7 Simple Ways to Travel More Sustainably

Our desire to travel and explore sometimes overpowers our consideration of the influence our trip will have on the environment and the local community. We tend to think that our individual travel might not cause harm but each person’s impact adds up. However, there are ways to lessen – or even reverse – your impact while still having the adventure of a lifetime.

Given the current environmental crises, there is a need for all of us to act together and reduce our negative impact, including when we travel. At Friends of Wallacea, we believe that travel can actually be a force for good, not just for people and economies, but also for the planet. For this reason, we have created this list of seven simple tips to reduce your environmental impact and help local communities while you travel.

1. Offset Your Carbon Footprint from Transportation

When you plan our next holiday, one of the first things you might do is look at the plane tickets. However, one three-hour flight from London to Zagreb emits 0.43 tonnes of Carbon Dioxide. Now imagine a long-haul flight to South America, for example. But don’t worry, not all hope is lost.

During 2020, there were 900 million fewer flights taken, thus far fewer carbon emissions from air travel. However, when travelling finally resumes, many of us will be eager to travel and explore. Even though air transport creates significant emissions, there are ways to mitigate your impact. This can be done by offsetting your flights – donating money towards an organisation that promotes environmental restoration, most commonly reforestation, as a way of removing carbon dioxide from the air. 

For example, the Wallacea Trust carries out a wide range of projects aimed at forest restoration, protection of endangered species, and empowerment of local communities, which you can support to directly offset your emissions. Their aim is to maintain the integrity of global biodiversity while reducing carbon emissions. There are also numerous other organisations supporting carbon offsetting through reforestation. For example,  Mikoko Pamoja is supporting the reforestation of mangrove forests in Kenya. These habitats are one of the most important on Earth for their high contribution to carbon storage and biodiversity.

However, if you are thinking that offsetting is probably very expensive and you won’t be able to afford it, to offset a return-flight from London to Zagreb can cost from $5.50 to $18.00. Compared to the cost of your flight, offsetting is quite affordable.

2. Choose Local Eco-Conscious Operators

Even though all-inclusive international hotels can look luxurious and tempting, these places often harm the local economy. On average, 95% of the income made by international chains goes straight to the owners of the company instead of boosting local income and providing employment. If you want to have a positive impact on the local community, choosing local operators would be a better option. That way you will be empowering local communities and investing in job opportunities for them.  

Next time when you are searching for your perfect operators, check their values first. The ideal option would be a local eco-conscious company that utilizes sustainable practices such as recycling, rainwater reuse, solar energy, and locally grown fruit and vegetables. You should also pay attention to what the management looks like: are there local people running the hotel or company? That’s a good sign you are supporting decent local employment. 

3. Keep your distance from wild animals.

Almost everyone has seen a friend or celebrity post a photo hugging a ‘wild’ animal – be it a monkey, a parrot, or tiger – on their social media. Even when the purpose of the photo is to raise awareness, whenever people see a photo of a celebrity holding a cute baby tiger, it can often create a desire to set aside ethics for an amazing photo, as well. .  However, most of the wildlife ‘sanctuaries’ that allow direct interaction severely abuse the animals. For example, dolphins in Bali amusement parks are forced to swim in small enclosures, in water-saturated with chemicals such as chlorine responsible for severe eye injuries.

To avoid supporting this behavior, do your research and consider going to a wildlife park where you can see the animal from a distance in their natural habitat. You should never hold, handle, pet, or otherwise touch wild animals. Even those raised in captivity can be extremely stressed and unhappy when handled by unfamiliar humans constantly, and they can even catch diseases from us. If you love animals, keep your distance. This also means not chasing animals to get closer for a picture. It has actually been shown that extreme stress levels can even be lethal for rabbits (and other cute species!) and cause a heart attack.

On this note, do not kill invertebrates arbitrarily when you are in natural areas. We are not talking about the mosquito that keeps trying to eat you but simply killing insects in nature that are not causing anyone harm. Even though they are not large charismatic mammals, they play an immensely important role in the ecosystem and contribute to the food chain, pollination, soil fertility, and decomposition. So next time you see a spider in your room, just use a cup to take it outside.

4. Buy from Locals

One of the best ways to support the local community when you travel is to invest your money in their services. Buying fruit and vegetables from local producers, getting your souvenirs from artisans and craftsmen will be directly supporting them and often quite literally putting food on that family’s table for the day.

By supporting local businesses, you often have a direct impact on things like helping their kids go to school and providing funds for proper health care. However, when buying souvenirs, be careful with your purchases. If you want to be sustainable, you should not only stay away from mass-produced tourist shops, but also avoid animal products such as teeth, tusks, and skin, as they have probably been obtained unethically. An eco-conscious souvenir would be an item, produced locally, without any animal cruelty involved, like a painting or beaded jewelry. 

By sourcing from locals, you could also be supporting the protection of the local environment. Often communities want to sustain their natural wonders, but poverty forces them into alternative income generation methods, which are not eco-friendly – such as logging and mining. However, if they can profit enough from tourism, they can invest their energy in habitat protection and cultural preservation. 

5. Prioritise Less Crowded Areas

When choosing places to visit, the most famous hotspots are often the first that pop up on Google. However, often photos can be deceiving and don’t show actually how many people are there, and when you finally visit you realize you have to battle people for a nice photo. These areas suffer from over-tourism when the carrying capacity (the maximum population of people and animals it can sustain) is exceeded. As a result, you will find it hard to get a unique local experience when you are constantly within crowds of people. 

Overtourism also negatively impacts the local communities who have to live in cities with hordes of tourists, and the environment through increased pollution, habitat deterioration, and biodiversity decline. 

Therefore, by visiting off-the-beaten-path destinations you can have a win-win; you avoid the crowds and get a unique experience. Also, by choosing less crowded areas, you will help redistribute tourists and will generate income for locals outside the most popular places. You will be able to immerse in the local culture, experience the world from their perspective and explore hidden-gems. Plus, the carrying capacity of the environment won’t be surpassed so you can be sure your visit was helpful rather than harmful.  

6. Use Less Plastic

Plastic pollution is a severe ecological problem that causes the deaths of thousands of animal species every year. Annually, around 448 million tons of plastic are produced, of which about eight million ends in our rivers, soils, and oceans. 

For example, abandoned fishing equipment, also called “ghost gear” affects around 557 species yearly, of which around 66% are marine mammals such as dolphins and seals. Plastic pollution also harms millions of people living in crowded cities around the world. 

To help fight plastic pollution, one small thing you can do is reduce our use of non-sustainable items. When you travel again, bring some reusables such as a tote bag and reusable water bottle. It can be difficult to avoid using plastic when traveling in countries without potable water but consider investing in a Lifestraw or buying 5-10L jugs rather than buying plastic bottles all day. You can also avoid using plastic cutlery, plates, and straws by bringing a small bamboo set with you. Use bar shampoo, conditioner, and soap (bonus: avoid nasty bag spills!) or bring your own reusable bottles so you can avoid using the small hotel ones. And prepare to constantly refuse plastic bags from convenience stores, as many still are in the habit of giving out bags with everything you buy!

7. Bring Biodegradables

When you are travelling to new, exciting locations, one really simple thing you can do to reduce your negative impact is to use biodegradable supplies – soap, shampoo, toothpaste, and detergents. This is particularly essential if you are going camping as there the chemicals from your cosmetics will go straight into the soil, rivers, and ultimately our oceans. Furthermore, many countries’ sewage systems end up in rivers and oceans, so biodegradables decrease the load of chemicals released into water bodies.

When looking for biodegradable toiletries, always check the ingredients list for the company’s values. Ideally, you want to find natural products that are in recyclable packaging and are sourced ethically. One ingredient to avoid is Triclosan – an antibacterial agent that can be found in toothpaste, soaps, detergents, and sterilizers. Due to its toxicity, when this compound enters the environment, it causes adverse effects in some wildlife species such as mice, fish, crustaceans, invertebrates, and algae. In addition, Triclosan is associated with increased microbial resistance, which can potentially lead to antibiotic-resistant pathogens – which make us sicker.

So, if you choose to be eco-conscious and get biodegradables, nature will thank you!

With the growing threats to our environments, now more than ever we need to reduce the damage we cause as individuals and be respectful to our nature. Your impact while traveling might be magnified, especially if you are traveling in countries with less developed waste management systems or without plastic-free options. We hope these seven steps inspire you to travel more sustainably and in harmony with nature and local communities, even if you cannot pick a sustainable operator. You can also learn more about why supporting local operators is essential for us and how to select eco-conscious operators.

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