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We all love a romantic getaway or adventurous expedition to break out of our comfort zone. But it’s important to recognize how travel can impact the environment and culture of the places we are visiting, as well as the global climate crisis. Many of us have gotten better at recognizing our environmental impact with product purchases, but it's just as important to be aware of our carbon footprint when traversing the globe. Here’s a breakdown of the concept of sustainable travel and why it matters. We’ve also included easy ways to incorporate eco-friendly practices when planning and taking your next vacation. Let’s get ready to sightsee, sustainably.
In an effort to protect our natural resources, sustainable travel entails being aware of our impact–on both the natural and cultural environment and adopting eco-friendly practices to minimize the negative effects, and ideally maximize the positive effects, in the areas we’re touring.
The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) outlines that travel should support the three pillars of sustainability:
As you can see, sustainable tourism involves our ongoing participation–it’s about raising awareness and doing our part.
Eco-friendly travel practices include:VENTURE CLOSE TO HOME
Exploring nearby vacation spots is one of the top ways to minimize our environmental impact as tourists. Visit attractions in your neighborhood or drive to a different town or city in your home state–sometimes an adventure is right around the corner.
With criteria ranging from energy-saving lights to water conservation and bio-architecture, sustainable accommodations focus on the preservation of environmental resources. Just be sure to check for certifications–some hotels are in the business of greenwashing. Trustworthy tourist advisory accreditation groups include Earthcheck and the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC).
Helpful booking sites include Ecobnb which allows travelers to find and book sustainable accommodations and Bookdifferent which calculates the carbon footprint per night based on your selection, and displays eco-friendly ratings.
If sustainable lodging isn’t an option for you, small ways to make an impact include avoiding single-use plastic bottles, re-using towels, declining turn down service, and unplugging electronics while out sightseeing.
Traveling on slower modes of transportation, like a train, greatly reduces ecological impact. Plus, you’ll be able to enjoy the scenery and wildlife along the way. If flying, look into taking the shortest path to your destination. It’s best to take direct flights–takeoffs and landings cause most of the plane’s carbon emissions. Upon arriving at your destination, try to use the greenest transportation options available. Walk, bike, or use public transport to explore.
Reduce pollution and plastic waste by traveling with reusable storage bags for toiletries, snacks, and other miscellaneous items. At hotels, avoid single-use plastic shampoo and drinking bottles. Sitting down at eateries instead of taking food to go is also a great way to mitigate plastic consumption.
Empower local economies and reduce the environmental impact of transportation by shopping and eating at businesses owned and run by local residents. When it comes to food, homegrown is fresher and contributes to increased employment and community income. It’s a win-win situation.
One of the most meaningful and rewarding parts of travel is interacting with locals and learning about their histories. Respecting local community traditions helps conserve cultural and artistic heritage–the pillar of social sustainability.
Words By: Shiri Feldman
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