Sustainable Travel: How To Be Eco Friendly Traveler
We all love traveling, right?
There is nothing like discovering new places and getting to know new cultures!
However, did you know that travel is one of the main polluters of our planet? A shocking 75% of tourism’s greenhouse gas emissions come from aviation, but the problem does not end there. The tourism industry is also connected to large amounts of waste, promotion of thoughtless purchases, and ethical issues such as low wages. Take, for example, cruise ships: they triple a passenger’s carbon footprint, often dump sewage or trash into the ocean, and pay their workers very low wages.
Needless to say, the mainstream travel industry is not exactly zero waste.
So if you are an avid traveler, but you are concerned about the environmental impact of your adventures, what do you do?
Enter eco tourism, a way of exploring the world that doesn’t destroy the environment. It fits together really well with the zero waste lifestyle and helps you enjoy your travel in a sustainable way.
As travel sustainability is talked about more and more, new travelers take to sustainable travel every year. You may be one of the people who are thinking about making their next trip more eco-friendly, so let us help you go through what you should know before booking your vacation.
In this article, we are going to cover everything from transport, through waste, to economic and social sustainability.
What is sustainable travel?
Let us start by defining sustainable travel.
It is about finding a way of traveling that does not harm nature, people, or the local economies. On the contrary, it strives to benefit the local area and help it grow. This can be done in three ways: economically, socially, and environmentally. These three factors also referred to as the three pillars of sustainability, can be used to divide the issues surrounding travel which eco tourism is working to overcome into three categories.
Supporting the economic pillar means to help the local area strive economically.
This includes buying from small local businesses and choosing small providers of accommodation and restaurants. Rather than having dinner at Burger King and staying at a Holiday Inn, try looking up well-rated local alternatives. Chances are, this is not only going to support the local economy but will also provide you with a better experience and help you learn more about the area you are visiting.
Regarding travel sustainability from an environmental point of view, local businesses are also often much more sustainable than large chains.
How do your travels impact on the local community and its people?
When it comes to the social pillar of sustainability, making sure every worker you meet during your travels is paid well and has safe working conditions is crucial.
You can also support local NGOs or community tourism projects to make an even bigger impact.
Many areas are lacking in this aspect, and so tourists supporting social growth can really make a difference.
What most of us think of when speaking of travel sustainability is the environmental aspect.
By reducing your impact on nature and wildlife in the local area, you are ensuring that it can be visited by many other people, rather than polluted and destroyed within the next couple of years. Your carbon footprint, water usage, refuse production, and other behaviors, contribute to this pillar. Improving environmental sustainability includes choosing a way of travel with lower emissions, being economical with water, and carrying a few reusables with you that will help you avoid items such as plastic cutlery. If you are choosing a tour, selecting one that follows these principles as well is crucial.
Now that we have gone through what sustainable travel and eco tourism roughly entails, let us look at a few different travel decisions which are a little more complex, such as your choice of transport, some tips for avoiding waste, and a short guide to buying local.
The transport options
One of the main travel sustainability questions you may have is: so how do I select the best, most sustainable mode of transport?
We will go through the more obvious, as well as the things you may not have heard of before.
You probably know that flying is not very environmentally friendly, but did you know about the impact of cruise ships, or what is the truly most sustainable mode of transport?
Aviation and its massive environmental impact
Only a fraction of the world’s population are regular fliers, but the industry is already a significant polluter, with many new passengers every year. Aviation produces many pollutants contributing to climate change other than just CO2, including nitrogen oxides, particulates, contrails, and cirrus. No other human activity produces as many emissions in such a short period of time.
The problematic nature of flying, unfortunately, does not end with emissions. The amount of waste and plastic packaging used by the aviation industry is also alarming. While many budget airlines are no longer serving meals or drinks included in the price of the ticket, on others you can’t avoid the highly packaged meal.
Obviously, the easiest way to avoid the environmental impact of flying is not to fly and choose a more eco-friendly transport option. However, sometimes that is not an option and you cannot avoid flying. So, let’s talk about how you can make your journey by plane less damaging.
Firstly, book budget airlines over premium ones and always go for economy class. The more passengers on the plane, the lower the environmental footprint of each one of them. Budget airlines also generally own more fuel-efficient planes, as they are trying to save wherever they can. You can also always purchase carbon offsets, which are donations supporting projects meant to reverse the negative impact of flying. Lastly, if possible, always bring your own reusable water bottle to fill up at the airport and pack your own food in reusable bees wraps or boxes.
Polluting cruise ships
The cruise ship business is also one that is acquiring more and more passengers every year, despite its unsustainability. We will start with its environmental impact, but also move on to the economic and social aspects of sustainability afterward.
Cruise ships usually use diesel engines, which are associated with nitrogen oxide emissions. The sulfur production of these ships should also be mentioned, as in some areas such as Europe, they produce up to 20 times as much sulfur dioxide as all passenger vehicles combined. While as of 2020, cruise ships are required to use more environmentally friendly fuel options, this did not bring much improvement. That is because instead of complying with the regulations, some cruise ships are installing systems that help them dump the discharge from the pollutants into the ocean instead, along with sewage.
The social aspect of sustainability is another thing to consider when it comes to cruise ship companies, especially when it comes to worker conditions. According to Business Insider employees usually work 12-hour shifts (as a minimum), seven days a week, and are rewarded by pay which can be as low as $500 per month. According to the same article, employees are also offered very limited health care in case of injury. Cruise companies are able to do this legally, since they are usually registered with countries with fewer labor laws and minimum wages, according to The Telegraph.
So, maybe avoid the cruise ship business and save the world the massive environmental, social, and economic toll?
The eco tourism options
If you don’t fly or cruise, what transport option do you choose? There are quite a few sustainable travel options for you if you are striving for a zero waste lifestyle and little emissions. Indisputably, you can’t talk about sustainable travel without a mention of rail travel. Out of all the long-distance forms of transportation, railways produce the lowest amount of emissions out of them all. In many countries, they are also fairly inexpensive, so why not give them a shot? Unfortunately, in places such as the US, trains are still quite scarce, but if you are traveling in Europe with railways connecting almost every city, trains are the way to go!
Buses and coaches are also a great alternative to cars, although they can be less comfortable than trains and a little more fuel-intensive. With more people utilizing this mode of transport, the systems’ efficiency increases, since they are no longer operating half-empty.
Vacation by bike
Do you know what is the most eco-friendly vehicle that you could choose for your trip?
Chances are, it is already sitting in your shed or backyard! Pick up your bike and plan an active vacation. You do not have to be an avid sportsperson to enjoy a biking vacation. If you are, you can surely plan an adventure that will take several weeks, involve sleeping under the stars and take you hundreds of miles away from your home.
If you do not have as much practice planning biking trips, or if you do not feel like you are in the shape to plan a big biking adventure, try a small trip first. Explore your local area and spend a few days biking around or take a train to a nearby area and bike there for a few days!
Avoiding waste on the go can be tricky, but with a few easy tips, a zero waste lifestyle while traveling will not be far from reality. The main source of plastic waste and packaging on the go comes from food and drink purchases, so make sure to pack your own zero waste snacks and your trusty water bottle. If you do have to purchase food on the go, try to find places with little to no packaging, or ones that would be happy for you to use your own.
Many places you may travel might not have safe drinking water, so what do you do if you can’t drink tap water? According to the World Health Organization, boiling water is enough to kill pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, or protozoa. However, it is not enough when you are trying to get rid of any man-made pollution like pesticides. Before you try this method, figure out what it is that is making the tap water unsafe! Alternatively, you can also use iodine drops or a straw/bottle with a filter that filters out most pathogens.
A great way to practice eco tourism and sustainable travel on all three levels are by supporting truly local businesses. They are not hard to find if you know where to look, and there are many benefits to doing so. Purchasing local lowers your carbon footprint, helps the region you are visiting grow, and supports entrepreneurship and business ownership.
The best way to start is online. Look through travel platforms and sites, for tips from fellow travelers, or find some tips from locals on social media. And why not ask around when you are in your destination, just make sure the people giving tips are genuine and not just saying something they are paid to say!
What will your next sustainable travel destination be? You do not have to give up traveling because of your zero waste lifestyle, just keep a few of these things in mind and you are good to go! As more of us adopt eco tourism practices on our journeys, we will help the sustainable travel community grow and the offering in the destinations frequented by eco travelers will change based on the demand.