It is hard to find a person who doesn’t like travelling. Exploring foreign countries can be a good way to learn new things, get acquainted with other cultures or simply rest and refresh. However, if not responsible, tourism can have a negative effect on water and local resources as well as contribute to air pollution and land degradation. Good news is that we all can contribute to sustainable travelling. Here are some tips:
#1 Choose your transportation means wisely. Why fly if you can drive and why drive if you can bike? Always consider more environmental friendly solution to get from point A to point B. Planes and especially cruises are considered to be one of the most unsustainable ways to travel but you can always look for a carbon offset program, pay a little extra (which is really a little!) and leave no carbon footprint. Of course, if the trip is land based, first think about taking a train, bus or a car. However, if you want to do an Eurotrip from Lapland through Athens to Barcelona alone, it’s actually more ecological to fly. But if it’s a family or friends trip, prioritize a car. If you are going to a different continent, plan your flights and travel there in one trip as much as you can instead of flying back and forth over the oceans.
#2 Go local. Immerse yourself with local life as much as you can. Try to learn a bit of language, go to markets instead of big shopping malls and look for something rather authentic than familiar. You can ask people where to eat and what to eat so you could experience traditional cuisine. If you want to bring some souvenirs home be careful that you don’t end up with Thai straw hats that were made in China. Handmade gifts will probably cost more but in this way you are going to have more direct and positive impact on local economy. It also supports cultural heritage and provides so needed jobs. To make a real difference you can even go volunteering abroad so local community there can actually benefit from your input.
#3 Lower your needs. Choosing an Airbnb or couchsurfing over a hotel will not only keep your wallet happy, but will also help to reduce electricity and water waste. If you prefer a hotel though, don’t ask for a new towel everyday – leave it hanging instead so the cleaning personnel would know you will reuse it or simply put Do Not Disturb sign on your door. You won’t get your room tidied up, that’s true, but you will avoid all the not always so necessary cleaning. Also, do not forget to unplug all the electrical devices when you leave the apartment and, yes, it’s okay to take those unused soaps and shampoos back home – otherwise they would probably be thrown away. Or you can look for nice green hotels or eco-friendly lodges that orientates on sustainable tourism.
#4 Try backpacking, an independent and low-cost way of travel. Just put all your belongings in a rucksack and simply hit the road using as much public transport or your own feet as you can. Talking about the backpack itself, you should always think and then rethink about things that you want to take with you. Now imagine yourself with a backpack and two luggages on both hands, it would be a bit more complicated to catch a public transport than with just one bag, right? If it’s a challenge to pack light, try to follow the rule of three: one to wear, one to wash, one to dry. Be aware of the content of your bag, too. Take a water canteen or glass bottle instead of buying plastic bottles on the way (yes, we know it will be heavier). Finally, be exceptionally conscious when travelling in fragile ecosystems – your used products will be disposed in that region so avoid microbeads, aerosol cans and sulfate shampoos.
#5 Do your research. Before travelling, take some time to read about the culture you are going to immerse with, environmental situation there and also about sustainable travelling in general. There are way more tips how to be eco-friendly on vacation than we could put in one article so keep reading and learning. And remember few things: sustainable travelling isn’t mean to preserve nature for future tourists’ benefits, it preserves the environment for current and future needs of local communities. However, the more cultures you get to know, the more connected you feel to others, so wherever you go, you don’t leave a footprint in somebody else’s country, you leave it in your own planet.
By Lina Krivickaitė (EVS volunteer on project Sustainability in environmental activism on cultural topics funded by European Commission trough program Erasmus+)