Sustainable Travel: Where to start in four easy steps.
If you’re here, it wouldn’t be a wild guess that you’re interested in travelling sustainably, but perhaps after some initial research, the idea, not just the task, became a little daunting.
After you read this post, and as you continue to travel, you’ll hopefully find that each subsequent adventure will be more sustainable and more accessible than the last. Getting a standard definition of the term alone is a complex process, let alone finding out how to travel with the intention and actions of a bona fide sustainable traveller.
Here we are going to break it down simply to give you an easy platform from which to start each trip. We will break down the planning and the journey into four top-line decisions.
Each of these can have as many or as few micro-decisions within them; how many may depend on just how sustainable you would like your trip to be.
These top-line decisions are your destination, transport, gear and actions.
But first, what is sustainable travel?
The best source for a deeper understanding of the term and movement is the UNWTO, as they have led the way in the global development of its guidelines and practices for decades. They outline sustainable tourism as:
“Tourism that fully accounts for its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities."
You should see ‘sustainable travel’ as a goal - leaving a destination the same or better way before you arrive. Purely, travelling ‘sustainably’ isn’t possible, not just yet anyway. So, until that’s possible, it’s all about the baby steps.
How do you travel sustainably?
How long is a piece of string? The options and solutions are infinite. That’s why, when starting, it's best to break it down into four sections of travel. This allows anyone to take the bite-size-piece-digestible approach to what is essentially (and to continue the analogy) a buffet-sized meal!
How to start thinking about travelling sustainably for your next trip.
As mentioned briefly above, getting your head around all the options, nooks and crannies of sustainable travel can leave even the most seasoned of travellers dizzy. A simple process like a four-step plan that breaks it down just a little makes it easier to think ‘sustainable’ before every trip. These questions are:
1. Destination: Does my preferred destination accommodate sustainable travel, or should I go somewhere else that does?
2. Transport: What transport options can make your travel more sustainable?
3. Gear: What gear can I take (or not) to make my trip more sustainable?
4. Actions: What actions can I take while travelling that will be most sustainable?
It’s safe that not all destinations were created equally - Paris, France, might have a few more attractions than Paris, Texas. However, some places have geared themselves up in recent times to be more eco-friendly with more sustainable options than others.
With more choices than ever, we should reward these destinations for making an effort to keep their home pristine for future generations. Plus, it’s a sure bet that any goal geared up to be sustainable will be a grander spectacle than one trampling to death or years of mass tourism.
Green Destinations has a list of the top 100 places you can choose from (post-pandemic, of course) as alternatives to more of the sustainable destinations of the world. So, before you decide where to go, think about where you can go that’ll leave less of a footprint on the earth. You can also try to avoid destinations that aren’t as sustainable or that could probably do with a bit of rest… Such as these.
While trying to make sustainable travel decisions, one decision might impact the other. It’s hard to admit, but flying in the air on aeroplanes isn’t sustainable yet. There’s no other way around it.
If you aim to be genuinely sustainable, your next destination may be ideally reasonably close to you, i.e. somewhere that you can reach by train or bus – both of which are a couple of the most efficient ways to travel.
However, if you desire to travel further, such as from one side of Europe to the other, skipping the flights altogether is not only better for the environment, but it will enable you to slow down and take in the scenery by rail or road rather than spending all of your time waiting in airports.
There are two ways to think about gear. How much and how heavy is your equipment? And, how sustainable is the gear who have been bought? Either way, we recommend this simple option – take as little as possible regarding equipment.
You can always pick up what you need later down the track. It may not be exactly what you have or are accustomed to at home, but you’ll likely find that, whatever it is, you won’t need it.
Heavy Gear will weigh you down, meaning you’ll be slower, and you won’t be able to travel as far, but it also means extra effort and costs money to transport. Ultimately that’s a more significant footprint left behind and more carbon emitted into the atmosphere.
When considering buying the gear to take, it's necessary to consider where the gadget came from, how it was produced, whether the brand is ethical and whether the equipment helps or hinders the environment when in use.
To save space, taking items that serve multiple purposes is a smart move. For instance, with the Scrubba wash bag (yes, we recommend our product!), you can safely wash clothes anywhere, anytime, wherever you stay.
The Scrubba wash bag will also save you from using water and power at your destination, minimising your impact. It saves space, weight, water, energy and money on your travels which helps to you tread lightly at your favourite goals. It can also be used as a wet and dry bag or a packing cell. Ideally, all the travel products you take would be multi-functional and eco-friendly!
Once you’ve arrived at your destination, there are plenty of ways to become a more sustainable traveller. The first one is to think local. Preferably, all the money you spend should be at local shops, hotels, cafes, etc.
When the money injected into destinations leaves the country, i.e. when it’s spent at foreign hotels, it’s known as ‘leakage’. Thus, shopping local ensures that the money you spend goes into keeping the place pristine and the tourism industry there maintained as sustainable. Other things to be mindful of are the basics, such as using less water or power wherever you are.
Other options also include the following:
- Decline any single-use plastic.
- Don’t order more than you need.
- Try to travel locally on buses or trains, and if you can walk.
- Additionally, take local tours or seek out local charities and co-ops that give back to local communities.
Friends International is a great example. As a social enterprise based in S.E Asia, they support the reintegration of children and youth, so they become actively involved in developing their society.
They have restaurants that employ and teach locals in the food industry where tourists can come and enjoy local food cooked by locals, and 98% of the money stays in the host country.
There are plenty of similar initiatives and organisations out there, wherever you choose to go. All you need to do is think ‘sustainably’.
So there you have it – the starting point.
To travel more sustainably, you must delve into the four key areas highlighted above. Start with these basics, and as you go, you’ll find the time and the mental capacity to take it all in and determine the best options available.
Make sure to sign up for more news as we’ll be going more profound in the coming weeks and giving you more tips for all your sustainable decisions for everyday life and future adventures.
References and Additional Information