With so many apps and cost-saving websites dedicated to bringing low prices to potential travelers, it’s never been easier to explore a new culture located in a far-flung location.
The downside of the ease of travel, however, is that it’s that much easier to create a bigger carbon footprint as you hop on a train, plane, or, gulp, a cruise ship.
“The impact of tourism on the world can be negative or positive, and our goal is to see to it that the travel industry is a force for good,” Taleb Rifai, the secretary general of the World Tourism Organization, told The New York Times.
In 2015, there were nearly 1.2 billion international travelers, according to the United Nations.
The good news is, with a little planning and precaution, you can still circle the globe while being mindful of your impact on Mother Nature. Here are five ways travelers can become more sustainable and avoid harming the planet.
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1. Do your research.
Doing research sounds like a no-brainer before booking a trip, but be mindful of what you’re looking for when you research your travel destination. Different regions have different issues — some countries may be negatively affected by tourism due to lack of waste management systems, while others may struggle with protecting their wildlife.
“Really do your research beforehand … not in terms of ‘Oh should I go there or not?’ but in terms of becoming aware of what those different issues are,” Sustainable Travel International’s communications manager Kaitlyn Brajcich told Global Citizen. “You can then take action appropriately.”
Brajcich suggests searching online, talking to local nonprofits and conservation organizations to get an idea of the area’s issues.
Once you understand what issues affect your travel destination, you can make decisions that keep those problems in mind so that you’re not leaving behind a negative impact.
For example, if excess waste caused by tourism is an issue, Brajcich suggests first trying to reduce the amount of waste you’re generating while there — don’t use straws or plastic bags, bring a reusable water bottle or bring a filter device on your trip.
2. Offset your carbon footprint.
The carbon footprint of travel can be very high if you’re traveling by plane.
“You can’t really completely get rid of that ever,” Brajcich said. “But there are different things you can do to help reduce it.”
Brajcich recommends booking direct flights whenever possible, packing light (because the heavier a plane the more fuel it uses) and purchasing carbon offsets.
A carbon offset will reduce your carbon footprint by offsetting an emission elsewhere. For instance, an airline might fund a tree planting project thanks to travelers purchasing an offset when they book flights.
Some companies will include the cost of the offsets in the traveler’s overall price and Brajcich says that some tour operators even cover the carbon offset costs for the people that book through them.
Think about the most efficient mode of transportation once you’ve reached your destination — take a train, carpool or walk whenever you can.
3. Choose hotels with sustainability policies.
“You always hear about those hotels that are putting out those signs for guests to reuse their towels and that’s great,” Brajcich said. “But beyond that they really need to understand, ‘OK these are the destinations we’re working in, these are the sustainability issues that are the biggest concern here, and here’s how we can address those.’”
When you’re choosing a hotel, look for their sustainability policy and see what they’re doing to protect the environment or support the community. If the hotel doesn’t have a policy posted online, ask them about it.
Also, make sure the policy aligns with the actual problems of the area. If water conservation is a concern in the area, choose a hotel with a policy that goes beyond reusing towels. Look for policies that include the implementation of water-efficient technologies, for example.
4. Book eco-friendly tours.
Years ago, the term ecotourism invoked ideas of jungle travel, nature treks, and camping hikes. It’s true those trips are often eco-friendly, but not necessarily the type of trip everyone likes to take for a vacation. Nowadays, it’s possible to book a good tour or even stay in a lavish hotel while still being mindful of sustainable tourism.
If you want to explore your surroundings using tour agencies, make sure they are eco-friendly. This seems simple enough, but to be sure of their legitimacy, travel expert Costas Christ recommends asking them three questions, “What are some of your tour company’s environmentally friendly practices? Can you give me an example of how your trips help to protect and support wildlife or cultural heritage? Do you employ local guides on your trips?”
5. Support the local economy.
If you purchase locally made items, you will have a more positive impact on the real local economy. That may mean spending a little bit more, but it’s worth the cost. Don’t buy the mass-produced items from out of the country masquerading as a local good. Buying from the locals secures their jobs and supports the area’s culture.
It’s also important not to buy items made from endangered wildlife — when foreigners purchase items made with the region’s wildlife they increase the demand for trafficked goods.
Global Citizen campaigns on issues related to the environment. You can take action here.