At a time in the world when the cumulating effects of man’s actions on the environment can be felt directly and explicitly, climate change is an issue that needs to be tackled now more than ever. From rivers being replaced by plastic waste instead of water in Indonesia to a 19-mile long crack appearing in the glaciers of Antarctica to the biggest wildfire California has ever seen, man’s actions have had disastrous consequences on the ecosystem of the world, and tourism has much to do with it. Travelling has a great impact on the carbon footprint produced by individuals – aeroplanes emit harmful greenhouse gases and carbon particulates, hotels around the world utilise gallons of water to do laundry, tourists at vacation spots buy and use more plastic in the form of single-use water bottles and food packets.
In light of its environmental impact, there has been a recent trend among many travellers to be more responsible in their travelling choices and make environmentally conscious decisions while vacationing around the world. A survey by TripAdvisor shows that nearly two-thirds of travellers today want to want to make more eco-friendly choices in terms of booking hotels, modes of transport and even their meals. Many tourist locations have even started to shift their priority from mass tourism to valuing local cultures. Jon Bruno, the executive director of the International Ecotourism Society says, “Sustainable travel is all about creating a positive effect on the communities you visit”. Eco-friendly travel thus entails merely leaving a place better than it was found.
Travelling ethically and sustainably is not as difficult as it might seem – from small actions like turning off the lights while leaving the hotel room, to reusing hotel towels, to using greener modes of transport, there are multiple ways to lessen the impact on the environment and local communities while travelling. The simplest step that can be taken to ensure an eco-friendly vacation is to choose a green travel destination. The Global Green Economy Index by the consulting firm Dual Citizen found that the greenest destinations for 2018 were Sweden, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, and Finland. However, more than a country’s ranking, while researching vacation spots it is more important to pay attention to how a destination embraces the green lifestyle – is there a strong public transportation system? Do they encourage farmers markets and local produce? Are there walkable neighbourhoods?
The next thing to keep in mind for a sustainable travelling experience is to choose environmentally friendly modes of transportation. Trains are the most sustainable way of travelling, and so are buses. Instead of using car rentals, taking public modes of travel reduces the carbon footprint left behind by groups of travellers. If renting a car is inevitable, opting for electric powered vehicles over traditional diesel or petrol engine cars can dramatically cut down the greenhouse gases produced. While at the destination, perhaps the most conscious choice that can be made is to ditch traditional hotels and resorts in favour of Airbnb, eco-lodges or even staying with locals in the area in homestays. Surveys have found that Airbnb and homestays consume much less energy and water, produce less waste and emit fewer greenhouse gases when compared to chain hotels. Further, staying with locals can allow for exchange of valuable cultural information in addition to directly contributing to the local economy and giving the traveller a more authentic experience.
An important thing to be kept in mind while vacationing is the ethical considerations of animal tourism. Being a responsible traveller entails researching into the treatment of animals in the tourist spots that one visits – more often than not, the demand for animal tourism in tourist countries leads to mistreatment of the indigenous animals. This can be seen in the various vacation pictures posted by people beside drugged up tigers or taking safari rides on the backs of elephants. Interaction with animals can be done in a safe and ethical way through animal rescue and rehabilitation centres where one can be assured that the animals are being treated with the love and respect they deserve.
While travelling, keep in mind to minimise the waste left behind – this involves not only generating less waste while on vacation but also trying to clean up the waste generated by others and encouraging others to be more responsible. The sight of beaches strewn with plastic bottles, chip packets, candy wrappers, empty sunscreen tubes and disposable utensils has become a sight common to many travel destinations. Some ways to tackle this problem include – travellers should try to use reusable bottles, bring their own toiletries, practice recycling, and opt for reusable stainless steel straws instead of plastic ones.
Travelling ethically and in an eco-friendly manner doesn’t have to be a huge task that requires major sacrifices. Incorporating a few of such simple changes into travel plans can lead to a positive impact on the environment of the travel destinations and of the world in the long run, in addition to providing unique experiences that conventional, luxury travel cannot.