After all the traveling we have done we have questioned ourselves in how far our travels have actually had an impact on the environment we have visited. This impact can either be of social nature, i.e the impact on a community, or the impact on nature and the eco-system. Many people simply do not care or consider these aspects when traveling or simply are not aware of possible impacts that their travels bring upon the surroundings. We thought it might be interesting to know in how far you can become a sustainable traveler and how you can ease your impact on the environment.
10 things you can do to become a more sustainable traveler
1. Question yourself about your travel purpose
Before embarking on a journey you should question the reason of your travels. If you are planning to take a short weekend trip it would not make sense to take a long-haul flight. If you are planning to take a spa weekend you might consider doing this in a place close to you without the need of long transportation. The ratio of travel distance and vacation duration is an important factor to take into consideration.
2. Make smart travel plans
Consider taking one longer trip rather than 3 or 4 smaller trips. If you have to take a longer flight you should spend at least 2-3 weeks at the destination. This can help reduce your travel emissions and – as a bonus – help you discover your destination in a more intense way. Enjoy the benefits of ‘slow travel’ and spend more time in places rather than rushing from one to the next.
3. Consider your means of transportation
Try to minimize your flights and rather make use of other transportation methods. Traveling on a train can be a very relaxing and exciting experience and will definitely help reduce your carbon footprint. Have a look at our post about traveling on a train in Myanmar for further inspirations on adventurous train travels. Make use of biking tours whenever you can.
Also, consider using collective ground transports such as buses, shared car rides or even hitch-hiking. Just try to avoid short-distance flights if you can choose an environmentally friendly method instead.
During our last visit in Myanmar we traveled the entire country by train and by hitchhiking and it definitely was a great experience.
4. Consider your accommodations
Make use of accommodation facilities which are owned by locals such as smaller pensions or guesthouses. Or, you may also want to make use of hospitality exchange networks such as HomeExchange or platforms like TrustedHousesitters. If you get the chance you might also ask your accommodation provider for their sustainability practices. This might not always be easy but you will get the feeling of the place and see how they handle things to make your own opinion. You can check the criteria for accommodations receiving a sustainability certificate at the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC).
5. Support the local communities
Buy locally produced products and souvenirs and eat in local restaurants. There is no better way to support and contribute to the local community than buying directly from them. Not only are you helping the local economy but are also reducing your carbon footprint because you are not supporting products which are packed and shipped from far away places.
6. Conduct some research on tour operators
You may take part in various different tours during your trips and it is advisable to do a bit of research before joining in. Many tour operators do not consider the environmental impacts of their services and do not support wildlife conservation or animal welfare. This can range from swimming with whale sharks, participating in hiking excursions or riding elephants – please check out their practices before joining and make sure that these support local communities and respect their environment.
While in Cambodia we opted to join the Mondulkiri Project which supported the conservation and protection of wild elephants. Read our post on meeting the elephants in eastern Cambodia and learn more about this project.
7. Conserve water & reduce waste
Take short showers, turn off the sink while brushing your teeth, use refill water bottles. Useful practices that can help you reduce water usage which can also be applied at home. Planning a longer trip? Pack fast-drying and light clothes and towels that you can wash easily and fast in the sink rather than the washing machine. Re-use towels in your accommodations and bring your own bags to carry things to prevent the strong usage of plastic bags. Don’t litter! No matter how dirty the place might be.
8. Educate yourself about the place you are going to
Do some research about the places you visit prior to going there. By understanding local habits and cultures and by respecting these you can positively contribute to a community. Do not apply your expectations to all the places and people you see – other people do things differently, respect this and enjoy the moment.
9. Do not buy products from endangered species
Do not support the trafficking of endangered and rare wildlife by buying such products for souvenirs (rare sea shells, animal furs, crocodile handbags, shark-fin soups etc.).
10. Give to people, but in a right way
Do not support kids by giving them sweets, books or pencils – even though it might be meant very nicely it will encourage a culture of begging and dependency. The best way of giving is to donate money or goods to a local organization that work on social welfare programs and who can allocate these fairly and properly.
Obviously, a vacation at home in your own garden or balcony would probably be the most environment-friendly option. Yet, our aim is not to discourage people from traveling but to make them a bit more aware of the impacts they bring along. We just want to sharpen the awareness of what sustainable traveling means and what steps you can take to become a more sustainable traveler. We are by means not always the ‘greenest’ travelers ourselves but try to reduce our carbon footprint if we get the chance to do so.
If you are interested in calculating your carbon footprint you can try this calculator.
Tell us about your experiences with being a sustainable traveler and what contributions you have made to protect the environment already!