Sustainable travel should be the only way we travel. From excessive air travel that causes harmful CO2 emissions to package holiday resorts that are built on natural areas, international travel and tourism are far from sustainable.

Our world has finite resources. There are only so many beautiful, natural, untouched places on our planet and mass tourism threatens their existence. Nature, culture and history should be preserved, not commodified.

Unfortunately, many travellers and travel industry operators remain in denial about how limited our world’s resources are and how tourism is negatively affecting the environment, local cultures and communities. That’s where sustainable travel comes in.

What is sustainable traveller?

Sustainable travel means finding a way that tourism can be maintained long-term without harming natural and cultural environments. Sustainable travel should minimise the negative impacts of tourism and ideally be beneficial to the area in which it takes place.

The World Tourism Organization defines sustainable tourism as “development [which] meets the needs of present tourists and host regions while protecting and enhancing opportunity for the future. It is envisaged as leading to management of all resources in such a way that economic, social, and aesthetic needs can be fulfilled while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, biological diversity, and life support system.”

Sustainable travel is about valuing the environment and looking after our natural resources. Travellers need to be more aware of pollution levels caused by travel and how that affects the environment and local wildlife. They also need to be aware of how tourism affects local people, businesses and native cultures.

The Three Pillars of Sustainability

The Environmental Pillar – The environmental pillar focuses on reducing negative impacts on the environment and wildlife from travelling. This includes minimising our carbon footprint, especially from air travel, water usage, packaging and plastic waste, and not disturbing wildlife. As sustainable travellers, we can have a simple positive effect by carrying our own reusables. We can look for hotels and restaurants which recycle and are built from sustainable materials. We can research wildlife tourism to seek out responsible tour operators.

The Social Pillar – The social pillar is about our impact on local people and communities. This includes supporting businesses that are run by, employ and support local people, as well as community tourism projects, NGOs, social enterprises and charities. Responsible travellers can look for opportunities to be involved in these types of projects and be aware of who businesses employ, whether they’re fairly paid and whether their work environment is safe.

The Economic Pillar – Traditionally, the economic pillar refers to businesses being profitable in order to be sustainable. However, when it comes to sustainable travel, we can apply the economic pillar to using our money to positively contribute to the local economy. As tourists, we can give our tourist pound to locally-run hotels, restaurants and tour guides to support the local economy.

10 Ways To Be a Sustainable Traveller

1. Consider the most sustainable form of transport to get to your destination

Depending where you’re going, you may have the option to fly, drive or take a train or coach. Weigh up your options. If you’re travelling in a group, it makes sense to car share whereas if you’re travelling on your own it may be greener to fly or take the train. Taking the train or bus is often the more sustainable option over flying or driving by car, but it depends on the route.

2. Use the most sustainable form of transport when you’re at your destination

When you’ve arrived in your destination, go by foot or bike whenever possible. These are the greenest transport options. Use public transport, minibuses or car shares to get around instead of private cars when you’re going further. If are travelling by the coast a sailing boat is a good option for accomodation and travel, it is moved by the wind energy, and it is an amazing way of being in contact with nature.

3. Avoid large resorts

Large resorts have negative impacts on the local environment due to their water and energy consumption. Washing towels and changing bed sheets daily are common in large resorts and waste energy and water. Many resorts also concrete over large areas of natural habitat to build guest rooms and swimming pools.

4. Avoid all-inclusives

All-inclusive package holidays mean you pay up-front for your accommodation, food and activities. This means tourists have little incentive to go elsewhere and often do not go out to local restaurants, hire local tour guides or participate in cultural activities. Resort accommodation in all-inclusives tend to be foreign-owned. This means tourist money doesn’t benefit the local economy. All-inclusives are not sustainable.

5. Only participate in responsible wildlife tourism

Avoid any wildlife tours that promise up-close encounters with animals, as these may be unethical. You can usually get a sense of whether an animal tourism activity may be unethical based on the interaction with the animals, especially if the animals are not used to human contact. If you’re allowed to touch, cuddle or ride the animals, this is a bad sign.

6. Snorkel and scuba dive responsibly

If you’re snorkelling or scuba diving, be careful not to tread on the coral as this can damage the fragile ecosystem. 25% of coral reefs worldwide are now damaged beyond repair. If we want to preserve our beautiful reefs, we must snorkel and scuba dive responsibly. When you snorkel or dive, go with smaller groups to avoid overcrowding. Do not try to touch or feed fish or animals. Make sure to wear reef-friendly sunscreen. Many supermarket shelf sunscreens contain titanium dioxide. This mineral does not biodegrade and it reacts in warm seawater to form hydrogen peroxide which is harmful to all sea life.

7. Eat in restaurants and cafes owned by locals

As with accommodation, spend your tourist euro in restaurants and cafes run by locals. In our experience, this is a great way to meet locals who are enthusiastic about you trying their traditional food. Not to mention that home-cooking is the best, so if you can find small hole in the wall places or join sharing economy apps like EatWith where you can have dinner with a local family, you’ll most likely be eating more delicious food too. Avoid international food chains like McDonald’s where your money doesn’t enter the local economy.

8. Pack eco-friendly essentials

Packing a reusable water bottle, reusable bag and a lunch box will mean you can cut down on plastic waste when you travel. You can Opt for toiletries such as shampoo bars, a natural deodorant block and a mooncup that come in paper packaging rather than plastic and last longer. 

9. Buy locally grown food and shop in local markets

Eat locally grown food from local producers. Avoid imported foods and international food chains where food has had to be transported from far away causing carbon emissions. You can shop for local fruits, vegetables and other produce at local farmers markets. The farmers markets in Portugal has amazing products.

10. Share your sustainable travel experiences

Share your responsible travel experiences with friends, family, people you meet, on social media and even in my comments section below! The more we talk about the way we travel, the more we reinforce how important it is to travel green.

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