Traveling far and wide has never been easier. When the urge to wander kicks in, you can now hop on a plane and the next thing you know you’re miles away from civilization and life as you know it. Maybe you’ll have to change a few transport means in between, but eventually you’re going to reach your destination. We’ve all become modern day explorers and there’s not much this planet can hide from us anymore.
Let’s take a look at some numbers to put things into perspective. The total contribution of travel and tourism to global economy amounted to 9.25tr USD in 2019. In the same year, 4.715 billion USD were spent in global leisure tourism and in 2018 approximately 1.4 billion international tourist arrivals were recorded. What do these figures tell us? That we travel a lot.
But while scouring the earth and discovering new places, cultures and experiences is a great way to nurture your spirit and broaden your horizons, it can also take a serious toll on the environment. That’s why sustainable travel has come into focus in recent years, as an alternative to traditional tourism. While we travel, we must also think of how our actions affect the planet and find ways to minimize the impact on the environment, so that generations to come can also enjoy this world’s wonders.
So here are some tips you can think of in-between takeoff and landing if you want to travel green and go from average tourist to superhero ecotourist.
Don’t follow the hype
There are some destinations that attract tourists like a magnet. Every year millions of travelers flock to hyped locations as if there were no other places on earth left to visit. It’s quite tempting to follow the pack and see for yourself what they have to offer, but as wonderful as these destinations might be, the crowds, the hustle and bustle, the hours spent waiting in line to see certain attractions take away some of their beauty. And what’s most important, their ecosystems are already under a lot of stress due to the high number of visitors, which means they really need a time out from tourists. So instead of adding to the numbers you can choose less popular places and give those hyper visited locations a well-deserved break.
Do your homework
When visiting a new place it’s always a good idea to learn a few essential things about it before you get there. Each destination has unique features and it’s worth getting as informed as possible so you can understand how you should behave once you are there and what you can do to protect them from damage. Learning about local specificities, local culture and the communities you’ll come in contact with will help you become more aware of your surroundings. By practicing empathy you’ll be able to connect better with the environment and enjoy your travel adventures while also caring both for your safety and for the planet.
Respect the wildlife
Wild animals are meant to live unbothered in their natural environments and not be used as means of entertainment for tourists. Unfortunately, in many popular destinations you’ll see wild animals in captivity, trained to do tricks for tourists. Don’t take part in wildlife shows or attractions if you don’t want to encourage these cruel practices.
Watching animals in their natural habitat is a unique experience, but you must make sure that your presence doesn’t disturb the wildlife. For example, if you want to go dolphin watching in the Algarve, choose a professional tour operator that follows local regulations and has high ethical standards regarding wildlife protection.
Before adventuring into the wild, remember that wild animals are not pets, so refrain from feeding them even if they seem friendly and cute, and when buying souvenirs, make sure they don’t come from animal sources.
Choose your transport wisely
How you travel is also important. Planes might be the fastest way to get to your dream destination, but they’re far from being eco-friendly. If you can, take the longer route and travel by train, bus or ferry. If you don’t have these options, the least you could do is book non-stop flights as they use less fuel.
Of course, in an ideal world we would all cycle our way around the world, and while you can’t use a bicycle as your exclusive transport method, you could include it in some parts of your journey. And when the odds are against you, public transportation is the second-best choice.
Look for eco-friendly accommodation
Hotel chains are not the greatest option if you’re looking for sustainable practices. Fortunately, they’re not the only type of accommodation available, so do your research and try to find an eco-friendlier alternative that will suit your ecotourism principles and your budget. Chances are you’ll be able to find smaller, independent accommodations that are much more in sync with nature and you’ll also have the chance to get a feel of the local community. If you’re lucky enough, you could come across organic farms or eco-lodges that promote a sustainable lifestyle and are actively involved in environmental conservation.
Supporting the local economy is another way to get involved in ecotourism. Don’t eat at famous fast-food chains just because you’re familiar with the menu. Since you’re not at home, try something different and get a taste of the local cuisine. You could eat at family-run diners in the local community or, even better, you could check out the local grocery shops, buy fresh products and prepare your own food if you have the possibility.
As for shopping, you could always roam all the small local shops and buy as many souvenirs as you like for everyone at home, but make sure they come from local sources and were not imported from some other place half-way around the world.