Most of us agree that sustainable travel should be the only way to travel! Yet there is some confusion around what sustainable and responsible tourism is, and how we can be more conscious travellers. To answer these pressing questions, we’ve created a handy guide on being a responsible tourist to help you navigate the various terms and discover easy sustainable vacation tips to help you protect the world we love to explore!
What is Sustainable Travel?
According to the (UN) World Tourism Organisation, sustainable tourism is:
“Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities…
…Sustainable tourism should also maintain a high level of tourist satisfaction and ensure a meaningful experience to the tourists, raising their awareness about sustainability issues and promoting sustainable tourism practices amongst them.”
Essentially, sustainable holiday is travel that has the minimal amount of impact on the people, animals and environment. The idea is that responsible vacation does not harm those in the place you are visiting. A sustainable holiday enables long-term tourism that does not negatively affect the culture of the destination nor the environment. Additionally, it should also be beneficial to the area in the form of jobs, wildlife conservation and money going into the community.
Why should we care about sustainable travel and responsible tourism?
The question as to why we should care about being a conscious traveler is best understood by looking at the current situation.
Modern day tourism arguably started in Victorian times. The upper middle class would embark on grand tours around Europe, particularly around Germany and Italy. There was a sudden interest in the great outdoors and beautiful landscapes. Unfortunately, education around protecting these spaces was mixed. You can find 200 year old graffiti carved into rocks in national parks.
Skip forward to today and the age of mass tourism. Since all-inclusive vacation packages enabled international travel to be affordable for the working classes, the impacts of pollution, overtourism, environmental damage and impact on locals have been magnified.
Overtourism has been defined by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) as “the impact of tourism on a destination, or parts thereof, that excessively influences perceived quality of life of citizens and/or quality of visitor experiences in a negative way”. Places such as Venice, Santorini, Dubrovnik, Iceland, Machu Picchu, Maya Bay in Thailand are just a few of the places that suffer from overtourism. Phuket’s beach was called ‘plastic beach’ due to 2 tons of plastic on the shore! Phuket Green Day removes 2 tonnes of rubbish from beach and parklands (thephuketnews.com)
Many of us are guilty of not learning any of the local languages when we travel, as we perceive that “everyone speaks English anyway” and do not attempt to find out about the local culture or really engage with it when we are there.
Something has to change and the pandemic has given the industry and travellers time to reflect and focus on making travel more sustainable in the future. As a wise man once said “It is better to travel well, than to just arrive”.
What can we as individuals do to travel more sustainably? Here are 21 easy sustainable travel tips to help you on your sustainable travel journey!
1. Stay at Independent Hotels and B&Bs
One way to travel more sustainably is to choose to stay at independent hotels or B&Bs over chain hotels and resorts.
Choosing a place to stay can be such an exciting yet time consuming part of travel planning! You want to make sure that the accommodation is in the right location, is within your budget, has great reviews etc. One other thing you should consider when choosing where to stay in a destination is the type of accommodation.
Certain types of accommodation are more sustainable than others. For example, some large resort hotels actually take more than they give to the destination they are situated in. Big resorts or all inclusive package holidays provide little incentive to spend your money outside of the resort. These resorts often amount to inauthentic experiences as you are surrounded by tourists and not locals. The cuisine is frequently an international affair, meaning more air miles and less local produce is used. Furthermore, there is a large demand for resources in the form of water and energy which can put immense pressure on local resources.
There are even extreme cases where large resorts perpetuate the idea that it is dangerous to go outside of the resort. This form of propaganda further incentivises travellers to stay within the resort and creates a dangerous ‘othering’ of locals with colonial undertones instead of forming relationships with the residents of the destination.
Of course not all resorts are bad, however by choosing to stay in local, independent hotels rather than big internationally-owned accommodation, you can be more confident that your money will be supporting the local economy. Due to their smaller size, boutique hotels are often in better and more central locations or in trendy neighbourhoods. Locally-owned and run B&Bs can be a much more authentic places to stay too.
2. Vegan travel
“Vegan travel is an essential part of sustainable tourism.” Sophie, www.thewanderfulme.com
Another great way to become a more sustainable traveller is to be a vegan traveller.
There are many reasons why vegan travel and sustainable travel go hand in hand.
Dominika Piasecka, spokeswoman for The Vegan Society states “The environmental benefits of eating fewer or no animal products are well known. Vegan food produces up to 50% less greenhouse gas emissions than non-vegan food so it’s a brilliant way to partially off-set the emissions created by your flight and help the planet in this way. If more passengers choose the vegan meal over a meat-heavy option, the opportunity for carbon saving starts to become significant.”
Choosing a vegan diet means you reduce your carbon footprint helping to protect the planet we love! While it can be a little harder to travel as a vegan 5 reasons why vegan travel is still hard in 2020 (thegetawayco.com) , it is easier than ever before! Travelling as a vegan can even enrich your travels as you find quirky independent restaurants, meet fellow vegans or try new fruits!
If you are worried about travelling as a vegan or would like the guarantee of meeting fellow vegans, why not join us on one of our vegan getaways in Bali, Italy or Portugal? Upcoming Getaways | The Getaway Co.
3. Go Plastic Free / Recycle
Trying to minimise your plastic consumption will not be a surprising sustainable travel tip to most of you!
Over the last few years, zero-waste has become quite a buzzword. While it is much easier to reduce your plastic consumption at home, it can be a little trickier during your travels. However, many of the tips to reduce your plastic-consumption https://myplasticfreelife.com/plasticfreeguide/ at home can be used abroad. Furthermore, it is important to not beat yourself up if there is a language barrier and actively trying is better than not trying at all.
Plastic is a huge cause of environmental pollution in its problematic degradation, harmful to wildlife and the fact it is made from fossil fuels. By reducing our plastic consumption we can help to reduce this. For example, try to always have a spare cloth bag with you during your travels to store souvenirs or food. In some countries, it is customary to put everything in a plastic bag, even if it is just one item. You can easily hand signal that you don’t want a plastic bag. Furthermore, reusable water bottles are a great way to reduce your plastic consumption on your travels.
As we do not yet live in a plastic-free world, it is quite hard to completely avoid plastic during our travels. Nevertheless, trying to actively plan ahead can help minimise our plastic consumption.
4. Dine at independent/local restaurants
Similar to staying in independent hotels, try to dine at several independent restaurants during your stay.
By dining at a variety of restaurants and cafes, you will spread the economic benefit of your stay with various business owners of a community. While it is tempting to keep dining at the same place if you have found one you really like, it’s also exciting to try lots of places with different food.
If you are a vegan or vegetarian, use HappyCow to help you find amazing plant-based restaurants around the world!
5. Avoid Cruises
Another sustainable travel tip is to avoid cruises.
Mark Watson who is the director of Tourism Concern believes that if you want to be an ethical tourist, you should avoid cruises. He says, “There isn’t anything positive you can say about going on a big-ship ocean wide cruise. A cruise ticks all the bad boxes,”. Again, this is not all cruises, however many cruise companies do not look after their workers, do not care about polluting the seas they sail and they don’t promote supporting the economies of ports they stop at.
When asked whether cruises are better than planes for the environment, Gwyn Topham, author of the book Overboard: the stories cruise lines don’t want told argues that “Mile for mile, the carbon footprint for a cruise is worse – and many passengers will take planes to join a cruise.” From toxic black water and oil spills being discharged into the sea to smoke fumes polluting the air – cruises are huge floating cities that need a lot of power.”
Similar to all inclusive resorts, cruises are problematic in a similar sense as all your meals are provided onboard, you only spend a few hours in port, meaning the locals do not see much economic benefit, yet do receive the environmental pollution.
There are also many reports of cruise ship workers being forced to work very long hours for little pay. Some argue that they should be called “sweatships”.
If you really want to go on a cruise, make sure you do your research on vegan friendly cruises and see if there are ethical companies offering carbon offsetting as a bare minimum.
6. Transportation to Your Destination
Another sustainable travel tip is to consider if you can get a train or bus vs a car or plane to the destination of your choice. If you do need to hop on a plane, there are a few different things to consider there too which can help minimise your environmental impact.
When deciding where to go on holiday make sure to ask yourself if you can use a train to get there. Public transport varies greatly depending on where you live in the world. For some, you are forced to hop on a plane to leave your country. For others, such as in Europe, the train system provides much more choice in deciding how to get to your destination. It is no wonder that flight shame or flgskam, the anti-flying movement started in Sweden where trains are plentiful and the more than average holiday time enables Swedes more time to reach their destination of choice.
If you do have to fly, it is more sustainable to book an economy seat than a first class ticket.
“A first class ticket on a long-haul flight emits, on average, four times as many emissions as an economy seat on the same plane” according to this BBC article. Also see if you can avoid travelling on small regional jet planes and opt for direct flights without layovers if you can. According to a 2010 report from NASA, about 25 percent of airplane emissions come from landing and taking off.
7. Carbon Offsetting
You may have heard of carbon offsetting but what exactly is it?
According to Greenpeace “Offsetting is a way of paying for others to reduce emissions or absorb CO2 to compensate for your own emissions. For example, by planting trees to suck carbon out of the atmosphere as they grow, or by delivering energy-efficient cooking stoves to communities in developing countries. “
Carbon offsetting is a way to almost reverse your carbon footprint. While you cannot technically undo the fumes emitted on the airplane to your destination, you can carbon offset which means that you fund another project which helps make the planet greener.
There are even carbon offsetting calculators carbonfootprint.com – Free to use online Carbon Calculators to help you work out your carbon footprint for particular journeys or just by living in a house!
While many carbon offsetting programs exist, here is a link to the carbon offsetting company that we recommend donating to.
8. Getting Around in Your Destination
Another sustainable travel tip is to consider more eco-friendly ways of travelling around a destination once you have arrived.
While it can be tempting to just hop in a taxi, by using public transport you can minimise your carbon footprint as the bus was going to go anyway whether you are on it or not. Furthermore, can you cycle around? In some cities, walking or cycling is a great way to get around and can help increase your capacity for trying even more delicious food, as well as diving into the wonders the city has to offer!
9. Avoid Animal Tourism
Animal tourism is a contentious topic. For many of us, seeing local wildlife is part of our travel experience. Sadly, it is very, very hard to find truly ethical sanctuaries and we often see animals abused for the convenience of tourists (elephants being ridden, donkeys carrying huge loads etc.)
In order to travel sustainably, you should avoid activities that exploit animals. We encourage you to cultivate deeper sensitivity on the topic of animal friendly tourism. Many holiday packages are advertised as the best vacations for animal lovers but they could actually harm our furry friends so please do a research about the travel companies that you are choosing.
When we remember that the idea of travelling sustainably is to do as little harm as possible to the local area, this concept extends to the animals. Tourism has inevitably affected animals but it is better to watch them naturally in the wild rather than pay for inauthentic experiences.
For example, please do not participate in activities that enable you to touch or feed wild animals. Animals should be naturally afraid of people and not see them as a food source. This helps with their survival. Furthermore, we can spread diseases to these creatures through getting close, and reciprocally, they can spread diseases to us.
By buying souvenirs or medicines containing exotic animal products, you are encouraging the demand of such goods. As long as there is demand for exotic coffee beans from civet cats (known as luwak coffee) or pieces of coral, locals will continue to supply these goods thus harming the wildlife and environment of the very place tourists have come to enjoy and appreciate.
Also, it helps to avoid cafes which offer wildlife experiences. This is a particular problem in Japan where nocturnal animals such as owls are forced to stay awake during the day to pose with humans which hurts their eyes.
There are many uncomfortable questions we can ask regarding the real needs of that animal. How they were trained, where does the money actually go or what happens to them when they no longer want to entertain tourists?
To be on the safe side, avoiding animal tourism is the best way to keep our furry friends safe. Instead keep your eyes peeled for naturally occurring wildlife as you are exploring a destination. Some nature reserves provide secluded shelters or huts to hide yourself in, enabling you to watch wildlife without disturbing them as they are unaware of your presence.
10. Don't Buy a New Travel Wardrobe
You have probably heard a colleague, family member or friend mention their new ‘holiday wardrobe’ before they go on their next big trip.
While we may need a few specific items for an upcoming trip, it is rare that we need an entirely new wardrobe.
A recent study showed that 78.2% of British adults have succumbed to impulsive buying. This applies to the desire to buy new clothes for travel too. The UK’s problem with impulse spending (finder.com)
Before buying new clothes for your upcoming trip ask yourself a few questions. If you are going somewhere very hot or very cold and you genuinely have no clothes suitable given the climate you are based in, of course you may need a few new things. However, many of us will already have many clothes that are suitable. Therefore, consider whether you will wear this item more than once? Will you wear it once back home or on future trips? Will it work with several different outfits?
Furthermore, is it comfortable? It may look lovely in the changing room but something too tight fitting could be uncomfortable and unpractical while travelling. Also consider whether the material it is made of will be suitable for your upcoming trip. Of course, we want to look good on holiday, however comfort over style will make for a much better vacation. In Bali it is always 31 degrees so even cotton doesn’t usually cut it! Your best bet is to wear clothing that is respectful of the locals that also dries quickly. And forget buying that new hair straightener – in Bali everyone accepts frizzy hair!
Additionally ask yourself whether the item is well made? Is the garment good quality meaning you will wear it in years to come? While you cannot see into the future, is it a timeless piece?
Click here for more questions to ask yourself before buying a new garment.
If you do arrive in your destination realising there is something you did need but don’t have, there is also a high likelihood you’ll be able to buy or rent it there.
11. Avoid Voluntourism
Voluntourism has been increasing over the last few years. The idea of combining travel with volunteering seems like a fantastic idea. Sadly, this is often exploited and the local community may not benefit from the volunteer’s limited skills and in some cases it does more harm than good.
There are some great volunteering opportunities out there but voluntourism is problematic due to several reasons. Fake orphanages have sprung up as businesses which are designed to “generate an income from people willing to volunteer their time and donate their money to support ‘orphan’ children. Children are often deliberately kept in poor conditions in order to elicit sympathy from well-meaning visitors who are then moved to donate. ”Ethical Volunteering and How to Avoid the Voluntourism Trap – Hostelworld
Other issues include the problem of “being given a fish” rather than “being taught how to fish”. For example, rather than support the education of locals to teach them skills, skills are imported for a short period of time. Sometimes volunteers do not have the necessary skills to build houses and have to be rebuilt once they have left.
Research thoroughly before committing to a volunteering program.
12. Go Paperless! Don't Print.
Save trees by not printing your boarding pass or various emails for your trip. Luckily many airlines and hotels allow you to check in with the help of barcodes and reference numbers. If you are worried about internet access or wifi, printscreen important information on your phone and save them to your photos or to your digital wallet.
13. The Airbnb Dilemma
A slightly trickier sustainable travel tip is to use Airbnb responsibly.
The Airbnb website lists more than six million rooms, flats and houses in over 81,000 cities around the world. You can find some amazing places to stay on Airbnb but frustratingly the ‘Airbnb effect’ has priced many locals out of city centres and completely changed entire neighbourhoods. Airbnb is even banned in certain cities now.
You can still use Airbnb responsibly but you need to do a little research first and may have to share.
Firstly, check out the situation of Airbnb in the city you are visiting. Is it legal? Have locals been unfairly impacted? If they have, see if you can stay outside of the city centre.
Secondly, do you need a whole place? If you can rent a room this not only ensures that a local can still live in that residence but you can also meet someone!
You can check out a list on how to use Airbnb responsibly here.
14. Avoid Peak Season
Did you know that by avoiding peak season you become a more sustainable traveller?
Peak season typically refers to the time of year with the best weather, but travelling during these times can contribute to overtourism. Many places in Asia suffer from the idea that you can only visit them outside of monsoon or rainy season. Thailand is trying to rebrand its rainy season as green season to combat this issue.
Furthermore, these peak seasons mean that revenue is only generated at certain times of year which can be harmful to tourist businesses outside of peak season. In fact, in some destinations, places shut down completely over the low season.
Of course, there are reasons for low season in some of the more extreme climates. For example, perhaps don’t visit Death Valley in the middle of summer. Nevertheless, travelling in shoulder seasons is not only better for the planet but also tends to be cheaper and has less tourists!
15. Leave No Trace
Many of us have heard or seen the quote “Leave only footprints” which is similar to the Leave no trace principles. Although leave no trace or the 7 Principles are primarily used when hiking in the great outdoors, they really apply to any outdoor space.
When exploring wild landscapes, apply common sense things like not damaging fragile environments, taking litter with you and if it says “no access” listen to it.
Let’s leave beautiful places as we found them.
16. Eat Local and Seasonable
Food is one of the best parts of travel!
Going to a new destination means exotic dishes and new flavours. Yet in a globalised world, restaurants are able to offer ingredients that have been flown a long way to arrive on your plate.
Sometimes, it is very tempting to go to a touristy place with dishes you know or to a hip vegan cafe that serves avocados with everything, but its much more sustainable to see if you can choose a meal that has been made with local and seasonal ingredients.
Not only will it taste better, fresher and most likely be cheaper, it is also a more sustainable way to travel.
Food that has to travel from far away has a higher impact on our environment due to energy needed for transport, packaging to keep it fresh, etc. Furthermore, did you know that 14% of all food waste occurs between harvest to retail? More info on that here.
Also, by buying local food this supports the community you are visiting!
17. Stay Longer / Slow Travel
“Slow travel or slow tourism is the basis of responsible travel, and therefore, the most sustainable option.” Brogan from Brogan Abroad Why Slow Travel is the Smart (and Responsible) Way to Travel – Brogan Abroad
As we near the end of this list of sustainable travel tips, it is important to include the idea of slow travel.
Slow travel is the idea of spending longer in one or two destinations over whizzing around multiple places. There are a few reasons why slow travel is considered more sustainable. By sticking to one place you reduce the environmental impact of travelling to and between many destinations.
Staying longer benefits the local economy and can also be cheaper for you. Finally, slow travel also helps create more meaningful experiences as you are able to experience the local culture at a deeper level. The idea of digging deeper into the local culture and staying for 7-10 days to really get a feel for the region with an awesome group of new friends and local experts is something you can experience on our tours at the Getaway Co.!
18. Reuse As Much As Possible
This is a very easy sustainable travel tip! Simply reuse! Would you rewash a towel that had only been used once at home!?
The American Hotel and Lodging Association estimates that by requesting to reuse reduces laundry loads as well as energy, labour, sewer and of course water by up to 17 percent. There are further benefits to the hotel and the environment as guests reusing towels increases the lifespan of towels. Hotels Save Energy With a Push to Save Water (nationalgeographic.com)
Reuse if you can to do your bit for the planet!
19. Learn About the Culture (Tourist vs. Traveller)
Many of these sustainable travel tips have been about ways to reduce our harm to the natural environment. It is also important to consider the people impacted at the destinations we visit.
The saying “be a traveller and not a tourist” is a good mantra to live by. For example, rather than taking photos of locals in costume, see if you can speak with them or participate in a cultural activity like a cooking class. Learn a few of the local customs before you travel (for example, the need to cover your shoulders and knees when visiting temples) and try to remember how to say thank you in the local language.
Niceties will go a long way to preserving a harmonious balance between tourism and local life.
20. Spread the Word About Sustainable Travel!
Now that you know all of these sustainable travel tips, it’s time to share them with your friends and family!
While any changes are better than none, spreading the word about sustainable travel helps others make small sustainable changes. After your trip you really can lead by example, be an effective advocate and compassionately talk about sustainable travel.
Starting a dialogue about green-living or sustainable travel with your friends doesn’t mean you have to guilt people into it. Simply talk about it casually and regularly.
21. Choose Responsible Tour Companies (Bonus Point!)
Our final sustainable travel tip is to choose a responsible tour company.
Not to toot our own horn, but at The Getaway Co. we work incredibly hard to create experiences for our participants that are as sustainable as possible. Join us on one of our upcoming vegan getaways to minimize your travel footprint, dive into the local culture and leave nothing but a positive impact and unforgettable memories when you return home.
Many of us enjoy letting someone else do the planning and like meeting like minded travellers! By choosing a responsible travel company that invests in the community, engages with locals and cares about the environment you will have a much more sustainable trip.
Have a look at the magical experiences we have coming up here.