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Sustainable tourism is gaining more and more traction across news media and social media feeds. Here’s what to know and how to make sustainable & Eco-friendly traveling decisions.
What’s Sustainable Tourism?
Sustainable tourism is visiting destinations in a manner that has a positive, long term impact on the destination’s social, economic and environmental status. It’s a way to show that you care.
Other associated terms you may have seen are eco-friendly travel, responsible travel, ethical travel, green travel and ecotourism. All have overlapping objectives.
The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is the United Nations agency responsible for the promotion of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism defines sustainable tourism 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”
Know the difference of mass tourism.
Simply put mass tourism is when travelers descend on a destination in droves.
Because of this, some companies in the travel industry are solely in it for profit. Their over consumption puts a strain on resources and there’s no positive commitments to local communities, culture and environment.
Thus, knowing and identifying how to be a sustainable traveler, takes knowing the information of sustainability and Eco friendly travel and turning them into mindful and Earth friendly travel decisions.
Being aware is a game changer.
Side note: I was blissfully unaware about Google giving exact bus time arrivals here in Singapore. In addition to walking, share riding and taking the subway. My transportation choices have been upped for the better! I’m weirdly obsessed on taking the bus at every chance I get.
Ever see Jesse Eisenberg’s guest appearance on Modern Family, as the environmental nagging neighbor?
It’s a shaming – 1-upper- passive aggressive- battle type of conversation where a toddler finishes the exchange by a criticizing, mic-dropping comment. It’s hilarious.
Neighbor: Hey there, neighbor
Mitchell: Oh hey
Neighbor: I just wanted to let you know. I think there’s something wrong with your A.C.
Mitchell: Oh really?
Neighbor: Yeah, it seems to be running a lot. Even when it’s cool outside.
Mitchell: Oh, my partner runs a little hot sooo….
Neighbor: (interrupts) Not as hot as our planet. Sorry. I don’t mean to be “that guy”. We’re just all in this together.
Mitchell: Yeah, I drive a Prius soooo…..
Neighbor: (interrupts again) And that’s a nice little gesture. My car runs on reclaimed cooking oil. I have some literature if you want it.
Mitchell: That’s okay. Save the paper
Neighbor: I haven’t printed anything since 2004. I was going to email it to you.
Mitchell: On your power hungry computer?
Neighbor: My entire house is solar powered. I sell that energy back to the grid and use that money to save polar bears.
Mitchell: I’m an environmental lawyer. I’m pretty green.
Neighbor: Hmmm…so is your lawn. I went drought tolerant. Succulents, indigenous plants, a rock garden.
Lily: My other Daddy, says your yard looks like a litter box.
While his character takes a confrontational -holier than thou – approach.
I’m just here to lay some knowledge and promote awareness.
Sharing Is Caring 🙂
The point to sustainable travel is to prolong positive social, economical and environmental sustainability on a set destination.
Take a look at Forbes’s article about Venice, Italy and its’ destruction set by mass tourism.
Who can be a sustainable traveler and how?
Anyone. Anyone who’s traveling for leisure, business or visiting family and friends can make sustainable travel decisions in transportation, accommodations, entertainment, recreation and shopping.
Recently, I chatted with a few friends whose companies were flying them to cities for 2-3 hour meetings. Only to have them turn back the same day. REALLY? A call can’t satisfy this? Shamefully, one was for a L.E.E.D.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards meeting. Yup! I publicly shamed that!
1) Do your research
Research thoroughly to be In-The-Know.
No matter where you go, how you get there and what you do. Knowledge is power. It’s amazing how much information is on the internet. Be mindful that the researched resources are credible and responsible.
I do like UNESCO’s thorough and in depth wealth of information for sustainable travel. Also, check out The Center for Responsible Travel (Crest) who’s raising awareness to smarter traveling that protect and conserve destination’s heritage and environment.
By making conscious traveling consumer decisions, puts a demand on traveling companies and policy making organizations to make efforts towards sustainable tourism.
Much like the demand for change of our food sources. Travelers are making demands for change, which has some traveling businesses responding.
2) When to Travel
Travel during the off season. It’s fewer crowds, lower flight rates, and it’s much likely to be a better and more profound experience.
3) Where to go
Check out WanderlustCrew’s post about over tourism. It’s a fantastic article providing alternative worldwide destinations of low impact tourism and equally if not better destinations and why try out the alternatives rather than the popular destinations.
I love it because it’s an alternative Popular Bucket Destination List that will re prioritize your wanderlust and ignite your adventurous spirit to plan to visit these jaw-dropping destinations.
4) Booking a guide or tour group
This is a great way to contribute to the local economy.
When tour companies contribute to the local economy and environment. They will spread it all over the inter webs. Okay- more likely their website. Be on the lookout for reputable sustainability and environmentally friendly programs and campaigns posted on their sites. Don’t forget to read reviews.
Just be wary of lingo. There’s no global set of laws preventing using the word eco-friendly, chemical free, green friendly, etc. So they can be used haphazardly.
Read up on reviews on TripAdvisor. Also, check out AirBnB’s experiences page. It will give you a list of locals providing services to your specific things to do list – attractions, eating – drinking tours, etc.
5) Planes, trains and automobiles
Choose direct flights. Check out the International Air Transport Association about airlines who offer carbon offset programs.
Also check out TripSavvy’s article on airline sustainability and sustainable tourism.
Use public transport, walk and or bicycle. Some countries offer a tourist transport card that can be used on all mass transportation and (sometimes) entry into museums.
Share riding or book vehicles that are hybrid or electric.
Don’t want to travel by air? Travel by bus, train, or ferry. It’s more time consuming but less in carbon emissions than planes.
Traveling locally is always a plus! Road trip anyone? Be a road warrior and take a long weekend by road trip. Read my road trip tips on my New Zealand adventure (scroll down on the post to get to the tips part).
Staying with Friends and Family is not only a money saver but also gives you an advantage of where to go from a local’s perspective. It gains insight into local living.
If not staying with family and friends, try AirBnB’s camping, or Ecobnb.com for European sustainable tourism.
Accommodations will also highlight their best features on their website. They will provide detail information what organic materials they are using, energy efficiencies systems, green programs, etc.
Any accommodation that is not part of a big business organization will most likely be supporting the local economy. Which means they are buying from local farmers, employing locals and keeping the profits within the community.
Unless you had a complete bender HangOver night in your hotel room. Throw the Do Not Disturb sign on your door to skip the daily cleaning.
Let’s be real. At home, I don’t wash my bed sheets and towels everyday. Nor do I vacuum daily either. Why do it when traveling. Conserve water and energy.
8) Drink and eat local
You’re in a new area, experience the local foods!
Best way to get immersed is to dine from the local markets, cafes & restaurants.
9) Don’t forget to reward your experience
I get super stoked when peeps send me a message on how my little blog has provided them insight. Why not do the same for your accommodations, tour guide & food eateries, etc.
Let them know out in the social media space and reviewing sites how well they did and about your experience / recommendation. It’s another way to give back to the local community. Plus it kicks it back to Number 1) on this list of doing research. It will Pay it Forward.
10) Travel essentials
Travel with must-have accessories that reduce the use of single-use plastic. Reusable travel mug, tote bags, a straw (especially if you’re planning to be drinking & eating a lot of coconuts).
I’m super digging on Klean Kanteen’s Collection of high performing bottles.
Personally I’m always looking for plastic free life changers and my ultimate go to’s are for shampoo, conditioners, body wash and face wash.
I find complete satisfaction in Ethique Eco Friendly products. Their shampoo, conditioner, face wash and body wash options are plastic free, liquid free (amazing for travel) and cruelty-Free, TSA Friendly and compostable. WIN, WIN, WINNING ALL OVER THE PLACE! And my hair and skin LOVE these products.
Here’s food for thought:
If you practice reducing plastic (see above image), think about if your family and friends also do the above. Then expand that thought to everyone in your neighborhood, communities, and their families and friends and so on.
Whoa. That’s a lot of reduced plastic waste WIN. And less taking out the trash / recyclables chores.
11) Know the culture
Know your Ps and Qs of your set destination.
Learn the basics of a foreign language. A please, thank you, hello, goodbye and nice to meet you, goes a long way.
Read up on local customs and traditions that could save embarrassment and miss communication.
For example, food customs when dining in groups are different everywhere. I grew up where it’s polite to start eating when everyone at the table is seated and has a plate. In some areas of the world, it’s standard to start after the eldest person at the table has started to eat.
Mixing it up a little more, I’ve also sat at a table where finishing your plate signals you’re still hungry and you will be served more food. In an opposite situation, I’ve sat at a table where it was disrespectful & wasteful not to finish everything on my plate.
12) Be In The Know of How to Identify Artificial Encounters.
When it comes to tourist attractions involving animals (elephants, swimming with – enter any species here -, petting exotic animals, etc) and visiting local life. It’s important to recognize what is truly authentic.
What could seem to be a harmless interaction. Can turn out to be a magic trick of tourist traps filled distraction and smoke and mirrors.
Shaazzz- no, thanks.
Don’t fall for artificial encounters.
Take a read on visiting villages in Thailand of women who wear rings to stretch their necks in Thailand.
What happens to the snakes who are being “charmed”.
Ever see the opportunity to get a picture with a cub (lion or tiger)?
Usually these cub petting programs breed endangered animals, solely to provide quick encounters for profit. After a month of being born, most are taken from their mothers and forced into petting programs. Sadly, the monies are not put towards wildlife conservation or sustainable tourism.
Don’t be chasing the Instagram game for soulless encounters.
The default question that comes to my mind is, what happens to the cubs after infancy phase?
Shamefully, these types of program force cat reproduction only to keep the program alive. Some cats are slaughtered for their bones and coats. While the rest are drugged and baited for “hunters” who pay to shoot (canned hunting) and to keep shooting them until they are dead.
Undeniably, it is a sad existence for these magnificent and beautiful animals.
Check out the below video, where Elisabeth Brentano powerfully highlights the tourism, awareness and conservation of our planet’s wildlife with big cats.
It is a brilliant – Be in the know – video.
How does one avoid all this and see through it all?
Research, my friends. Research. And intuition. Ever read about why it’s never a good idea to ride on elephants? Or should the question be, did you know it’s not good? I had no idea until I started to question, “is this right?” My research took me to visit an elephant rescue program to find out more and what it all meant.
Take the extra 10 minutes and deep dive into the research of the morality of the excursion you’re planning on taking.
Now, if you’re thinking I’m taking this to the emotional level of Sarah Mclachlan’s Angel song that’s forever embedded as the battle song for animal cruelty awareness.
Let me, warm the cockles of your heart by telling you how to have amazing authentic cruelty free and sustainable encounters!!!
There are SO many amazing opportunities to have genuine experiences with cultures and wildlife.
13) National Parks & UNESCO World Heritage sites & Sanctuaries
Instead of zoos or mass touristy areas, have a go at visiting National Parks, UNESCO World Heritage sites and reputable sanctuaries working in animal rehabilitation.
Sanctuaries’s objectives are to rescue animals that have been illegally obtained and or bred. They focus on assisting these animals to learn to be their species again (rehabilitation). The ultimate goal is to release back into the wild or into a protected area.
I love visiting these types of areas, because I learn so much more about the country, communities, nature and wildlife. Plus have you seen National Parks and UNESCO World Heritage Sites?! They are spectacular!! You will feel like you are on assignment for National Geographic.
14) Boat life
Boat life is a lot of fun. Being mindful of water life is part of sustainable travel.
I love how Hawaii has banned certain sunscreens that have negative impact on marine life.
Check out Travel & Leisure’s article on Reef Safe Sunscreen.
And of course stay off coral.
Buy from local artisans. This keeps the profits in the local economy. If you’re in Mexico and a sombrero says MADE IN CHINA, put it down and WALK AWAY.
Know the origin of the souvenir. Don’t buy items made from animals or taken from the ocean.
The above picture is of Seji Taram. I was fortunate to meet her in Bali, Indonesia when piggy packing on a trip my girlfriend was hired for Novica. Seji’s story of resilience, ambition and talent had me star struck. It was such an honor to be in her presence, her home, and to see her work.
Some of the best items & experiences I have, are from locals.
Volunteering while traveling completely steps up on how to travel with meaning. There are wildlife sanctuaries, stray dog organizations, beach clean up, education programs and schools all needing support. Here are a couple of programs to check out:
Don’t have the time, no worries. Simply picking up litter is a sure way of being a decent human being. Another way to help is to donate to a local program whilst traveling.
On a side note: Kiva is a great organization. My family has been gifting each other kiva cards that provide loans to others in foreign countries to sustain their business. It’s a great way to give in the spirit of the gifting holidays.
Let’s not turn our planet home into a wasteland filled with hot, smelly and poisonous gas.
Rather lets turn the dial on sustainable tourism. And focus on preserving, prolonging in enjoying what we have, in order to pass it off to our offspring.
“Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference.”
– Jane Goodall