Travelling generally has a very positive impact on both us as individuals and the country we’re currently visiting. It increases our cultural understanding and allows us to unwind from stress, and it helps us become more open-minded. After all, seeing how different people go about their day and how their opinions differ from ours is a powerful thing. Similarly, travel can also influence a country’s economy and even supply jobs for those working in the tourism industry.
However, despite all these benefits, travel also causes problems—increased pollution, waste, and fossil fuel usage, not to mention that the strain of having a huge influx of tourists during certain months is often more than a city can handle. If you live sustainably and care deeply about your environment, cleaning up your vacation habits is absolutely essential.
Fortunately, it’s not that hard to do. If you want to be more eco-friendly on your next holiday, here are the things you need to keep in mind.
What kind of transportation to use?
If it is at all possible, use a train to reach your destination. Trains and buses are generally the least damaging option out there, and they can save up to seven times the gas emissions compared to taking a plane. They are also a better option than driving because you’ll be sharing your space with more people, so there will be fewer vehicles on the road.
Of course, for faraway destinations, air transport may be the only viable option, so if you have to fly, try choosing eco-friendly airlines that use biofuel. KLM, Qantas, and United are some of the companies that are committed to this practice. If you’re travelling by ship, consider smaller, ergonomically efficient boats.
How do I pick an eco-friendly destination?
What this means is picking a destination that either doesn’t get much tourist traffic and can handle an influx of people coming in or picking a destination that’s committed to making sustainable choices. For example, European nations such as Switzerland and France are some of the world leaders when it comes to preserving the environment, but you can also go for the Algarve—one of Portugal’s most beautiful, lushly green regions that’s a great alternative to places like Barbados or the Bahamas.
One part of the Algarve is called Albufeira, and it’s full of natural wonders that are perfect for a responsible traveller because ecotourism is on the rise here and you can contribute to its growth. The Philippines, Sao Tome and Principe, and a lot of other places are also a good choice.
How can I best support the local economy?
Why go to India if you’re just going to head straight for Starbucks or Sephora, the same way you would at home? Instead of shopping from big, international chain stores, go for small, local businesses.
That way you’ll be giving your money to people who actually deserve it, to those who are there, serving you and making sure you’re having a good time. Besides, this is a great way to get a much more authentic experience. You’ll be getting unique items from local craftsmen who put hours into their work and finding produce in shops that collaborate with hard-working farmers.
Related reading: What is community-based Tourism?
How can I reduce my waste?
The single most common piece of waste is usually a one-use water bottle. Plastic waste that tourists leave behind is usually enormous, but all that packaging is something you can control. Find big reusable bottles instead of buying from the store, and use filtration systems if you feel like you need to.
When packing food for your trip, go for recyclable paper bags as much as you can, and always make sure to clean up after yourself—littering is one of the worst things a tourist can do. It’s not only rude and inconsiderate but completely damaging to the environment. It’s basically like a great big insult to the place and the people you’re visiting.
Related reading: 5 travel hacks to make your travels plastic-free
Are there any water/energy-saving options?
Taking a long, luxurious hot bath is a little strange when you visit a country where people seldom have clean running water. Conserve by taking quick showers, washing your towels less, and turning off the tap when you’re brushing your teeth.
Ask your hotel whether they have any water- and energy-preserving policies, and obey their rules. These tiny habits mean a lot in the long run, so encourage your fellow travellers to do the same.
Can I give back to a cause?
This isn’t necessary—after all, we don’t all have money to spare. However, if you’re going to a place and see that people are suffering, you can always extend a helping hand if you wish.
From volunteering jobs to actual donations, there’s plenty that you can do to support the local communities. This is especially useful to countries that are struggling to preserve natural habitats and ecology of their place.
In the end, the best way to approach sustainable travel is to use simple common sense—act the way you would at home, with grace, kindness, and thoughtfulness. Pick the right destinations, act conscientiously, and you can enjoy your trip.
Rebecca, who also goes by Becca, is a translator by day and a runner by night. She spends a third of her life on planes, and the rest wondering where her job will take her next. You can read more about her exploits at RoughDraft.