Sustainability is a much more complex concept than just environmental consciousness. It also involves two other components which are social and economic. The root of the word itself explains it as the ability to sustain, to support and to be able to keep going indefinitely. Sustainability applies to the economies and communities involved as well as the environment.
So what is sustainable traveling?
It is defined as “the concept of visiting somewhere as a tourist and trying to make a positive impact on the environment, society, and economy”.
Tourism is one of the world’s greatest industries when it comes to generating revenue and employment as well as the most recognized way of increasing cultural understanding. However it can have a heavy impact on the environment, wildlife and communities.
There are many ways of positively impacting the countries or places you visit. With the rise of eco-tourism and general consciousness, it is truly becoming easy for the memories you make and pictures you take to also contribute to the long term wellbeing of the planet and the people involved.
PICK YOUR DESTINATION CONSCIOUSLY
Be mindful of where you choose to go. Many countries, regions or cities have made substantial efforts when it comes to recycling, minimizing pollution, protecting wildlife, ecosystem preservation, cultural preservation and the likes.
Favor destinations that have made those commitments because your dollar is not only your vote but also contributes to these efforts.
Namibia has written environmental and wildlife preservation into its constitution with the help of WWF. Albania has prioritized the protection of wild areas and created protected national marine parks. Botswana is considered Africa’s most stable and safe country and has a national ecotourism certification system. Costa Rica produces 100% of its energy from renewable sources for 6 months out of the year and is set to become the world’s first carbon neutral country by 2021. Uruguay produces 95% of its electricity from renewable sources and is the leader in South America when it comes to democracy, freedom of the press and non-corruption. They are also taking great steps to reduce poverty, improve women's rights and LGBT community support.
Check out these sites to pick your next conscious holiday:
THINK BEFORE YOU PACK
There are many products in our suitcases that can have a negative impact on the environment and the communities involved in producing them. So when you are getting ready for your trip, make sure you are packing green.
For example, sunscreen has been proven to be one of the things that have a disastrous impact on water quality and the chemicals in it are destroying the reefs which are part of a rich and complex ecosystem. So if you’re going somewhere sunny, pick a reef and coral friendly sunscreen! Small gesture, big impact.
Pack a reusable water bottle. Many airports, cities and parks have water fountains so you don’t have to buy countless plastic bottles along your trip.
As for clothes, swimwear and jewelry, pick the sustainable options. Going hiking or going to walk for long hours? Check out Merrell or Patagonia. Going to the tropics? Get a nice sustainably made kaftan from Ocean + Main and a bikini made of organic recycled materials from Mara Hoffman. Grab some sandals made in Uganda that provides scholarships for girls to go to school from Sseko. Need to accessorize for dinners or the beach? *cough* Washed Ashore jewelry!
OFFSET YOUR TRIP
Carbon offsetting is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. The way it works: you input how far you are going to travel and using what type of transportation, it calculates how much greenhouse gases your trip is going to emit and a related dollar amount. You donate that amount to the carbon offsetting organization and they use it to invest in environmental projects worldwide such as reforestation, renewable energy farms and even buying carbon that they retire forever.
Other tips: if you are going with friends or family and it is driving distance, get an eco-friendly car and go together. If you are traveling alone, flying is actually the greener option.
Fly direct because take offs and landings are responsible for the most carbon emissions.
EAT, SLEEP, SHOP LOCAL
One amazing impact you can have while traveling and one of the most rewarding ones is getting to know local culture and contributing to the local economy.
Instead of large resort chains, look for smaller local B&Bs or hotels. Smaller local accommodations also usually rely on local businesses and growers for supplies and food, supporting a whole micro-economy.
Get out and explore! Go to the markets, shops, buy handmade goods and souvenirs. Those are usually a bit more expensive but you don’t want to bring back a souvenir that was made in a sweatshop 10,000 miles away.
Don’t stick only to what you know and try local delicacies, speak to people, learn the customs and culture. Before you go, get a translation guide and learn a couple words, locals always appreciate that.
Respect, learn and love.
CONSIDER ALTERNATIVES TO FLYING
We all know that out of all transportation, flying is probably the one that pollutes the most.
Only one form of transport emits more CO2 than planes: cruise ships. Cruises are terrible for the environment, as they emit 1.5 times more CO2 than planes (per passenger mile), use the same amount of fuel per day as 1 million cars and discharge large amounts of waste stream into the oceans like sewage, hazardous waste, oily water and hard waste. They also generate high profits and offer low wages along with very low revenue impact on local economies and at port.
But there are alternatives such as bus, train or car. So many countries have incredible public transport systems that can save you the hassle of airport security, luggage and lines. France and Japan have some of the most sophisticated and fastest trains in the world. In Europe, trains can take you from France to London, Milan to Zurich and much more. Trains are especially popular in China, India and Canada. So don’t forget to check on other ways of getting around that not only have less negative environmental impact but will also greatly contribute to local economies and show you amazing sights you would have otherwise missed!