Tips for Being a More Responsible/Sustainable Traveler
Every travel decision you make has the potential to move the needle toward a more sustainable future for people and our planet. Sure, you want to minimize any negative impacts of traipsing around the globe. But responsible tourism is all about considering how to do the most good, too, by visiting places that depend on tourism right when they need you most.
If you’re ready to take steps, large and small, that can have a significant impact on the natural environments and the communities you encounter along your way, take these tips to heart:
Understand Your Transportation Options
Your usual local modes of travel may not be the gentlest-on-the-planet way to go, so take yourself off autopilot. Rent a hybrid or electric vehicle. Check to see if a shuttle or bus might be an alternative before you hail a cab or ride service. Frequent cafes and restaurants within walking or cycling distance of your lodging. And, when selecting an airline, consider more than price and frequent flier miles. United has invested more in sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) globally than any other airline, and they’re so committed to combating climate change, they’re on a path toward reducing 100% of their greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Support Local Communities
Many communities rely on the inward flow of tourism dollars. Take exotic Tenerife, largest of Spain’s Canary Islands, which has fast become a world-class destination thanks to its welcoming residents, unbeatable climate, and vast offerings for visitors. Recognized as a Certified Biosphere Destination for its sustainable tourism initiatives, Tenerife is one of many places where tourist dollars have a positive impact not only on the local economy but on efforts to preserve natural expanses. Nearly half of its territory is categorized as protected. Seek out these places, but don’t just go. Pack lightly, and purchase what you need when you arrive. Eat local food. Stay a few extra nights. And consider an off-season visit, when your support is most needed.
A bit of research will help you choose a tour operator that shares your sustainable travel ambitions. Many USTOA members have been inspired by the organization’s goal of preserving the globe’s human, natural, and cultural assets, and they’re working diligently to make positive changes. What innovative things are they doing? Everything from designing unique itineraries that address overtourism to implementing animal welfare policies. Some are creating opportunities for travelers to give back to the destinations they visit. A few are actively pursuing carbon neutrality.
Open Your Mind to New Destinations
If your dream destination list only includes the usual suspects, consider broadening your horizons. There are countries making great “green” strides that don’t show up on every “top 10” list, so they might not be on your radar… yet. Imagine snacking on fried cod tongue—a delicacy that aligns with the nose-to-tail culinary movement—and racing silently across the frozen terrain of the starkly lovely Lyngen Alps on a snowmobile safari. Norway, where electric cars and electric snowmobiles are all the rage, has been recognized by the United Nations as “a leader in the global transition towards an inclusive green economy.” If a slower pace suits you, board a ferry to South Korea’s volcanic Jeju Island: the world’s first recipient of UNESCO’s triple crown of designations (Biosphere Reserve, World Natural Heritage Site, Global Geopark). Here, you can walk the Olle Trail, discover lava tubes and waterfalls, bask on white sand beaches, and savor black pig, which is unlike any pork you’ve ever tasted.
Act Like a Sustainability Superhero
Wherever your adventures take you, there are simple things you can do to leave a place better than you found it: Reduce your use of plastics, pick up trash, recycle, skip printed maps and brochures, reuse your towels, respect local customs, volunteer, donate to local causes. It’s all about treading lightly, and sensitively, as you step out in the world. Go one step further by telling friends about your sustainability efforts. Share photos on social media of eco-destinations, “green” experiences, artisanal products, and mouthwatering local cuisine. You just might entice others to follow the trail you’ve blazed.
Click here to meet USTOA’s Sustainable Superhero.
Header Image Courtesy of Anders Gjengedal and Visit Norway