How To Travel More Sustainably On Your Next Trip
WHAT IS SUSTAINABLE TRAVEL?
Sustainable travel has been a hot topic for the past few years, and for good reason! Summed up, it's the concept of visiting somewhere as a tourist whilst trying to make a positive impact on the local environment, society, and economy at the same time. It starts before we even reach our destination, from making smarter choices about how we travel to being conscious of where we spend our dollars. Some things are easier said than done, but we can all make tiny tweaks and impactful choices as we travel.
Tourism benefits society by boosting economic growth, preserving traditional ways of living, aiding wildlife conservation, and improving the general quality of living, especially in poorer parts of the world. However, due to the exponential increase in tourism over the past few decades, there's a new spotlight on the urgency of us altering our behaviour to support the communities we visit and minimise damage to the environment.
To get you started, here we've gathered a few practical ways you can travel more sustainably on your next adventure!
AVOID SINGLE-USE PLASTICS
Water bottles & coffee cups
Our number one travel essential is a reusable water bottle! The best way to reduce your waste output is to produce less. With most accommodation and restaurants - especially in Asia - providing free water refills, you can fill these up and remove your need to buy plastic bottles on the go! If you're a coffee fanatic, a reusable keep cup is a good thing to have handy.
Straws are pesky little things that restaurants like to give out no matter what you order! Fruit juice, cheeky cocktail, or humble can of coke, in Asia you can bet it'll come with a straw. Surely one can't hurt? But if you add up every drink order from every person who's travelling, you're left with a pretty hefty number. It's as simple as reminding the waiters that you don't need a straw, and if you really do need or prefer one, grab a reusable bamboo or metal straw to bring with you.
Leave the extra plastic at home
Without realising it, the amount of plastic we use when travelling adds up - think shampoo, conditioner, sunscreen bottles, etc. Making small changes with your products can go a long way. Many brands now have shampoo and conditioner bars, perfect for travelling as they're a lot light, small, and last for ages. Win-win! Travel-size products are cute, but sadly are a waste of packaging. Instead, invest in travel size reusable containers that you can use on all future trips. Other easy swaps include packing a reusable shopping/tote bag to use on your travels rather than plastic bags, using a bamboo toothbrush, and opting for biodegradable or reusable face wipes.
MINIMISE THE IMPACTS OF FLYING
If you're off on an inter-continental trip, let's face it, you're probably going to be flying. When close to home we can opt for greener transport options like trains, but if you need to fly there are ways you can carbon offset your trip to reduce the impact of greenhouse gases. Carbon offsets are voluntary schemes that donate to forestry or energy projects. The easiest option is to offset directly with your airline when booking for an extra fee, but organisations like Greenfleet or Myclimate offer similar services. Definitely something to look into when thinking about your next flight!
Planes are also notorious for producing plastic waste. Everything is disposable or repackaged for each flight, but if you bring your own headphones and blanket you can avoid having to open a new package.
PROTECT OUR REEFS
Sunscreen is crucial when travelling, but some products contain chemicals that cause extensive damage to corals and contribute to bleaching. The main culprits are two ingredients that block UV rays - oxybenzone and octinoxate. It's estimated that over 14, 000 tonnes of sunscreen enter the ocean each year.
To protect the ocean and all of its wonderful creatures, next time you buy sunscreen consider switching to one that's labelled as 'reef-friendly', not containing the toxic chemicals and perfumes that damage the ocean. Look out for mineral sunscreens that contain non-nano (larger particle) zinc oxide and titanium dioxide that form a safer barrier on your skin. A lot of dive shops sell them if you're already travelling, or purchase some online.
It's also a good idea to avoid spray sunscreens. Sprays cause a lot of the product to fly away in the air rather than land on your body, so it's always better for your skin and the environment to slip slop slap it on!
AVOID UNETHICAL ANIMAL ENCOUNTERS
Animals should be allowed to live as free from human interference as possible. It's tempting to want to pose with exotic animals on the street for a tip, or to ride an elephant, but animals should never be used for human entertainment. If you are keen to see animals there are plenty of ways to encounter them in the wild, such as on a safari, visiting a sanctuary, snorkelling or going on a dolphin-spotting trip.
RESPECT THE SIGHTS
Travelling lets you see places you'd only ever dreamed of, so be sure to do your part to maintain the beauty for future visitors. Whether snorkelling in Thailand, exploring the Angkor Wat temple complex or hiking through the jungle, avoid stepping on fragile landscapes and try to 'leave no trace'. Take only photos, leave only footprints. If you see any trash on your journey, take the time to pick it up and leave your surroundings better than you found them.
SUPPORT LOCAL ECONOMIES
Supporting local businesses allows you to directly feed into the economy, and smaller companies usually have better sustainability practices than big chains. Making conscious buying decisions has a positive impact everywhere, and when you travel remember you are voting with your money. Here are a few ways to help keep it local!
Eating at independent restaurants and markets is one way of making sure your money is supporting the local economy. In return, you'll gain authentic insight into the genuine flavours of the area. Another way to reduce your carbon footprint is by opting to cut out meat and/or dairy, even just for a meal here and there. Most cuisines offer many tasty vegetarian and vegan options, and occasionally cutting out animal products can encourage you to try something new!
Similarly to eating local, by buying from local stores for food, souvenirs, and ingredients rather than larger supermarkets, you'll be helping the community thrive. Overtourism can strain natural ecosystems and infrastructure, but by travelling outside of peak season/main holidays, the money you spend will help businesses that struggle outside of peak season.
Live like a local
Homestays are a great way to experience local life and have a bona fide travelling experience. They're usually run by families who are eager to get to know you and treat you like royalty, often by cooking delicious meals! Owners of homestays also tend to be more eco-conscious. Try a homestay on your next trip and you won't look back.
We all love to shop around for a good deal when it comes to flights, but once you're on the ground try to travel like a local! Whether it's by bus, train, taxi, or tuk-tuk, you'll support local drivers and see things from an authentic point of view. You can often haggle the price of a journey, especially in Asia, but always remember to pay a fair price to support drivers' livelihoods.
Next time you're embarking on an adventure, try integrating some of these sustainable practices. At INTRO, travelling responsibly whilst being eco-conscious is incredibly important to us. Through Small Change, our socially conscious travel initiative, we aim to bring a positive change to the places we visit on our group tours by protecting the environment, supporting local communities, cultural exchange & communication, and supporting animal welfare. Find out more about what we do here!