How to Become a Sustainable Traveler
What is Discoveny?
I’m Alice, UK travel writer and advocate for sustainable tourism. I want to show you just how easy it is to make responsible choices and do our bit for the planet whilst we’re on the go. That’s why I founded Discoveny, a blog for the sustainable, eco-conscious adventurer. We head to off-the-beaten-track locations and get there as sustainably as possible. And we want to help you do the same. Minimum impact. Maximum fun. Ready? Let’s dive in.
Sustainable Travel? What’s that all about?
Many of us love to travel. The world is big and full of beauty, and there’s so much joy in discovering and getting to know new places, new foods and new people. No one wants to give up their holidays. But as evidence of the climate crisis becomes more obvious, many people are taking responsibility for their personal impacts on the planet.
‘Sustainable’ or ‘Responsible’ Travel encompasses many things. It can include environmental ideas, such as how we get to places, our carbon emissions, and cutting down our plastic waste. It’s also important to consider your social impacts. Everything, from where you stay to the tours and activities you do, impacts the communities and economies you visit.
Although the topic can be overwhelming for beginners, the definition of sustainable travel is really very simple: it means minimizing your negative impact while maximizing your positive impact while travelling.
I’m going to break it down for you into three easy chunks:
The environment is probably what you think about most when trying to work out how to travel more sustainably. Part of being a responsible tourist focuses on reducing our negative impact on the planet. This means lowering our carbon footprint by choosing greener modes of transport, such as enjoying a night train instead of flying. It may look like offsetting our emissions when we do fly. We can also lessen our impact by carrying re-usable items to reduce how much we send to landfill.
Secondly, we need to think about our impact on local people and communities. Whether we’re at home or on the go, we can be more sustainable by shopping, eating, sleeping, and booking our activities with local companies, not international ones. We can also contribute to NGOs or community tourism projects. This could be a financial contribution or you could look for opportunities to volunteer abroad. Make sure any volunteering is truly beneficial to the community and not just voluntourism!
Thirdly, we need to think about how we spend our money on-the-go. As little as 5% of the money you spend on holiday may stay in the economy of the country you visit. This is particularly the case in developing countries – the ones that could really use the income from tourism to improve the lives of local people! Every penny that we spend is a vote for the sort of world we want to live in. Supporting local businesses also positively impacts the economy of your destination.
You mentioned offsetting? What’s that and how do I do it?
Most of the things we do, from the food we eat to the flights we take, produce carbon dioxide; greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. Carbon offsetting is a way of paying to cancel out the impact of these emissions. Individuals or businesses can financially contribute towards environmental or societal projects that reduce emissions or absorb CO2, such as planting trees or delivering energy-efficient cooking stoves to communities in developing countries.
Air travel is one of the most carbon-intensive forms of transport. Flights alone account for around 5% of global emissions, with a return flight from Paris to New York generating the same level of emissions as the average European spends heating their home per year.
That’s why many travelers choose to offset their flights. It’s easy, you just calculate how much CO2 you’re emitting and donate to a project that will offset the same amount. We’ve written a beginners’ guide here.
Carbon offsetting is a controversial topic as it can often be used by people wishing to avoid taking real, lasting action to become more sustainable (you can read more about that here). It definitely doesn’t replace cutting your emissions, but at the end of the day, removing CO2 from the atmosphere can only be a good thing.
5 top tips for responsible travelers
- Consider the most sustainable way to get to your destination
There are often multiple ways to get to your destination. Consider taking a bus or train to lower your emissions. Perhaps try hitching or car sharing if you feel comfortable with this. If you’re travelling long distances, flying might even be the most eco-friendly option.
- If you have to fly, fly direct & choose economy class
Most of the carbon emissions from flying are released during take-off and landing so it’s best to fly direct when possible. Be creative! Maybe you could take a direct flight to a country’s international airport and travel overland to your final destination? And by travelling economy-class you’re taking up 5 times less space than business class, minimizing the impact on the planet (and your wallet!)
3. Eat, sleep and stay local.
Support the livelihood and economy of local people by avoiding all-inclusive accommodation and tour packages. Not only are resorts and package holidays terrible for the environment, but they destroy areas of environmental and cultural importance with profits lining the pockets of wealthy foreign investors. Cruise holidays are no better. Taking a cruise triples your carbon footprint and many ships dump their waste into the oceans. Next time you go on holiday, try and eat, sleep and stay local!
- Choose sustainable and ethical activities.
Read around any activities you want to do and choose a tour operator that’s passionate about protecting and preserving their destination. This goes for responsible and ethical wildlife tourism too. Do your research – riding, bathing, cuddling or petting wild animals is usually a bad sign and should be avoided. Instead, opt for tours and attractions that allow you to observe animals in their natural habitats at a respectful distance. My favourite was an ‘elephant happy hour‘ with a focus on observation over interaction.
5. Every reusable replacement that we pack helps us to limit the single-use plastic that ends up in our environment.
Remember your reusable water bottle, food container, coffee cup, cutlery and tote bag to minimize the plastic you use on the go. Need some inspiration? Check out these.
Our planet is beautiful but it’ll only stay beautiful if we take care of it. You don’t have to stop travelling. But it helps to be mindful of your impact on the planet and the people you meet on your adventures. Remember: seeing the world and saving it is possible. And it starts with YOU.