Travel Lighter, Leave with a Deeper Appreciation
As the world starts to open back up and travel starts to resume, it’s a great time to think about how our habits affect the environment on a larger scale.
If you travel, it’s inevitable: you’re going to leave behind a carbon footprint.
As we fly or drive, grab food on the go and interact with the communities we visit, we leave a mark. This isn’t to guilt anyone or shame you into not traveling.
You should travel, but it’s just a fact. What’s more important is leaving these communities better than we found them and not causing further harm.
As a lifelong lover of travel, I appreciate the communities and cultures I’ve experienced and the walls that have been broken down in return.
I wholeheartedly believe in the power of intercultural dialogue and the empathy and connections we foster by experiencing things outside of our comfort zone or our day-to-day.
But I also don’t want to place any burdens on individual communities or leave a mark behind long after my adventures have ended, and people definitely relate to this sentiment. This idea of sustainable travel isn’t a new concept, but it’s something that’s gaining momentum.
In fact, according to a survey from Booking.com, half of the global travelers surveyed expressed the desire to travel more sustainably in the future with over two-thirds of respondents expecting more sustainable travel options from suppliers.
People want to travel, and they should, but they want to travel responsibly and want options to do so.
Sustainable tourism is defined as when businesses support environmental conservation, social development and local economies, according to the Rainforest Alliance. Examples of sustainable business practices include the following:
conserving water and energy
supporting community conservation projects
recycling and treating wastes
hiring staff from the local community
paying them just wages and providing training
sourcing locally-produced products for restaurants and gift shops
This offers a chance to calculate your carbon footprint per night and choose accommodations that inject money back into the local economy, as well as finding activities that take in consideration environmental and societal impact.
There are also other ways of thinking about sustainable travel. Here are a few things to consider:
Offset your vacation
You can purchase carbon offsets to neutralize your carbon emissions. Companies like Carbon Fund allow you to make a tax-deductible donation to offset your carbon footprint and support industry-leading carbon reduction initiatives, such as renewable energy projects.
Choose a green destination
There are plenty of environmentally-conscious destinations for you to visit, near and far. According to the Travel Channel, some of the best destinations to visit for the eco-friendly traveler include Vancouver, Costa Rica, Singapore, Australia, Portugal or San Francisco.
Take less with you and avoid extra packaging
By packing light, packing with less plastic and by reusing what you have, the environment will thank you. Bring what you need and avoid disposable items. You don’t have to “rough it” while traveling, but we can also be more strategic about what we pack. Simple switches like bringing reusable containers for toiletries or bringing a reusable water bottle are easy changes to make.
Travel somewhere closer to home
Flying is a heavy carbon emitter. If you can, traveling somewhere closer to home or traveling over land is always a sure bet in reducing your carbon footprint. Flying a little less each year goes a long way. Additionally, when you have the chance to use public transportation, such as a train or bus, it means you're not creating any additional carbon emissions from private transport. It will also add to your travel experience, giving you an opportunity to connect with locals and to see parts of the region you may not have seen otherwise.
Buy responsible souvenirs
As tempting as it can be, you can avoid buying mass-produced t-shirts and other tokens as souvenirs while traveling. Instead, support local businesses and purchase handmade, local crafts and other items. The items will mean more in the long run, and you’ll help support the local economy of the community you experienced in the process. Some of my favorite things that I’ve brought back from trips, aside from the memories, are handcrafted items with some of the local flair.
Leave nature as you found it
Another approach is to get out in nature, but you don’t want to leave anything behind. Connecting ourselves to the great outdoors is a beautiful thing, but we have to be conscientious of our surroundings and our impact. If visiting a National Park or anywhere outdoors, take whatever you bring with you; don’t leave behind any trash. You want to leave nature just as it was when you got there, which also means not taking any native plants and staying on marked paths.
Travel outside peak summer months
If you can visit popular tourist destinations outside of the peak travel season, you can stay for longer and for usually much cheaper prices without adding to the strain of the busy season. Not only that, but traveling at random times of year, if you can manage, tends to be more enjoyable anyway. Less people and less chaos can mean more for you to enjoy without the hustle and bustle of tourist season.
Pick activities that go the extra mile
This can obviously be hiking, biking or anything outdoors, but this can also mean picking local guides and participating in local activities that give back to the community. You can also lend a helping hand by volunteering during your stay. In fact, many sustainable accommodations offer opportunities for guests to lend a hand, whether at a local garden, a community service project or by donating to conservation efforts in the region. I know not everyone will want to think about putting in some work while on vacation, but you never know what connections could be forged while giving back.
As summer approaches and we start to think about traveling again, I think we have all found a deeper appreciation for connecting with others after the pandemic.
But I also hope we can get back out there with a deeper understanding of how our actions have a greater impact.
May we all travel light but leave with a deeper appreciation of the world around us.
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