It’s no secret that we love responsible travel, and we want you to love it, too. But the benefits of sustainable tourism go even further than helping the environment and the people we encounter along the way. Responsible travel can also make travel more fun, inspiring, and fulfilling for YOU, the traveler.
We understand that you might be skeptical. Sustainable tourism has become such a big buzzword lately. At first glance it can seem more like a marketing ploy (a.k.a. greenwashing) than an effective way to make travel better for everyone.
There are many travel companies out there who use the words “responsible ” and “eco-friendly” simply to attract customers interested in traveling sustainably, without making the effort needed to back that label up with the action necessary to make those claims true.
But once travelers understand what real sustainable travel is (and why it makes travel so much better), they can do a better job at traveling responsibly on their own, or through selecting the correct tour operator. Let’s take a look at why sustainable tourism really is the best form of travel…
What is Sustainable Tourism?
First, what actually makes travel sustainable?
It’s simpler than the many different labels that all mean the same thing might make it seem. To engage in sustainable tourism is to essentially do two things:
- Be aware of your impact on the places you visit.
- Strive to have a positive impact, rather than a negative one.
The impact we have on places we visit can get a little more complicated. We typically have a negative environmental impact the moment we board a plane. (And probably, even earlier than that moment.)
When we enter a small town and purchase items from a big chain store or restaurant, rather than from a local business, we have a negative impact on that place. We’re taking up space and using their resources, but we aren’t giving back to the community. We’re putting ourselves before the good of the place, maybe just to save a few bucks on groceries.
But when we keep our impact in mind, we can do things like offset the carbon emissions of our flight, and shop locally when we travel. We can put the place– including the people and the animals who inhabit the local environment– first.
Nobody is perfect. There are many ways to interpret “responsible travel” when we’re on the road. But the most important thing is to simply be aware, and to strive to make the least harmful choices whenever possible.
Sustainable Tourism supports the local communities, environment & wildlife.
Travel creates a huge impact on the environment. The flights, cars, packing of new travel gear, the garbage, and the daily consumption during your trip can all affect the environment in a negative way. Sustainable Tourism seeks to reverse that.
Responsible travelers can do things like walking or taking public transportation instead of driving when they travel. We can buy from local markets instead of stores that package their products in unnecessary waste. And we can eat locally sourced foods that support the farmers and the community.
Responsible travel might also involve volunteering to support the environment or local wildlife. In the Discover Corps trip to volunteer with Sea Turtles in Costa Rica, travelers assist in protecting the Sea Turtles, who have seen a 90% drop in their population since 1980. Volunteers actively work to help the turtles, rather than engage in activities that could harm their environment. They clean up the beach, study their hatching success, and release baby turtles back into the ocean.
Discover Corps travelers to South Africa can be a part of some of the most innovative conservation efforts happening in the world, gathering data on leopards and studying their behavior.
These types of volunteer and responsible travel activities aren’t just beneficial to the environment, the wildlife, and the local communities. They’re good for you, too!
So What’s in It for Me?
Sustainable Tourism is so important for our planet as a whole, as we strive to reduce our negative impact while we make our way through it. It’s all about putting the planet before ourselves.
But let’s not forget that travelers also want to have a good time while they’re helping the environment! This is your vacation, after all.
Good news! By traveling responsibly, you can have an even better travel experience. Whether you’re traveling solo, with a family, or a group, the awareness required for responsible travel will make you experience your travels on a deeper and much more personal level.
When you pay attention to your impact, you also connect to the world around you.
You notice the pristine streams, rivers, fields, and forests your water bottle would tarnish if you thoughtlessly tossed it away. You meet the people at the local shops when you purchase products to support their economy. You engage with the community by getting involved with local causes. You connect responsibly with wildlife by learning about the local animals with companies who know how to respect their homes.
All of these actions are not only good for the places we visit, but they’re also fun and inspiring for us, as travelers. Sustainable tourism will lead you to the types of experiences you’ll want to write home about. And hopefully, you’re experiences will encourage friends and family to travel more responsibly, too…
The more we know, the more responsible we can be.
Clearly, responsible travel is the way to go. It benefits everyone involved, and makes travel so much better. But how do we start, when so many travel brands and tour companies will claim to be “responsible”?
It’s all about education. The more you know and the more questions you ask, the better. So the next time you book a trip or plan a vacation, ask about the details. Are the tour operators local? Do they employ members of the community? Where does the food come from? Will your waste be recycled?
This kind of research will not only help you travel more responsibly, but it will expose you to aspects of a place you may not have discovered otherwise. If you dedicate yourself to shopping locally rather than grabbing fast food, you’ll surely discover some delectable local dishes. If you walk around a new city instead of hailing a taxi, you’ll stumble upon sights you wouldn’t have seen from a car.
Even the research phase of sustainable tourism enhances the experiences. You can learn so much about the place, the people, and the culture before you go, and that knowledge will allow you to have a more meaningful and enjoyable trip.
Every step we take towards being traveling more sustainably is a step in the right direction. So don’t feel like you have to get it all right every time. As you travel more often, and discover new ways to be a more responsible traveler, your experiences will become richer for everyone involved.
Through responsible travel, you will learn to love travel on a whole new level! –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.