Many of us are in love with traveling. We are constantly planning our next holiday. Or I would rather say, we are planning our lives around our next holiday. Not just the intrepid travelers, many people travel frequently for business and other purposes.
I love traveling myself. But here is what shocked me. “Going from one place to another leaves an impact on the environment”. In this article, I wanted to talk about what is the impact of traveling on the environment and what can we do to make it more eco-friendly.
Does Travelling Impact The Environment?
Yes. A study conducted by the University of Sydney found that global tourism accounts for 8% of carbon emissions, with the US on the topmost polluter followed by China, India, and Germany.
One can argue that the best way to save the environment is not to travel at all and stay at home! But we know that it is not going to happen. The human instinct to explore more, and jobs that require a lot of traveling are not just going to disappear.
I believe we can continue to travel yet cause no harm to the environment.
9 Eco-Friendly Travel Tips
1. Select The Destination Wisely
If you are a person who goes on frequent trips and holidays, choosing your destination wisely can help you minimize the impact on the environment.
There might be many places close to your home that demand your attention. Rather than flying halfway across the world for every holiday, explore places close by. Go to cities and the countryside where you can reach easily through public transportation like train or car.
Over tourism, honestly, is not good. If you are planning a holiday, choose offbeat places instead of crowded tourist spots. This will reduce the burden on an already jam-packed place, and also generate income for locals in less explored areas.
Instead of hopping from city to city every other day, stay in one place for a few weeks and experience life as a local. Slow traveling will help you immerse in the culture of your surroundings, leave very less impact on the planet and also reduce your cost of traveling significantly. Here is a list of 10 Eco-Friendly cities.
2. Use Hotels And Hostels With Green Certifications
Choose homestays and locally owned accommodations instead of hotel chains and resorts. Look out for places that are committed to sustainability. These may include energy-efficient lighting, rainwater harvesting, use of solar power, etc. You can look for a Green Globe or Green Key certification, which ensures that the hotel or hostel complies with sustainability norms.
Large resorts with their big swimming pools and energy-intensive operations strain the surrounding ecology. Avoiding such places will reduce your carbon footprint significantly. Avoid all-inclusive package holidays, because it means that you will have little incentive to go out and try local cuisines or hire local guides.
Your money will go into the pockets of some corporation rather than contributing to the local economy. And now, we have too many online tools, like Airbnb, which can help us reach out to locals. This would not just make our traveling more eco-friendly, but also enjoyable and leaves us with good memories.
If you are an outdoor person, then you can consider carrying your tent and camping at the location. You will save a lot of dollars, leave a bare minimum impact on the environment, and have an adventurous time as well!
3. Avoid Irresponsible Wildlife Tourism
Often tourists are not aware that their activities hurt the animals at the tourist places. If you are a wildlife enthusiast, involve only in responsible wildlife tourism. At many places, creatures like dolphins are kept captive for entertaining shows. Elephants and tigers are subjugated for safaris and photographs.
If you are being promised close up encounters or photo ops with wild animals, stay away as this is not very ethical I can tell. Feeding, touching or altering the natural behaviour of any animal should be a strict no-no.
Monkeys are not meant to perform for human entertainment, nor tigers are supposed to pose for your selfies.
For instance, feeding sharks encourage them to come closer to the shore, which is dangerous for swimmers and surfers. While there are creatures like sea turtles, who return to the same beach for nesting where they were hatched.
Crowds of people, lights from the vehicle near the beach will deter them from coming back and abort the process altogether.
Research well before booking a wildlife tour. Hire services of a tour operator that employ local people. Any tour that involves close contact with an animal should be avoided. Cages and fences are a danger sign. If you are snorkelling or scuba diving, do not tread on corals.
Corals are fragile and about twenty-five percent of the world’s corals are damaged beyond repair, that’s beside the danger corals already facing due to the chemicals we use in sunscreens.
Go with smaller groups and avoid overcrowding. Your aim should be to observe wildlife in their natural habitat from a safe distance.
4. Carry A Reusable Water Bottle
Going for reusable helps the waste management process. In the USA alone, more than 50 billion plastic water bottles are used each day. 38 billion of these bottles end up in landfills, oceans, and streets.
These bottles take thousands of years to degrade. If plastic pollution continues to grow at its present rate, the time is not far away when there will be more plastic in our seas than marine organisms.
Plastic bottles also contain BPA and antimony that cause reproductive issues, breast cancer, asthma, and dizziness. Think of it, you are spending several dollars a year on a product that is neither good for you, nor for the planet.
While many of us commit to cut down our use of plastic, the resolve is forgotten for the sake of convenience when we are traveling. Make it a point to carry reusable bottles on your journeys. Get your bottle refilled at hotels and restaurants. You can also buy a reusable bottle that comes equipped with a filtration device.
A good quality reusable water bottle is BPA free, so the water you drink from it will not be laced with harmful chemicals. It will save you hundreds of dollars in the long run.
If you are a company where employees take frequent business trips, it is a good idea to give them reusable water bottles. A logo of your company on the bottle would also help you in increasing your brand visibility.
5. Use Eco-Friendly Menstrual Hygiene Products
This is for all the traveling ladies out there! Your conventional pads and tampons are loaded with plastic. Or even worse, microplastics. Sanitary pads are 90% plastic which does not biodegrade.
Even the seemingly harmless tampon contains plastic in the thread and the applicator. The plastic from sanitary napkins, tampons, and panty liners end up in an ocean or a landfill (depending on whether you flush it down or throw it in a bin). In either way, it will stay on the planet much longer than you.
These feminine products are also laced with chemicals that are often allergens, carcinogens, irritants, and endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Once again, these plastic products are neither good for the environment nor you.
Thankfully, there are menstrual hygiene products that do not pollute the surroundings. Buying a menstrual cup is a great idea. It is reusable and you will end up saving a lot of money as it needs to be replaced once in a few years.
Using period underwear is also another option. Menstrual cups and period underwear occupy very little space in your luggage. If you find them a little inconvenient to use, look for brands that manufacture biodegradable and chemical-free pads and tampons.
6. Give Back To The Community
This one specifically is one of the best eco-friendly travel tips I personally love and learned about it recently and you got to try it.
If you want to travel for a long period, without damaging the environment, consider the idea of volunteering abroad.
Living as a community member in a new place and spending time volunteering will help you experience the way people live and their causes and concerns. Volunteering will help you connect with people and nature.
Your carbon footprint will be the bare minimum. Rather, you will end up contributing to the community and environmental protection by volunteering.
You can volunteer for a few weeks or months at a farm and pick up organic farming skills.
Where to find places to volunteer?
If you don’t know where to look for volunteering opportunities, you can reach out to organizations like World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), which can connect you with farmers to host you as a volunteer.
If you have only a few days to spare, you can join a local beach or river cleanup. This might not sound very glamorous, but a river cleaning has an enormous positive impact on the environment.
Millions of sea birds and aquatic creatures die every year due to the ingestion of debris. Removing garbage from the river makes it safer for these creatures and also improves the water quality for human consumption.
The locals in a remote African or Asian village will not care about your latest gadgets or branded clothes. Living with them will help you appreciate the simple things in life.
You will learn to adapt quickly and by the end of your volunteering schedule, you would have effortlessly picked up some new skills. You will gain a new perspective on life.
It will give a sense of purpose to your trip, sometimes, even to your life! You will also get to connect with like-minded volunteers and learn more from them.
7. Eat Local
Food makes up 35 percent of the money spent by a tourist. If you are visiting a new country or a region, learn about the local ingredients and food traditions beforehand, so that you can make an informed choice when you reach your destination.
If travelers learn about local food and choose to eat locally, they are supporting the agrarian economy of the place. Local producers find it tough to compete with major exporters who flood hotels and restaurants with their produce.
But even a small increase in demand for local produce can help them significantly.
Instead of eating at McDonald’s or Burger King, give small restaurants or cafes a try. The food here travels a lot of distance to reach your plates, which means a lot of carbon emissions.
Smaller eateries are run locally, which means that what you pay to benefit the local economy. rather than food industry giants. Also, the fruits and vegetables used here are sourced locally. You can also use apps like EatWith and join a local family for dinner.
Or buy fresh produce from local markets and make your meals. They will more fresh than imported and packed food. They might come from small farmers and also be organic.
8. Buy Meaningful Souvenirs
We love to buy souvenirs as keepsakes or gifts for our friends. But are the souvenirs eco-friendly or ethical? Is the souvenir made of skin, fur, bone, or hoof of an endangered species?
Buying such a souvenir is encouragement for the people who killed the animal for making a profit. And you might also end up breaking international law while going through customs.
Illicit ivory markets are a big threat to elephants, especially in West and Central Africa. Don’t buy those ivory trinkets and add to the problem.
Don’t buy that Shahtoosh scarf- a Tibetan antelope has been killed to make it. Similarly, slow-growing and long-living corals are collected for making jewelry.
However, this is leading to the extinction of corals. If you want to buy a coral souvenir, make sure to find if you need a CITES permit to take it home.
A lot of souvenirs end up in the junk. Do not buy things that are great to look at but will be thrown away soon. Buy locally-made gifts instead of souvenirs imported to a place. Consider buying eatables like souvenir chocolates, spices or cookies- they will be enjoyed by all.
9. Save Water While Travelling
The bath is the hotel that spells luxury and looks tempting. However, it uses a lot more water than showering. Use showers instead of indulging in luxurious baths.
Turn off the taps properly in your hotel or hostel bathroom. Another way to save water is to re-wear your clothes. You can also request the housekeeping staff to not change the towel or sheets every day.
Though tourism and travel leave an impact on the environment, we can make it sustainable and meaningful with conscious efforts. Be mindful of your habits and choices when you are traveling.
Spread smiles, not pollution as you trot the globe. Your one small act can go a long way in keeping the planet clean and beautiful.