Responsible travel is wonderful thing, introducing us to new people and places, brings cultures together and helps us appreciate the immense beauty of the world. On the flip side, irresponsible travel can have a negative impact on that world we’re trying to see. If we’re not aware of how we travel, we can wind up doing more harm than good.
The flights we take, the tour operators we travel with, the places we shop and the waste we create along the way all have an impact on the environment. Some negative impacts (such as the carbon emissions created by planes and cars) are unavoidable. But there are ways in which we can help to balance the scales. Practicing more sustainable travel allows us to enjoy all of the great things about seeing the world, while minimizing our footprint along the way.
As proponents of responsible voluntourism, we at Discover Corps believe that giving back to the communities we visit is crucial to sustainable travel. We try to consider every aspect of our impact on the places where we run volunteer vacations. But whether you’re volunteering abroad or just going on a relaxing vacation, there are many ways you can make your travels more sustainable. Here are seven simple tips to minimize your impact:
1) Buy Local
Shopping at small, locally-owned businesses in the places you visit ensures that the money you spend goes directly into the local economy, rather than lining the coffers of a big corporate brand based overseas. Those big brands have a much bigger carbon footprint in their production and shipping practices. By shopping locally, you can also be more aware of the materials, ingredients and processes that are used in creating their products.
2) Save Water
Water shortages around the world are getting progressively worse as Climate Change increases. Taking shorter showers, minimizing laundry loads and avoiding hotel laundry services (which typically wash each guest’s clothing separately) altogether will go a long way towards saving water. This is especially important to be mindful of when visiting places that are experiencing drought.
3) Reuse and Recycle
Most people tend to create significantly more waste when they travel than they do at home. We’re eating out at restaurants, taking food to go, buying bottled water and tossing out the packaging of all the various things we inevitably purchase on the road. Be more mindful of everything you’re using and tossing, and try to recycle and reuse as much as possible. Carrying a reusable water bottle, a couple of cloth bags for shopping and tupperware containers for take-out or snacks on the road is a great place to start.
4) Pack Light
With airlines increasingly cracking down on their luggage weight limits, the less stuff you bring with you when you pack the better. Packing light helps increase the fuel-efficiency of planes and automobiles, while reducing the cost of those exorbitant baggage fees. Having fewer items with you increases the frequency of doing laundry, so try bringing quick-dry items that can be worn more than once and quickly washed in the sink.
5) Leave No Trace
If you’re hitting the great outdoors during your travels, it’s crucial to consider your impact on the local flora and fauna. Be mindful about staying on trails and be careful not to litter. Even tiny pieces of waste that are easy to leave behind without intentionally littering, like bottle caps and candy wrappers, can add up to a lot of garbage. Consider carrying a bag with you to collect litter that others may have dropped before you. “Taking only pictures, leave only footprints” isn’t good enough: We all should strive to leave places better than they were when we arrived.
6) Ask Questions Before You Buy
The considerable money that stands to be made from tourism unfortunately has the tendency to promote practices that are detrimental to the environment and the local species. So it’s important to educate yourself on the products that you should stay away from. Is there an endangered species in the place you’re visiting that might be used to create the products you see in shops? Are there products made from endangered hardwoods that are legally protected from deforestation? Ask questions of local merchants to avoid purchasing these potentially harmful souvenirs.
7) Give Back (Responsibly)
Giving spare change to people on the streets in a given destination may feel good in the moment, but this is a sticky subject: Many critics believe that it fosters a relationship based on dependency. We here at Discover Corps believe it should be avoided at all costs. But that doesn’t mean you can’t give back to the people who need help in the places you visit. Research responsibly managed local charities you can donate your money to, or bring something other than money that you can give to people, such as school supplies, toothbrushes and toothpaste, or healthy snacks.
Keep these sustainable travel tips in mind whenever you travel, and hopefully we can all continue to see more of this beautiful world we love to travel, while reducing our footprint along the way. –Britany Robinson
BIO: Britany Robinson is a freelance travel and culture writer based in Portland, Oregon. Her works appears in BBC Travel, Mashable, The Daily Dot and more. Her blog, Travel Write Away, shares advice and musings on travel writing. When she’s not planning her next big trip, she’s scoping out Portland craft beers and local hikes.