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Environmental protection: how can we travel sustainably?

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We travel to step out of the every day and experience something new, to unplug and reset. But even though we’re trying to get away from it all, if we care about the planet, we must take a good hard look at our travel habits. How can we enjoy the thrill of a far-flung adventure while supporting environmental protection?

For some, environmental protection and responsible travel means a self-imposed no-fly rule, and that’s a strongly principled personal choice. For others, it’s more nuanced, and our interconnected world might feel more complicated. Many countries, regions, towns and national parks rely on international visitors for their livelihoods. Halting tourism would surely have immediate detrimental effects on people, wildlife, and the environment.

Family camping in British Columbia, Canada: environmental protection

At TravelLocal, we believe that there is a middle ground! Sustainability and travel can go hand in hand and be a force for good in the world. We can visit these amazing places and also minimise our negative environmental impact. In fact, we’ll go further than that. We believe that through conscious and informed choices, travellers can have a positive impact on the environment through responsible and sustainable tourism.

Making lifestyle changes to protect the environment is the norm these days. Many try to top up reusable water bottles, reuse shopping bags and have weekly meat-free days. All of these actions at home help to protect the environment. In the same way, we can bring more awareness to our choices when we travel – from where we travel and the type of trip we take to how we consume resources in our destination and what souvenirs we choose to take back home. Being a good tourist doesn’t have to be difficult, so here are a few environmentally sustainable travel tips to get you started.

Offset your carbon footprint and consider your flying habits 

The uncomfortable reality is that we are facing a climate crisis. Add to that the influx in global traveller numbers over the last several decades, and there’s no escaping that emissions from air travel are contributing to global warming. 

So, how do we reconcile this? We have a few ideas. When considering your next few trips, take a moment to look at your flying habits. If you can, choose some short-haul destinations you can reach by train, one of the most eco-friendly ways to travel. To make the most of a long-haul flight, opt to spend longer in one destination. For example, rather than two weeks in Thailand with an internal flight or two, go for three or four weeks and travel by train or bus between fewer destinations. By doing this, you’ll also be able to slow down and immerse yourself in a place and its culture.

Sri Lanka train journey through the jungle forest

In addition, you might like to look at carbon offsetting. Although it has been criticised on several counts, offsetting your carbon footprint by supporting environmental projects is helpful. But with the important caveat that it’s combined with reducing your air travel.

Finally, not all airlines are equal, and some have significantly better environmental credentials than others. These airlines might lead research into sustainable fuels, invest in more fuel-efficient aircraft, support decarbonising projects, and reduce single-use plastics in their meal services. Do some research, and when booking your next flight, if you can, add sustainability practices as well as price and convenience to your list of considerations.  

Help conserve natural resources

The world’s resources are finite, and many countries around the world are currently struggling with drought. If you’re travelling somewhere hot in particular, take a moment to discuss this with your travel group. Suggest that everyone turn off the taps when brushing their teeth, take shorter showers, and change their towels less frequently. To travel sustainably, a big part of it is about making small changes and being conscious of our actions. 

The amazon river, aerial shot

Be mindful of your consumption habits

From which travel company to book with to dining out, our consumption habits make a difference in how sustainable our international travel can be. By booking with a small company owned and operated in the country you are travelling to (just like the ones we work with), you are automatically sending more of your money into the local community. The same goes for the restaurants and hotels that you visit. Big international chains don’t benefit the local economy as much as homestays, passionate independent businesses, and carefully chosen local tour companies. 

You can also bring your sustainability-conscious consumption habits with you from home. Choose public transport, bring fold-up shopping bags, pack your reusable water bottle, eat locally-grown fresh food, and buy locally where possible.

Tread lightly and leave nothing behind

To protect and respect the beautiful places of the world, it goes without saying that we shouldn’t litter. We could also go further and pick up stray bottles and cans for recycling. One less plastic bottle in the ocean is always a good thing, and David Attenborough will thank you for it.

Sometimes, there are more hidden ways that we could be disrupting an environment. For example, many sun lotions are highly toxic to marine life, so choosing an environmentally friendly brand is key if spending your holidays at the beach. Also, some items are essentially biodegradable, and we may feel they are ok to be left behind. But things like a banana skin can take a long time to break down, especially in certain environments. So travel sustainably, pack it up and take it with you. 

Conversely, we must be aware of what we take away with us. Picking up seeds, corals or pebbles can be depleting in some environments, especially if many people do it. Likewise, disrupting things like slow-growing moss or other vegetation should be avoided. Finally, think twice when buying souvenirs. Check if they contain things like shells, animal hide or coral that may have been gathered irresponsibly.

Contribute towards local conservation projects

Many nature reserves and conservation projects rely on entrance fees and visitor donations to sustain them. Make a point to always visit and support national parks and conservation areas when you travel. Aside from greatly enhancing your enjoyment, you’ll be supporting the local wildlife and important environmental protection endeavours.

conservation officers with elephants on a safari

Volunteering and making a difference on your trip

Ecological tourism and regenerative tourism are growing in popularity and are a rewarding way to travel and make a difference. There are thousands of small-scale organisations around the world dedicated to wide-ranging sustainable projects, from restoring coral reefs and forests to working with disadvantaged communities and environmental education. Planning a stint of volunteering for your trip will almost certainly enhance your travels and give something back. We believe that cultural exchange and understanding is one of the top positive impacts of travel. 

Make it happen

Travelling sustainably is not a matter of one size fits all, and it will mean different things to different people. But if you take on board at least a few of these sustainable tourism tips, you’ll be on a positive path to more planet-friendly travel and environmental protection. If you’re looking to plan your next adventure, get in touch with our local experts who can ensure your next trip is a responsible one.

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