Travel Team | Aug 25, 2023
As travel returns to — and exceeds — pre-pandemic levels, many are concerned about tourism’s negative impact on our environment. Sustainable travel can limit the harmful effects of overtourism and irresponsible practices, so that exploring the wonders of the world is something we can enjoy for generations to come.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization 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.”
When you participate in sustainable travel, you strive to limit your footprint on your destination, including its economy, culture, and community.
Sustainable travel can come in many different forms. Choosing public transportation, opting for eco-friendly lodging, or supporting local businesses are just a few examples of how you can practice sustainability on your next vacation.
Experiencing other cultures is such an enriching experience. As a form of gratitude or a rule of thumb, you should always try to leave a place better than you found it. Travel is a privilege, and it’s everyone’s responsibility to do it sustainably.
When learning to be a sustainable traveler, it is best to understand the effects of overtourism by breaking it into three sectors: ecological, economical, and social.
We all know travel impacts our environment, but how much harm does it really do?
The biggest impact on our environment comes from the way we travel. Commercial aviation in 2018 accounted for 2.4% of all global carbon emissions. And cruise ships are estimated to produce three to four times more carbon dioxide per passenger than airplanes.
The environmental impact of travel goes beyond transportation. With the tourism industry responsible for almost 10% of all carbon dioxide emissions, our daily travel habits play a role, too. Behaviors like leaving lights on, taking long showers, or not reusing towels at a hotel all contribute to emissions the same on vacation as they do at home.
Tourism plays a huge role in local economies. It generates revenue, employment, and foreign exchange. Sustainable travel asks us to consider where our money is going and the quality of employment generated by tourism.
Nearly 7% of jobs globally are in the tourism industry, but these positions often have low wages and poor hours. When we travel responsibly, we want to make sure working conditions are fair as well as make sure as much of our money stays within the host community. In many overtouristed areas, attractions, accommodations, and restaurants may be owned by multinational corporations, meaning that less of your money may be going to locals than you realize.
Getting exposure to other cultures is one of the most influential aspects of travel. As you meet new people, try new foods, and immerse yourself in their environment it is important to understand how your experience affects theirs.
When it comes to socially sustainable travel, we want to make sure our presence doesn’t dilute the authenticity of a culture or create unnecessary burdens on the host community.
Travel is one of the most wonderful things we get to experience in life. It fosters growth, personally and professionally. It unites cultures. Travel brings joy to so many people and deserves to be protected.
If we don’t take sustainable steps to limit our impact on the environment, travel for future generations could be at risk. Travel destinations may be remarkable, but they are not indestructible.
The sustainable travel movement is gaining momentum in the eyes of corporations and governments. Select airlines are working towards net-zero carbon emissions by the year 2050. With air travel at the top of the list in ecological impact, this project will be a turning point.
Other organizations are beginning to do their part, too. Eco-friendly lodging, sustainable travel gear, and shopping local are all being marketed as “the new way to travel.”
The future of travel and tourism is on the line, and to continue exploring the wonders this world has to offer, we have to adopt a more sustainable approach.
We can’t stop aircraft from releasing CO2 or tell our boss we can’t go on that work trip because it’s bad for the environment (even if we want to). So how can we travel more sustainably? This is a great question, and you aren’t the only one asking.
Per a survey done by National Geographic, 42% of travelers want to practice sustainable tourism, but only 15% are certain of what that sustainability means. There are many small habits you can adapt to become a sustainable traveler — and they are easier than you might think.
Take advantage of technology to become a sustainable traveler. With your smartphone at your fingertips, there is almost nothing you can’t research. Online language translators, cultural traditions, and social norms are a few key searches to ensure you are experiencing a destination in a culturally sensitive manner.
You can also research how destinations are tackling environmental concerns and choose to support those that match your values. Don’t like how City X treats its waterways? Skip it and book a trip to one of these eco-friendly destinations instead.
As sustainable travel grows, more options become available to us. Look for restaurants that limit their food waste, conserve water and energy, and use ethically sourced ingredients. These places are usually local, so you can also find relief in knowing where your dollar is going.
Eco-friendly hotels are becoming popular, both domestically and abroad. This is a great way to immerse yourself in the new environment and get a unique cultural experience. Don’t know where to look for eco-friendly lodging? Here’s a list of 10 of the best eco hotels in the world.
If your destination doesn’t require air travel, look into train transit systems. If this isn’t possible, focus on eco-friendly transportation once you reach your destination. Ride share services, biking, walking, and public train systems are all great ways to reduce your carbon footprint but still explore your destination.
One of the best ways to practice sustainable travel is by reducing your waste. This comes from small acts like using reusable water bottles, conserving water and energy at hotels, and recycling any waste that you can.
When preparing for your trip, invest in sustainable items. Whether that be clothing, shoes, or ski gear, purchasing high-quality goods will ensure its durability so you won’t have to replace it so frequently. Avoiding fast fashion helps the environment as much as it does your wallet in the long run. Better yet, skip purchasing a new vacation wardrobe altogether.
The constant hustle and bustle while on a vacation can be exhausting for both us and the environment. Instead of racing to all the hottest tourist spots and surrounding cities — generating extra emissions and waste as you hop from Point A to Point B — embrace a single site. This allows for a much more enriching and enjoyable experience.
To give local communities a break, try to plan your travels outside of peak tourist times. This helps fight overtourism, and off-season travel times are when the local economy needs your business most. Plus, you don’t have to deal with the excessive crowds and will find much better travel deals.
Reducing our impact on local communities is an important part of traveling sustainably, and travel insurance can help. If you get sick or hurt while traveling, you want to be able to not only protect yourself, but also the communities you visit by not putting unnecessary burden on their medical facilities.
With travel medical insurance for international trips, everyone has greater confidence that you can get the treatment you need, be evacuated in an emergency if appropriate medical care isn’t available at your destination, and pay for your treatment.
Learn more about how travel insurance can help you or get a quick quote online at SevenCorners.com.
Natalie Isbell is a senior studying General Management at Purdue University. Her interest in marketing and love for travel is what brought her to Seven Corners for an internship. Outside of work, you can find her spending time with family, staying active outdoors, and planning her next getaway.
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