I was recently at the ATWS conference in Salta, Argentina among hundreds of other adventure travelers. While there were many topics covered, everyone could relate to one in particular – sustainable travel. From journalists to tour operators, everyone wanted to know how to be a more sustainable traveler.
You’ve probably heard the term thrown away, but do you know what it means? According to the World Tourism Organization, it’s defined as “tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment, and host communities.” More people are traveling than ever before, which I think is amazing. However, that also means more people are leaving an impact on the world, and that’s oftentimes unintentionally negative.
One of the speakers that made the greatest impact on me at the conference was James Thorton, the chief executive of Intrepid Travel. Now one of the biggest travel companies in the world, Intrepid started out small and faced many obstacles on their way to get to where they are today. They turned down some potentially big partnerships because they didn’t align with their values when it came to sustainable travel. Intrepid was also the first company to stop doing elephant rides on their tours, which was a big risk.
So how can you help lessen the impact on our planet? You may think there’s no way just you can make a difference, but if thousands of people start changing the way they travel, we all can slowly make a difference. These steps may seem small, but try to start incorporating the following habits into your future trips.
Bring a reusable water bottle
This is one of the easiest ways you can start making a difference. If you buy a plastic water bottle every time you need water on a trip, that can add up to dozens of bottles being used just by you. Many countries don’t have a recycling system in place either, so these will just end up in a landfill. The small ship cruise company UnCruise does a great job of this and gives each person on their trip their own reusable water bottle for the entire trip.
Stay at “green” hotels
Take direct flights when possible
I’ll be the first one to say I recognize this isn’t possible many times, but you can decrease the number of planes you get on. Unfortunately, air travel is not helping the environment at all, but many places can only be flown to. Try to choose the route that has the least amount of flights when booking your trip to help cut down on reducing how much fuel the environment is exposed to.
Take local transportation
Along those same lines, try not to fly when possible. Countries like Europe have made it very easy to get around by train, and this is actually my preferred method. Trains and busses still emit carbon, but it’s much less than a single flight does. Many train stations are right in the center of town, so it’s even more convenient than having to get transportation to the city from the airport.
Decline straws and napkins
Every time you get on a plane, they give you a napkin with each snack and drink. Many times they’ll also give you a straw. Restaurants are no different – extra napkins and straws are given out that either doesn’t get used or aren’t needed. I can’t tell you the last time I actually needed a straw for a drink. Start telling your waitress or flight attendant no thank you when they offer you napkins or straws.
Decline shopping bags
Who doesn’t love buying souvenirs on trips? I know I love picking up a local scarf or spices when I go to other countries. They always want to give you a plastic bag to put it in though, no matter how small the item is. I make sure to have a large bag or purse with me so I can put my souvenirs straight in there and not waste plastic.
Turn off electronics
When you leave your hotel room, turn off all the lights and unplug anything that’s charging. Luckily it’s becoming more of a trend for the electricity to be on only if your keycard is in a slot, so this isn’t as much of a problem. I hope to see this continue with other hotels.
Hire local guides
A local guide is a great way to see the city and find some spots that aren’t as touristy. Instead of booking with a larger company, hire a guide locally. This will help support the community, as more of your money will go in their pockets. You also have a greater chance that the guide will want to protect their hometown and take precautions when showing you around to preserve it.
Don’t take “souvenirs” from the beach
I know it’s tempting to take that beautiful seashell you found in Hawaii or some of the sand to remember your visit, but can you imagine if everyone did that? The beaches would have nothing left, which would destroy the environment and your experience. Take pictures of anything you want, but leave everything where it is.
Switch to paperless tickets
Almost every airline and booking site now has an app you can download instead of printing out dozens of pieces of paper. They have all the information you need and often are faster to use than searching through all your papers, so download these before you travel.
Do you try to be a sustainable traveler?
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