Traveling offers us an opportunity to expand our horizons, see the world’s natural wonders & connect with local communities around the world. When paired with a focus on sustainability, it offers us an opportunity to have a truly transformative experience – not only for ourselves, but also the world.
Whether you’re traveling for a few days, a few months, or for an indefinite period of time, it is important to consider your impact as a traveler – both on the natural environment and local communities you visit. To travel for pleasure, a fun semester abroad, or a fulfilling career – rather than necessity – is a great privilege. Some careful planning can help ensure you use that privilege for good – respecting local communities, keeping tourism dollars in the local economy, and minimizing impact on the natural environment.
Not sure where to begin? Start here! In collaboration with Global Fashion Exchange and Impact Travel Alliance, ecomadic presents the following toolkit to help you make sustainable choices before, during, and after your travels.
Before Your Trip:
1. Choose a sustainable destination & accommodation(s)
- If you have the option of choosing your destination, consider visiting a locale where sustainability is the norm. A good example is Costa Rica, which has been investing in sustainable tourism since the 90s. What’s more – over 90% of Costa Rica’s electricity comes from renewable sources and nearly 30% of its territory is protected natural land.
- Book with trusted sustainable accommodations and experience companies that are accessible to your specific needs. When assessing accommodations, consider their economic, cultural, and environmental impact on the destination, or book through a platform like ecomadic which thoroughly vets accommodations, experiences, shops, eateries, and travel curators for sustainability practices.
- Seminary Hill Orchard & Cidery, located at the foothills of the Catskills, is one model accommodation for sustainability practices.The property’s buildings adhere to rigorous energy efficiency standards and the cidery produces quality ciders from the property’s own orchards, without harmful pesticides or herbicides. Through their cidery, boarding house, and restaurant, Seminary Hill promotes the region’s agricultural heritage, while positively impacting the local economy.
2. Pack a sustainable suitcase
- Choose sustainably sourced products for travel – invest in rechargeable green gadgets and patron luggage and/or travel product companies that prioritize using sustainable materials and reducing carbon emissions.
- Bring high quality reusables; for example, a sturdy tote bag and stainless steel refillable water bottle.
- Pack natural, biodegradable toiletries with minimal to no packaging.
- Economize on clothing by packing only what you need. Traveling light is not only more sustainable, but also more convenient.
- For more resources, check out ecomadic’s articles on sustainable packing and products.
3. Get there sustainably
- Strategically route your trip to emit the least amount of carbon – especially if you are hitting multiple destinations! If you can, take the train or carpool to your destination in an electric or hybrid vehicle. It may take more time, but it will reduce carbon emissions.
- When you must fly, fly wisely with these tips:
Fly direct, fly economy: The most emissions occur during take-off and landing; eliminating connecting flights automatically reduces these emissions. Purchasing economy takes up less space on the plane, also reducing carbon footprint.
Fly with airlines committed to sustainability: When choosing who to fly with, decide based on airlines’ sustainability pledges and programs, as well as the effectiveness of said programs.
Take advantage of carbon offsetting programs: If you have the means, pay into carbon offsets. You can also book a pre-carbon offset flight through ecomadic or pay into other trustworthy carbon projects.
Want to dive deeper? Impact Travel Alliance’s founder Kelley Louise outlines more tips in the video recording of The Savvy Traveler’s Guide to Going Green.
4. Understand your destination
- Familiarize yourself with local customs, laws, and traditions. This will inform your expectations of how you dress and behave in public.
- Learn a bit of the local language. A simple “Hello,” “Goodbye,” and “Thank you” go a long way towards showing respect to the local people.
- Research how tourism has impacted your destination socially and economically. While tourism can bring a lot of benefits to a community, sometimes it comes at the expense of the local livelihoods. Mass tourism in certain popular locations – from Hawaii to Florence – have sparked anti-tourism movements in protest of cultural degradation and the displacement of local people. This awareness will help inform where you stay, visit, and shop within a destination.
- Research how tourism has impacted your destination ecologically. Overtourism can take a toll on the natural ecosystem and wildlife of a destination. If you are visiting a location specifically for wildlife – make sure you book experiences that do not perpetuate an industry of abuse.
During Your Trip:
1. Limit your environmental impact
- When you can’t travel on foot, or rent a bike, take public transportation where possible. Otherwise, consider utilizing trusted ride share apps and websites or renting an energy efficient or electric vehicle.
- In natural areas, like forests, respect designated trails and pathways. It may be tempting to create your own adventure, but remember that trails and pathways are in place to protect both the ecosystem, and the travelers, of a heavily trafficked destination.
- Be mindful of water & energy usage: consider the local community’s access to water and save energy where possible (i.e. turn off lights/aircon when not in use, unplug appliances, re-use linens/towels).
- Do not litter and properly discard all waste.
- When dining, choose cuisine that is as local and sustainable as possible. Avoiding imported delicacies/produce and opting for plant-based meals reduces your carbon footprint.
2. Respect local culture & heritage
- Embrace opportunities for respectful cultural exchange. This could be trying a new dish or learning a traditional dance. Whatever the opportunity, make sure it is led by and benefits individuals in the local community.
- Follow traditions and customs to the degree that is expected by tourists. While you may not agree with all practices, you are the guest so it is best to be tolerant and considerate. Keep in mind local attitudes towards dress and drinking in public.
- Be mindful of what, or who, you photograph. Get consent before taking pictures of/or with local people.
- Do not remove or purchase any historical relics.
3. Shop sustainably & keep tourism dollars in the local economy
- Support small scale, locally-owned businesses and restaurants. Avoid larger, corporate-owned operations.
- Check out local marketplaces – farmers’ markets, crafts fairs – where you can buy food and souvenirs that are ethically sourced or made by local artisans. Talk to the farmers, artists, and craftspeople – avoid stalls with slews of identical products, as this is a sign of mass production.
- Be considerate about how you handle business transactions — haggle like a pro when appropriate (sometimes it is expected and rude not to) but don’t take it too far.
- Shop sustainably, but also shop less. Take circular fashion to the next level and follow Global Fashion Exchange on Instagram and Facebook to find a fashion swap in your destination.
- Take advantage of curated marketplaces like ecomadic, or consult travel resources from Global Fashion Exchange and Impact Travel Alliance.
After Your Trip:
1. Expand your positive impact
- Leave reviews with positive or constructive feedback for local businesses. If any local, sustainable business went above and beyond your expectations – highlight them in your social media or recommend them to ecomadic.
- Report exploitation of people and wildlife to appropriate authorities.
2. Inspire others
- Be an inspiration for others. Share tips and challenges from your sustainable travel experience with friends and family.
- Share what you learned with your sustainable travel community. While individual choices are important, they work best in a collective orientation. And, sustainable-travel choices are often destination specific; strengthen the movement by sharing your sustainability expertise on specific locales.
While it may seem overwhelming at first, sustainability during travel is not so different from sustainability at home, and the key is simple: plan ahead. While you may be tempted to travel the road of instant gratification, taking the time to plan a conscious, sustainable trip will make your vacation much more rewarding. Travel with peace of mind knowing you’re helping to mitigate the impacts of mass tourism and making the world a more sustainable place.
ecomadic is a sustainable tourism brand that empowers travelers to make more conscious decisions. By curating a marketplace to easily find and identify responsible businesses to support, and providing educational publications through our online green travel magazine, ecomadic is committed to helping empower travelers make responsible choices throughout their journeys.
Want to learn more?
8 Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint When Traveling – Impact Travel Alliance
8 Ideas for Creating Better Travel Habits – Impact Travel Alliance
Ecotourism and Culture: An Unhealthy Mix? – ecomadic
Checking Out of Cruelty – World Animal Protection
Travel is Said to Increase Cultural Understanding. Does It? – National Geographic
Be a More Sustainable Traveler – New York Times