Prior to the pandemic, 1.2 billion people were traveling each year and people were focusing on sustainable tourism. Travel was easy and popular destinations such as Barcelona, Cinque Terre, and other destinations experiencing mass tourism were trying to curb it. The travel and hospitality industries are definitely suffering right now, but it will bounce back.
Even though the industry has suffered, we have seen the world heal in environmental areas. I am talking about seeing dolphins in Venice Canals and less smoggy cities. However, international borders are reopening carefully, and people are itching to get away after being cooped up for way too long. There is bound to be a surge of tourists to certain destinations again. With this, I for one had time to reflect on how I travel and how I can be a more responsible and sustainable tourist when I do.
Here is a guide for people aiming to be more sustainable while traveling and being a responsible tourist during the pandemic and after.
What is sustainable tourism?
If you are going to travel during coronavirus it is more important than ever to be a responsible tourist. But what is a responsible tourist?
Everyone may have a different take, but for me being a responsible tourist means leaving a place better than I found it, respecting the environment, the people’s culture, and traditions, and respecting the laws of the place I visit. Now I also would add making sure you are not traveling if you are sick, keeping social distance while traveling, minimize contact with people, and respecting the travel guidelines put into place to control the pandemic.
Sustainable tourism keeps the destination in mind making sure tourism is truly beneficial to the locals and place while minimizing the negative effects of mass tourism. Is tourism sustainable especially in countries already struggling to get resources? In the end, it is the duty of tourists to sustainable and ethical, as well as do their research on the companies they use when traveling.
Reducing my carbon footprint and being a sustainable tourist doesn’t mean I have to stop traveling. It just means that I aim to travel sustainably by being mindful of the places I visit, how I get there, and what I do and bring with me.
How do you travel ethically?
When traveling became easy I was going everywhere and got caught up with mass tourism. I think everyone has at some point. Now I like to know where my money is going and that the companies I go through give back to the communities I am visiting.
A great way to travel ethically is traveling with companies that are B certified. By doing just a little extra research for your next vacation you can travel more ethically.
What is a B certified company?
A Certified B Corporation is a company or business that strives to meet the highest standards for environmental and social performance, are transparent, and balance profit and purpose.
Some travel industry companies that are B Certified include Intrepid Travel, G Adventures, Bodhi Surf and Yoga (the only surf school with this cert), and Much Better Adventures.
Traveling ethically is important to make sure the destinations we all love will be around for our grandchildren. By reducing your travel footprint and leaving the places you visit better than you found them, you will be doing your part to sustaining travel responsibly.
How can I travel more sustainably? Here are some tips:
Before you leave
One of the first things you can do is start at home. When you leave your home for a prolonged time unplug appliances, clean out the fridge, turn off the water main, and just go paperless for billing (makes life easier anyway).
Reduce Your Carbon Footprint Even If You Have to Fly
Another choice you have to make before you travel is where you want to go. Now people are taking more road trips and traveling locally, which is actually one of the greenest types of travel. Next, you could travel to a sustainable destination. Also, something I like to do is travel to the second city. If I want to go to a place that is super busy I will travel on a shoulder season.
However, there are always bucket list travel adventures we all want to take. So how can we offset the carbon footprint of that long journey? If you want to try to help maybe donate to offset the cost of your carbon footprint to Carbon Fund.
Choose Eco Friendly Accommodations
There are many ways to make sure your accommodation reduces your travel footprint from your impact on the environment to the society you’re a guest in.
There are many eco-friendly hotels and hostels. Also, there are even booking platforms like Kind Traveler where you can give and get an amazing experience while knowing that you are positively impacting the places you visit.
Eco-Friendly Hotels and traveling sustainably also has a stereotype of being expensive as compared to budget travel. However, there are many ways to travel responsibly and without spending beaucoup dollars.
How to travel sustainably on a budget?
If you want to make sure your money is going to the locals, why not stay with them? Sustainable tourism is also about making sure the local communities are benefiting from your travels. AirBnBs that are owned by locals and experiences hosted by them is one way to make sure you give back to the local economy. In Cuba, I always stayed at Casa Particulars which were homestays that I found on Airbnb. This way I met some amazing locals and had a very interesting experience.
Also, you could stay with locals through Couchsurfing, Workaway, House Sitting and House Swaps. These are often free with the only thing being exchanged are cultural experiences, work, or house sitting.
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Workaway Exchange work at hostels, farms, nannying, and more for accomadation.
World Packers Develop skills, learn a new language, and more while staying with locals.
WWOOF Stay and work at farms
House Sit Match(UK)
Stay in Unique Accommodations and Homes
Another low footprint way of traveling is staying in unique homes. Now unique homes can be found on Airbnb, van life homes on Outdoorsy for road trips, and farm homestays allow you to travel sustainably. By not staying directly in a huge city you can alleviate over-tourism.
What are sustainable tourism practices?
- Eat locally grown food, which means your food is not transported by truck, which means lower carbon emissions. Not only do you reduce carbon emissions, but you also learn more about the cultures of the places you visit through the food.
- One of my favorite activities, when I travel, is going to a local market and getting an assortment of food to try. Another thing to try and do is find local businesses, tour operators, and guides to support.
- Sometimes it can be hard to understand the landscape of a place, so when you practice slow travel you can get a better handle on the right businesses to support. I love slow travel because I get a deeper understanding of the places I visit as well as the people. By taking it slow you can find the local market, versus rushing and just going to the nearest supermarket.
- When picking your destinations, it is important to also support destinations that need tourism’s support, such as Puerto Rico after the devastating hurricane season in 2017. I recently went there and still saw the damage, but a bustling tourism economy making a rebound.
Get Amazing Experiences And Be Sustainable Tourist
Volunteering for 1 or 2 weeks, or even a month can be a positive way to travel as well as give to a community in need. Also, it is a part of the slow travel mindset. Some things that I have found are companies such as Farm to Fork Fitness adventures that take cycling tours through the countryside, stops at local businesses, and farms.
Love the outdoors? Me too. This is one of the best activities to get out in nature to appreciate it as well as reduce your travel footprint. Just remember leave no trace behind.
Another way to reduce your travel footprint is by taking local walking tours, cycling, and bike tours, and try to take as much public transit as you travel.
Get a sustainable travel agent such as Lokal to help take the planning out of it, but making sure you follow responsible travel tips.
Finally look for local experiences like taking a tour that looks at how to make local goods and crafts.
How to Practice Ethical Tourism and Be Culturally Sensitive
Don’t haggle and respect the local cultures. While you could save that extra dollar, in many countries it often means more to them. Also, a lot of artisan products take many hours to make.
Also, it is important to do research on the local customs, laws, traditions, and health/safety risks so you don’t impose and disrespect locals. By learning about the cultures, it will make your experience richer and more authentic.
Most importantly if you love animals and want to visit them research ethical animal sanctuaries. Don’t ride the elephants, or pet tigers and hold snakes that are drugged out of their minds.
How to get around and transportation as a responsible tourist?
If traveling shorter distances, it is always better to share larger forms of transportation, such as trains and buses. Rideshares such as Bla Bla Car are great for sharing rides to places in an ecofriendly way with carpools.
Sustainable Tourism Moving Forward
Whether you have always traveled sustainably or you are just starting your journey to eco-friendly, this guide will hopefully help. It provides resources to move forward in continuing to see the world, experience cultures, and doing so ethically.