PRACTICES FOR SUSTAINABLE TRAVEL
WRITTEN BY VICTORIA HITTNER
An estimated 1.5 billion people traveled internationally in 2019, according to the United Nations World Travel Organization (UNWTO). Despite less active travel in 2020, our world is more connected than ever, and modern transportation and technology make globe-trotting remarkably simple. But with increased travel has come an increased burden on the environment. The International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) reported that 2.4 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions stemmed from commercial aviation alone. Growing concerns about environmental impact have lent popularity to the concept of eco-travel—using and promoting sustainable practices in the travel industry. Here are a few ways you can incorporate responsible travel into your future explorations.
Photography by NataliaDeriabina/iStock/Getty Images Plus.
Choose wheels instead of wings for transportation whenever possible. Trains offer a cheap and environmentally friendly alternative to airplanes, with added opportunities to soak in the scenery. Companies like Railbookers and Original Travel offer curated train-only itineraries, as well as searchable routes using local, regional, or national lines. If you prefer to take the wheel yourself, look for rental companies that specialize in fuel-efficient vehicles, such as Green-Motion.
When you do have to travel in an airplane, the ICCT suggests booking your flights “like a NERD”: look for Newer aircrafts, Economy seating, Regular, medium-sized jets, and Direct routes.
When both sustainability and comfort are important, keep an eye out for lodging with certifications from TripAdvisor GreenLeaders, Green Key Global, or Green Globe International. These programs recognize hotels and resorts for efficient energy use, housekeeping practices, and waste treatment. Some hotels even cater specifically to travelers who keep a vegan diet and lifestyle, featuring menus, textiles, and amenities free of all animal products.
Other creative lodging options include eco-travel tour packages and work exchange programs. Eco-tour organization +impactTravel, for example, helps match travelers with approved local hosts and experiences around the world. Black Tomato’s “Get Lost” travel package helps you responsibly adventure into the unknown—literally. Participants are dropped at an undisclosed location and given directions and supplies to reach their final destination, monitored from afar by a knowledgeable team. For those with a little more time on their hands, work exchange programs can provide an economical, green option for travel abroad. Participants live and work with their hosts, from maintaining the gardens of an eighteenth-century French farmhouse to manning the reception desk of a Guatemalan hotel.
Embrace the Off-Season.
Popular travel destinations—both urban and rural—are often overcrowded during their peak seasons, bringing environmental damage with the influx of visitors each year. The UNWTO defines a location’s tourism capacity as “the maximum number of people that may visit a tourist destination at the same time, without causing destruction of the physical, economic, and sociocultural environment and an unacceptable decrease in the quality of visitors’ satisfaction.” And in the wake of COVID-19–related closures, the damage caused by overcrowding is more apparent than ever. Venice’s canals ran shockingly clear as a result of decreased boat activity, while China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment reported an 84.5 percent increase in days with good air quality. Pushpam Kumar, United Nations Chief Environmental Economist, explained why: “The outbreak of epidemics like COVID-19 reveals the fundamental tenets of the trade-off we consistently face: humans have unlimited needs, but the planet has limited capacity to satisfy them.”
Opting to travel outside peak season is not only beneficial for the environment—it can make for a more enjoyable trip, too! Off-season fares are typically cheaper, and less crowding means more exploring.
Some of the most unexpected adventures, however, can be found in your local area. You don’t have to travel far to travel well. Ask friends for their favorite hikes, campgrounds, or eclectic museums nearby. Need more inspiration? Visit your nearest bike or running shop and ask employees for their go-to trails.
Closely linked to both eco-travel and the overall slow-living movement, “slow travel” encourages organic enjoyment of culture, landscape, and the people with whom you’re traveling.
Stay Awhile. Travelers adhering to these principles typically stay in one location for at least a week. Instead of upscale resorts and hotels, they opt for locally owned rentals or work-exchange farms or vineyards. These locations are often used as hubs from which to set out on day trips via foot, bike, or train.
Go Green. Sustainability is a key tenet of the slow-travel movement. Travelers are prompted to explore outside their guidebooks, eat locally sourced food, and be mindful of their ecological footprint.
Ditch Digital. Slow travel is meant to be an immersive experience. By leaving mobile devices behind, travelers can relieve some of the pressures of modernity and be more fully present in their daily adventures.