Sustainable Traveling: What It Is and How Each One of Us Can Contribute

You would have to think hard and long to find a person who doesn’t like to travel. In fact, traveling has become a socially acclaimed pastime for people around the globe. There’s something special about experiencing different cultures that enrich you emotionally and mentally. And science backs us up on this one, with countless studies proving that traveling is beneficial. However, what about sustainable traveling? Is it something you should consider?

Also known as ecotourism, sustainable traveling refers to journeys that promote eco-responsibility in the natural destinations. All of your actions as you travel should help conserve the environment and not destroy it. Your participation should also add to the prosperity of the locals, not take away.

RELATED: [What Is Sustainable Tourism and 3 Noteworthy Examples]

trekking in the forest


Ecotourism Industry

Over the past few years, responsible traveling has turned into a hotly debated topic. In fact, according to the UN, 2017 is the “International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development”. What does this title mean, you ask? It means this year companies and organizations will raise international awareness about the importance of sustainable traveling. The United Nations hopes to instill positive change by cultivating the public’s responsibility regarding ecotourism.

The measure is quite welcome, seeing as more people become travelers each year. The figures reported by UN’s World Tourism Organization estimate about 1.2 billion people traveled in 2016. And this inevitably impacts the wildlife and their habitats, as visitors leave more trash behind. For example, irresponsible tourism has caused about 1/3 of the waste currently covering the Caribbean.

International tourism can place unnecessary burdens on endemic groups and local cultures. However, there are plenty of things you can do to avoid it. Instead of feeling guilty for traveling, you can follow a few steps, ensuring that you reduce the social cost of your vacation. Sustainable traveling can be as easy as employing eco-friendly practices (recycling), protecting natural culture. It’s a bit complicated for individuals to do things like save endangered species or restore historic buildings. However, they could do other things, so here are a few tips you can employ in your future traveling plans.

Sustainable Traveling: Where to Begin

You can start by looking at ethical, ecotourism destinations around the world. Many organizations have taken an interest in helping developing countries by protecting their cultural and natural heritage. Make sure your trip doesn’t cause harm to the environment or the society where you travel to. Traveling sustainably can also mean adopting a greener means of transportation. Bike or walk and avoid those massive tour buses that promise to show you the secrets of every location.

RELATED: [Eco-friendly Travel More Popular than Ever: How to Plan a Green Vacation]

Becoming an ecotourist – one that cares for Mother Nature – also means trying to live and act like a local during your stay. You may find that some organizations will encourage tourists to stay put during their vacation, but we’ll talk more about that soon. Visiting a place sounds great, but what about inhabiting it for the duration of your holiday? Check out the Local Living Tours of G Adventures, a Canada-based tourism company.

Whether you want to stay in a Masai campsite, a Mongolian ger, or an Icelandic shelter, this kind of agency can help fulfill your dreams. And they can also ensure you don’t disturb the locals – instead, they teach you how become one of them. So, what are the necessary steps you need to take in order to become a more eco-friendly traveler?

1. Research Thoroughly 

We would all like to skip the planning and simply hop on a plane to our dream destination. In reality, however, you probably spend plenty of time researching the best dining spots and most convenient hotels. Why not focus on eco-conscious practices, too, considering how you can help the local economy? Also, we recommend you steer clear of enticing experiences offered by certain countries. Thailand, for instance, is popular for elephant rides, but these cruel practices damage the ever-dwindling population of these poor animals.

2. Join the “Slow Travel” Trend

You are probably used to visiting a lot places during your vacation. However, a new “slow” travel movement encourages tourists to choose a location and stay put. It doesn’t have to be boring. In fact, you can experience travel adventures worth telling your friends about. Whether it’s walking the majestic Thai hills, learning how to hunt in the Amazon, or making olive oil with Italian natives, you can still enjoy your holiday.

The International Ecotourism Society, a non-profit organization reaching about 190 countries, can help you plan a dreamy yet eco-friendly trip. Rather that traveling from one attraction to another, trying to squeeze in as much as you can, they recommend you choose fewer regions and taking the time to explore each. Also, lower that carbon footprint by traveling by train instead of plane.

RELATED: [Top 8 International Destinations for the Eco-Friendly Traveler]

3. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

When you’re in the comfort of your home, recycling is easy. But what about when you’re on the go? The secret is keeping things simple. Don’t buy another plastic water bottle each day. Instead, invest in a reusable water bottle. And avoid the tiny, complementary toiletries you might receive at a location. Using your own soap and shampoo will significantly reduce your environmental impact. And those maps and touristic brochures? Find a way to return them when you’re done using them.

4. Buy Local Goods

The lowest price doesn’t always mean the best. Even though they may attract our eyes, low priced items are most likely imported. Choose to support the local economy by buying souvenirs and crafts that are locally made – although they’re often pricier. That way, you finance the locals’ jobs and you also honor their cultural heritage.

Farmers Market in developing economies


5. Pay It Forward

You have probably heard of voluntourism – tourism and volunteering combined. A great way to spend your vacation, voluntourism helps environments and local communities. A voluntour ‘s costs are not much higher than those of the standard tour, and they include accommodation, transport, various eco-friendly activities, as well as a small donation. To experience the full cultural package, volunteers usually stay with local families. They participate in their customs and daily routines, learning about the community in an immersive way.

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William E. Eubanks

I'm one of the main writers on the site; mostly dealing with environmental news and ways to live green. My goal is to educate others about this great planet, and the ways we can help to protect it.

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