Saturday, 21 January 2023 | World
Traveling is one of life's greatest pleasures. It allows us to experience unique cultures, meet new people and create unforgettable memories. However, as the number of tourists continues to grow, so does the impact on the environment and local communities. That's why sustainable travel is becoming more important than ever.
Sustainable travel is about exploring the world while minimizing the negative impacts of tourism on the environment and local communities. It's about being a responsible traveler and leaving a positive impact on the places you visit. So I thought it might be a good idea to explore some of the ways we can travel the world without harming it!
Here are some things to consider when planning your next trip:
One of the most significant ways to reduce the environmental impact of your trip is to choose eco-friendly accommodations and transportation options. This could mean staying at a hotel that uses renewable energy, or choosing a train or bus instead of a plane. You could also consider biking or walking to explore your destination.
Some destinations lend themselves well to being explored by foot or bike, such as European cities like Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Vienna.
Many accomodation options are taking sustainability more seriously and installing environmentally friendly solutions such as solar power, water conservation strategies and recycling.
Another important aspect of sustainable travel is supporting local businesses and communities. When you buy from local merchants, you're helping to stimulate the local economy and preserve traditional cultures. You can also choose to stay in locally-owned accommodations or take a tour led by a local guide.
Buying local also reduces the environmental costs of transporting goods. So next time, rather than buying the imported plastic souvenir, try to find something more authentic that benefits the community and the environment.
Minimizing waste is another key aspect of sustainable travel. You can do this by bringing reusable items such as water bottles and shopping bags. You should also try to avoid single-use plastics and disposable products.
There is a tendency to get lazy when we travel and ignore some of the good habits we use at home because it is inconvenient.
But with a small amount of planning, things like single use plastics can be avoided, even when travelling.
Some countries, such as Rwanda, have implemented bans on single use plastics and they are not permitted to be brought into the country. Other countries including UAE, Australia and the UK are moving towards similar bans.
When traveling, it's essential to be mindful of your impact on the environment and local culture. This means being respectful of wildlife and protected areas, and being sensitive to local customs and traditions. It's also important to avoid activities that could harm the environment, such as littering or disturbing wildlife.
Whilst you might only be one person who goes hiking through that National Park, you could be one of a million people! Simple things like keeping to marked trails prevent you damaging important revegetation areas.
Unfortunately there are too many stories of travellers chasing photos for social media and causing extensive damage to the environment.
Sustainable travel is also about being an informed traveler. Before you go, take some time to research the culture and customs of the place you're visiting. This will help you understand and appreciate the local culture, and avoid any unintentional cultural faux pas.
With more people looking to explore unique destinations, it is becoming increasingly difficult for remote communities to maintain their traditional cultures. This can be as simple as respecting that in some communities, the taking of photos is not encouraged. So rather than attempting to bribe locals into having their photo taken, respect the culture and simply enjoy the experience.
Another way to make your trip more sustainable is to plan your itinerary to reduce carbon emissions. This could mean choosing destinations that are close to each other, or opting for more sustainable forms of transportation. Travel via plane is one of the largest contributors to the environmental impact of travel, so exploring ways to minimise your time in the air is one of the most effective strategies to combat your own footprint.
Sometimes travelling by plane is almost unavoidable, so you could also consider offsetting your carbon footprint by supporting projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Most airlines offer a carbon offset option when booking your flight, which ends up being only a small percentage of the overall cost.
If you have developed good habits at home, try to pack them with you when you travel.
When travelling, people will often decide to start needing fresh towel every single day, but at home they will conserve water by only washing their towel every few days.
If you take 2 minute showers at home, try to do the same when you travel - the destination you are visiting might have even less water reserves than your home town.
Consider whether there are options other than taking a car ride between sights - a 30 minute walk might be the best way to burn off all the pastries you enjoyed for morning tea!
Rwanda - A case study for sustainable travel
Rwanda has faced significant social, political and environmental issues in its recent history. These include devastating civil war, poverty and the near extinction of the mountain gorilla. Through the implementation of key environmental strategies, Rwanda can now be seen a success story of how community initiatives and sustainable travel can benefit a destination.
Whilst many people may think of many African countries with the stereotype of litter filled streets, Rwanda could not be further from this image. A ban of single use plastic since 2008, includes restrictions on tourists bringing plastic into the country. You will be asked to hand over any single use plastics as you pass through border control. Every Saturday, local communities spend time cleaning the streets of any rubbish. As a result, the streets of Rwanda are remarkably clean and you will find it difficult to spot any plastic anywhere in public.
Illegal poaching took the local mountain gorilla population to the brink of extinction. People in communities were being paid money to capture or kill these incredible animals, so they could be sold on the black market. Conservation programs fought hard to protect gorilla populations and the government introduced a reform program that educated former poaches to become guides for tourists - rewarding their communities with proceeds from the tourism industry that was growing on the back of the gorillas. Over time, the success of the tourism industry has provided jobs for local people, paid for security for the gorillas and seen a significant increase in gorilla population. The number of tourists allowed to visit the gorillas is tightly controlled and the time spent with any family group strictly limited. Rwanda has respected the need to protect its most valuable resource from being exploited and in turn, it is being rewarded with the demand for people to travel to Rwanda increasing.
Boracay - when over-tourism reaches a critical tipping point
In April 2018, the Phillipines Government closed the popular resort island of Boracay to all tourists for the purpose of urgent rehabilitation. The effects of over-tourism had reached a point where the environmental damage was reaching a critical point. Stories of outlets releasing raw sewerage into the ocean were common, resulting in catastrophic algal blooms. The once beautiful beaches were being destroyed by overcrowding, littering and congestion from unrestricted vendors.
Over a 6 month period, the government attempted to clean up the island and restore many of the traditional customs of the indigenous people of Boracay. There has been a significant reduction in the number of operators permitted to be on the island and their impact on the environment. A huge clean up removed tonnes of rubbish from sensitive areas such as wetlands and the government has introduced eco-friendly transport option such as e-trikes.
Whilst the closure was extremely controversial, the government has declared the rehabilitation and environmental success story. Early indicators suggest that from an environmental viewpoint, there have been significant improvements.
Sustainable travel is all about exploring the world while minimizing the negative impacts of tourism on the environment and local communities. Travel can take us to some of the most fragile ecosystems on the planet, as well as some of the most impacted. By making small changes to how we travel can have enormous benefits on the environment.
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