Last Updated on 08/05/2021
A report by the scientific journal Nature Climate Change in 2018 found that tourism accounts for 8% of global greenhouse emissions. With the increasing demand for air transport and luxury travel, this figure is expected to get higher. However, the answer is not to simply stop travelling. Travel allows us to get close to our world and connect us to different people and cultures from all over the globe. If we are to continue to enjoy our planet then travel needs to undergo some serious changes and these changes start with us (learn more about sustainable travel here).
With that in mind, I spoke to Courtney, a specialist in Environmental Science and sustainable travel writer at Court the Blog, and Michelle from Coconut Odyssey who writes passionately about her encounters with wildlife and the ocean. I asked them to share their insights into why they think sustainable travel is important and if they had any sustainable travel tips to take on board. Here’s what they had to say:
Courtney, why do you think sustainable travel is important?
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I began to really ponder the merit of sustainable travel during a trip to southern Utah. Being outdoors and going to national parks as a kid were such formative experiences for me. My deep appreciation for nature ultimately led to a degree in Environmental Science and my current passion for sustainability.
On this trip, however, there were SO many people that the experience was lost. My initial reaction was anger. How dare all these people come to the places I love and ruin them?
I realized very quickly that this mindset is selfish and narrow-minded. Who’s to say that each one of these people traveling to Zion National Park didn’t feel the same way I did? How many of these people would be motivated to care more for the land and make lifestyle changes after their trip? It’s just not fair to discourage people from traveling entirely because there is so much to be learned.
I have had the most eye-opening, soul-altering experiences while traveling, and I want others to be to have those same kinds of interactions with the beauty of the earth, whether it be in their own backyard or in a completely different cultural setting.
However, there does need to be a balance because we are loving the most beautiful places on earth to death. I believe sustainable travel to be a respectful middle ground.
What sustainable travel tips or advice do you have for people wanting to be more eco-friendly when they travel?
I think the first step is to just to be conscious of your impact when traveling. Most people I talk to about this topic are usually very receptive to making more sustainable changes. Often I will just hear things like, “Oh I had no idea that would be such a big deal!” So be aware.
Whenever possible, I would also get local input on what to do/what not to do. There is such a wealth of information on the Internet, it’s entirely possible to find a variety of local opinions on the best ways to travel in your destination.
Check for local tour companies that offer eco-friendly experiences. Search for accommodations that value sustainability and implement green technology. Support small businesses. Leave the area better than you found it.
Take some personal responsibility and recognize that being on vacation does not mean that you exist in a bubble – everything you do still has a consequence for the people that live there year-round.
Are there any destinations that you’ve visited that have been particularly green?
I found Germany to be a wonderful place to travel sustainably. As an American, I saw a stark difference in attitudes – the way Germans view consumerism, nature and healthy living is very refreshing.
If you don’t bring a reusable water bottle, recycling is painless. Simply bring your plastic bottles to the grocery store and get cash in return. Public transportation is also phenomenal and can connect you to small villages and remote locations.
Tourism in Hawaii is also becoming more and more green as local political pressure forces the tourism industry to adopt a more mindful attitude towards the land. There are eco-lodges galore, especially on Maui and Kauai. I found so many educational resources for travelers as well.
Restaurants won’t offer you plastic straws and you won’t find plastic grocery bags at the store, but they take it one step further by displaying infographics at many places in heavily touristed areas to explain the harmful effects on plastic on the ocean ecosystem.
Where do you see the future of sustainable travel going?
I believe sustainable travel someday will just be “travel”. My hope is that as awareness and education grow, people will understand how they need to act in order to preserve the places they love, and little “sustainable” tips and tricks will be so commonplace that the need for this particular niche will be obsolete.
Maybe sustainable travel will further delineate into zero-waste travel or carbon-offsetting travel or something like that as we continue to look further for ways to coexist with nature and with each other.
Check out Court the Blog here!
Michelle, what made you fall in love with travelling?
As a child, I was obsessed with wildlife documentaries and dreamt of the day that I could travel the world to see some of the creatures. When I hit 17 that dream came true as I met my now-husband, who shared the same keen interests as me, so each year we would head off to a different destination together.
Although I was instantly hooked, it wasn’t until we visited some of the more remote destinations in Africa and Indonesia that I truly fell in love with travelling. The reason being is that there are far fewer tourists, dive sites are not overcrowded and you can truly get to meet the locals and immerse yourself in the culture.
What does sustainable travel mean to you?
For me, sustainable travel is not just about what companies can do but it’s also about what we can do as individuals to be a more responsible traveller and not contribute to the deterioration of our planet.
One example is to avoid detrimental animal attractions, which I admit I did visit 20 years ago when I cage dived with the great whites and rode elephants in Thailand, which I still regret until this very day! Sadly, these animals are tormented, beaten and made to work just for human enjoyment!
Aside from travelling, scuba diving is one of my biggest hobbies, however, if not practised correctly it can have a huge impact on our oceans alongside global warming and plastic pollution. Coral is a living organism and takes thousands of years to grow, therefore as with any marine life, it’s extremely important to not touch as it will break and possibly die with even the slightest touch.
Another way to be more responsible is to be respectful when visiting local villages and to not take photos of people without asking, the same way you would back home. Also, avoid visiting tourist hot spots just so you can re-create a shot you have seen on Instagram. Visit new places, be original, be unique and make memories.
Being eco-friendly on the road is often seen as quite expensive. Do you have any budget sustainable travel tips?
Avoid big chain hotels and opt for small boutiques which are usually cheaper, run by the locals and offer a far better service. Some of my favourites have been a beautiful family-run dive resort in Anilao where all the staff were from the same village and another is in Uganda, which helped get locals out of poaching and into full-time employment.
In terms of being eco-friendly, one of my biggest sustainable travel tips is to refuse all disposable plastic products! I was given a stainless-steel water bottle 4years ago and it still travels with me everywhere. Another is to use the toiletries provided by the hotel rather than hauling your entire bathroom cabinet with you. If you really must take products with you, be sure to bring home the empties and recycle!
Final tip, ditch the plastic carrier bag and pack a couple of foldable canvas totes, our marine life is suffocating enough, let’s not add!
The Swedish term ‘flygskam’, meaning ‘flight-shame’ is becoming increasingly popular as people are starting to worry more about their impact that flying has on the planet. Do you have any sustainable travel tips for those wanting to go abroad but feel too concerned about their carbon footprint?
I would encourage people to fly direct where possible as domestic flights account for a large majority of carbon dioxide emissions. If you can, continue your onward journey by land and take in the sites along the way. Explore your destination on foot, take public transport and if a taxi is a must, share the ride with other guests.
If long haul flights are really are not for you, why not try discovering Europe by train? Many rail companies in Europe now run their trains on green energy. For example, one of Germanys biggest rail networks is almost entirely run on renewable energy sourced from offshore windfarms.
Check out Coconut Odyssey here!