As one of the major sectors in the world, tourism is just expanding and will see more growth as the new decade begins. Many frequent travelers are quick to point out the positive effects travel has on the mind, body, and soul, but do we ever stop to consider ethical tourism, sustainability, and the effects travel has on the very planet that is providing us with all of its beauty and opportunities for exploration in between all the world-view expansion, cultural immersion, excitement, or relaxation we gain from travel?
Many people are unaware that traveling, whether by car, boat, train, or airline, has a detrimental influence on our world since it is one of the greatest producers of carbon emissions. The harm, however, continues because being a responsible traveler involves more than just being aware of the environment. Local communities are also suffering from the overtourism that is destroying and displacing indigenous people and wildlife.
So what can we do as tourists to lessen our influence on the environment and enhance the culture of the place we are visiting? You can travel more ethically, sustainably, and with more awareness if you follow these 10 pieces of advice. Just keep in mind that the goal isn’t perfection, but rather improving our decisions, exhibiting cultural sensitivity, and exerting every effort to reduce travel’s detrimental effects on the environment, local communities, and the economy.
1. Select tour operators who are socially and environmentally conscious.
The most natural habitat that is suffering the most from the heat absorption brought on by carbon emissions and human negligence is our seas. Small plastic particles are killing marine life, glaciers are melting, sea levels are increasing, and there are literally garbage islands forming in the ocean. Sadly, the greatest damage is being done to our beautiful coral reefs.
Because of the increasing acidity of our seas due to carbon dioxide absorption, coral cannot grow and live. Not only is this concerning for the marine variety of the future (which we can enjoy via snorkeling and diving), but as the climate crisis worsens, coral reefs will no longer be able to shield coastal towns from frequent and more intense storms.
Making ensuring the snorkeling, diving, or boat trips you take follow appropriate marine-conservation standards, particularly with regard to coral reef preservation, is the greatest way to appreciate the stunning underwater eco-system while vacationing. Never touch or feed any marine life, and never remove coral, shells, or starfish out of the water for a picture, a memento, or any other reason while on an ocean tour of any type.
On trips where you may go swimming with sharks or “pet” stingrays, pay particular attention to tour operators that feed chum to the sharks. Read reviews and do your own research on tour companies before booking any kind of trip, whether it involves the water or not, to be sure it is legitimate.
2. In hotels, choose the “green option.”
Many hotels provide green choice programs that let guests choose not to have their linens and towels changed every day. To assist hotels in their conservation efforts, replace towels and linens only when absolutely required.
Other eco-friendly hotel practices include turning off the lights and disconnecting gadgets when not in use, turning off the water while brushing your teeth, having shorter showers, and turning off the air conditioning when you leave your room.
3. Opt for environmentally friendly lodging.
Consider staying at green-certified hotels, resorts, and eco-lodges that have received certification from agencies like Green Seal, Green Globe, Green Key, Earth Check, LEEDS, and STEP if you want to go a step further.
With hundreds of eco-friendly lodgings available worldwide via Expedia.com’s “Green Hotel Program,” finding eco-friendly lodging in any location is simple. Expedia, one of the biggest travel companies in the world, makes it very simple to locate the best green hotels wherever you go.
In my experience, Bali, Costa Rica, and Tulum, Mexico, are the top 3 eco-friendly tourism locations. These locations have no lack of eco-friendly hotels, ranging from extremely budget-friendly to ultra-luxurious.
4. Buy local.
To better support the regional economy, avoid the malls and big-box retailers and shop instead in your neighborhood’s towns, street markets, and farmers’ markets. Buy hand-made crafts, clothing, and jewelry to bring home as presents and souvenirs rather than mass-produced items like shot glasses and magnets that weren’t even created in the nation that is selling them.
5. Reduce your use of plastic travel-sized containers.
Bring your own refillable toiletries so you may avoid using the little single-use items motels often supply. To completely avoid using plastic toiletries, you might even think about bringing your own solid shampoo, conditioner, and lotion bars on the trip.
To support your efforts, gather any empty tiny shampoo and soap bottles to bring home and give them to the nearby shelters that are always in need of hygiene supplies.
6. Provide aid to regional areas in need.
Participate in initiatives like Pack With a Purpose, a nonprofit that works with hotels and tour operators to assist visitors in donating the school and medical supplies they bring on travels. Pack items like bandages, pencils, deflated soccer balls, and pet supplies in empty luggage space so they may be dropped off at a hotel or tour operator that works with you.
Packing and wearing clothing that you will later donate to towns and individuals in need is another method to give back. Your backpack will be lighter and you’ll have more room to purchase new clothing and trinkets from the community to bring home.
7. Participate in carbon offset initiatives.
Consider contributing to a carbon offset program each time you travel, such as one that plants trees, installs wind turbines, or develops cleaner cooking stoves in developing nations. Finding the one that most appeals to you from among the various organizations dedicated to carbon offset is as easy as doing a Google search.
In collaboration with TerraPass, Expedia.com provides packages depending on the distance traveled to support carbon offset and renewable energy initiatives. Utilizing the “Travel Accessories” area of the trip personalization page, you may add TerraPass to your flight.
8. Avoid participating in immoral animal tourism.
Because these attractions are so popular, riding an elephant or taking a picture with a tiger in Thailand may seem like a good idea. However, animal abuse for tourism is very immoral. Tigers are drugged and sedated so visitors may touch and play with them, while elephants, who have fragile spines, are beaten into submission so that people can domesticate them and ride them.
Find a reputable animal refuge or rehabilitation facility if you’d really want to interact with animals while you’re on vacation. Just be cautious to thoroughly study the organization since many facilities may appear as ethical rehabs while privately chaining and abusing the animals. It is immoral, particularly in Thailand, if an elephant sanctuary permits riding, even without a saddle.
Zoos, dolphin swims, and animal shows are just a few examples of prevalent unethical animal tourism traps to watch out for. Bear in mind that wild animals belong there.
9. Participate in “voluntourism.”
If you want to volunteer while you’re on the road, there are many options available, whether you want to dedicate a few hours, a day, or even do a complete volunteer trip. There are excursions devoted to helping out local people, constructing homes or schools, or working with animals, such as in Thailand’s Elephant Nature Park. Just be sure to do your homework to confirm the ethics of any group you want to volunteer with. (Yes, even so-called “non-profits” can act unethically.)
The finest volunteering organizations encourage local communities to develop and prosper from within, protect their dignity while leveraging volunteer skillsets to assist them reach their objective. Voluntourism shouldn’t be about white saviors going in and “fixing” a place. Traveling with the proper motivations and making contributions, no matter how little or large, can benefit the destinations you visit and give your journey more meaning.
10. Travel by foot, bicycle, and public transit.
The finest method to discover a new location is on foot, and the extra bonus of exercise will improve your health and wellness while traveling. When you can, try to bike or walk whenever you can to cut down on automobile emissions. Numerous hotels provide bike rentals, and more towns are putting street-side bike-share schemes in place.
Using public transit can help you save money and lower the number of automobiles on the road, which will help reduce carbon emissions when walking or bicycling are not an option. When renting a car, if an electric vehicle is offered, consider it. Nowadays, a lot of hotels provide electric car charging.