renewable sources like trees, cocoa, bananas, coffee, coconut shell, or preserved fruit products.”
8. Fly Nonstop
Jets produce an average of almost .4 tons of CO2 per passenger per flight, and burn the most fuel at takeoff. Reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associate with flying by choosing non-stop flights whenever possible.
9. Go Public
Public transportation is inexpensive, generally efficient, and comes in many shapes and sizes around the world. Wherever you are going, plan ahead to see if you can get there—or move around when you arrive—via bus, subway, trolley, light rail, commuter train, streetcar, cable car, water taxi, monorail, tramway, and/or van pool service. Check Google Transit for help in some cities. According to the American Public Transportation Association, “public transportation produces 95 percent less carbon monoxide, 90 percent less in volatile organic compounds, and about half as much carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide (NOx), per passenger mile, as private vehicles.”
10. Go Where the Wild Things Are
“With all the talk of airlines and global climate change, a well-meaning traveler could easily conclude that taking a safari to Africa is bad for the planet. Wrong,” says Costas Christ, president of the Adventure Council and founding member and former Chairman of the Board of the International Ecotourism Society. “From the Serengeti to the Papua New Guinea highlands, sustainable tourism is the last great hope for protecting rare and endangered plant and animal species and their vanishing habitat,” he explains. “More than 70 percent of all life on land exists on roughly 1.4 percent of the Earth’s surface—the so-called biodiversity hotspots. Ecotourism is one of the few ways to keep more species from going extinct more quickly—like mountain gorillas in Rwanda. The issue is not to stop traveling, but to make travel more sustainable.”
11. Share the Information
If it’s paper, pass it on. When we travel, we accumulate research and reading materials—maps, guidebooks, magazines, newspapers, paperback books, brochures, and so on. Instead of abandoning any of these at the hotel, in the airport trash bin, or in the seat-back pocket on the plane, share them with fellow travelers along your journey. Not only will you reduce the amount of paper trash dumped in landfills, you’ll also lessen your own load. If you do return home with gently used books, share them with friends and family, donate them to the local library branch, or trade them for cash or credit at a used book store.
photo by pedrosimoes7