For years we’ve been making little changes to our lifestyles like recycling, composting or reducing our overall plastic use in order to be more sustainable. Yet, as conversations about climate change, overtourism and environmental strain only get louder, there is an increasing desire – and need – to implement a sustainable approach to how we travel.
The concept of ‘conscious travel’ – respecting foreign communities and wanting to do better for the environment – has been reported as a rising travel trend in 2020. In fact, new research by ING suggests that four in five Australians label themselves as conscious travellers. So it’s clear, the desire is there, but how do we actually put this concept into practice?
Well, there are a number of things you can do, however, here are five easy steps to start with to be a more conscious traveller. And be aware, it may take a little more planning and costs than you’re used to.
1. Choose to travel off-peak or explore unique destinations
Some of the worlds most popular travel destinations are suffering from a case of ‘overtourism.’ This means the excessive number of visitors is putting a strain on the local culture, community and environment. If the destination you are travelling to is considered to be a tourist hotspot, the best thing you can do visit during their off-peak season to help minimise some of the strain.
If you’re conscious about your carbon footprint, this Environmental Performance Index identifies countries who are the most sustainable. European countries like Switzerland, France and Denmark took out the top spots in 2018. The next report is set to be released mid-June 2020.
Alternatively, consider taking your tourism to more unique destinations that are relatively undiscovered or to areas in desperate need of your tourism to help repair from disasters, like Australia’s bushfire affected towns or Puerto Rico after the 2017 hurricane.
2. Be wary of who you choose to travel with
If you’re someone who loves to travel with an organised tour group or book day-trips while you’re in a new place, then opting for an eco-friendly tour company would be the best way to minimise your carbon footprint.
Typically the smaller the group the better. However, as with companies like Exodus Travels or Intrepid, you will usually be able to tell from a tour company’s website whether they have any responsible or sustainable tourism policies in place.
Other signs of a responsible tour are when the offer activities that benefit local communities, food provided by local restaurants or producers, local guides, volunteer experiences, no invasive animal experiences and notable environmentally friendly initiatives like minimising plastic and waste.
This approach can also be adopted when choosing where to stay. Keep an eye out for accommodation in homestays, boutique properties or hotels that have sustainable practices at their core.
3. Consider alternative modes of transport
Air travel accounts for about two per cent of all global carbon dioxide emissions – a statistic that is reportedly growing at a faster rate than previously predicted and creating a dire situation for our environment.
Swapping plane travel for alternative options is one the best thing you can do for the planet. And ideally, swapping it for trains. According to the International Transport Forum, travelling by train generates up to 10 times fewer carbon emissions than an aeroplane. And high-speed trains like carbon-neutral Eurostar are three times more energy-efficient as compared to regional trains.
However, if you’re travelling long distances or overseas routes travelling by plane can be hard to avoid. In this case, you should consider the ‘greenest’ option. For instance, choosing an eco-friendly airline invested in improving fuel efficiency; opting for more direct flights as most of the emissions get released during takeoff and landing, or carbon offsetting your flights.
4. Think about your packing
Packing is an area where you can have the most control over your carbon footprint. Conscious travel involves packing smart and packing light. So when it comes to clothing, try to pick only the essentials or items that mix and match. Not only will this make your luggage lighter for you to carry but it also may have an impact on the weight of the plane – a heavier plane needs more fuel to fly.
Try to minimise your plastic use while you travel by packing items like reusable drink bottles, coffee mugs, reusable straws, soaps over bottled shower gels and lightweight tote bags for shopping.
5. Give back to local communities and their environment
Once you’ve reached your destination it is important to be conscious of where you are spending your money. Try giving back to the local community as best you can by shopping from locally run businesses, seeking out experience run by locals rather than large corporations and staying in Airbnb’s or Bed and Breakfast accommodation. That way, you know that your money is being injected back into the local economy.
Dining in local restaurants, visiting farmers markets and enjoying local produce is another way to environmentally friendly. Not only does it support their businesses and give you a better taste of their culture, but the food you’re eating hopefully won’t have travelled far – meaning fewer carbon emissions will be given off.
Images: Pexels Stock Photos