The United Nations has declared 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. In doing this, the UN has put the spotlight on the effects of climate change on tourism. It also encourages us to take a look on tourism’s impact on the environment.
This focus on the relationship between tourism and climate change couldn’t come any sooner. Climate change is a growing concern worldwide, and tourism certainly plays a part in it. According to the UN, tourism accounts for 5% of global carbon emissions. The transport sector, on which tourism is highly dependent, is responsible for 75% of the CO2 released in the atmosphere. The places that tourists like to visit are becoming increasingly vulnerable to the changing climate patterns.
As tourists, we have a special responsibility to the planet in fighting global warming and climate change. After all, there are more than a billion of us traveling across the world every year. If all of us do our part, we can minimize our carbon footprint and slow down climate change.
Practicing sustainable travel is a lot easier than you think. Here are 13 tips on how to be an environmentally responsible tourist.
1. Do your research first.
Before you book your trip, you should do your research on your destination first. Get to know things about your destination, such as:
· What the weather there is like
· How to get from place to place using public transportation
· The local food
· The local customs
· The social and political climate
The more you become familiar with your destination, the less likely you are to fall into tourist traps. You’d also know what to bring on your trip and how to behave while you’re there. More importantly, you’d know how to avoid getting into trouble and how to get out of it just in case. There are plenty of websites and guidebooks to help you with your research. Among the most reliable ones are Lonely Planet and Rough Guides. In Norway, check out Reiserådet.
2. Don’t fall for “greenwashing.”
It’s fashionable to be eco-friendly these days. More and more tourists are becoming environmentally conscious. To cash in on the trend, some service providers in the tourism industry brand themselves as “eco-friendly.” But in practice, they really are not. When the eco-friendly marketing and branding of a tourism company doesn’t match its actual practice, it’s called “greenwashing.”
So, before your trip, check if the service providers you’re going to use during your trip are really eco-friendly. Make it part of your research and planning. Don’t take their marketing spiel at face value. Ask your tour operator if they’re using local guides to take their guests around. Call your accommodations and inquire if they employ locals. Check their environmental policies and if they’re part of any ecotourism organizations. Make sure they all check out before booking with them.
3. Plan your packing carefully.
If you have done your research thoroughly, then you’d know what you should bring with you on your trip. So you won’t forget, make a list of the things you need to bring. Segregate your things according to use as you pack them in your suitcase.
When you give careful thought with your packing, you minimize the possibility that you’d forget something important. Thus, you won’t have to waste money buying stuff because you forgot to bring them from home. Besides, what are you going to do with your duplicate stuff when you get back home? You’re going to either throw them away or add them to the clutter in your house. Both would be extremely wasteful.
Don’t forget to bring a refillable, BPA-free water bottle. Make sure it’s empty when you board your plane. Airline staff won’t allow you to bring a full water bottle on board. Bring a reusable shopping bag with you as well if you plan on buying souvenirs.
4. Travel light.
So you need to make sure you’ve packed everything you need for your trip. Having said that, make it a point to travel as lightly as possible. Once you’ve made your list of the things you must take with you on your trip, double-check everything. Go over each item and see if you really need it. If you can live a few days without it, leave it at home.
Also, as much as possible, you should pack wrinkle-resistant clothes that can be worn a number of times. It would even be better if they can be washed easily in the hotel sink and dry quickly. In this way, you won’t have to bring a whole load of clothes on your trip.
First-time traveller? Read my article about what you should have with you.
5. Adopt responsible habits at your accommodations.
A lot of tourists have wasteful habits when at their hotel. For example, they leave the lights and air conditioning on when they go out. Or they leave the faucet running while shaving or brushing their teeth. Or they ask housekeeping to prove fresh towels daily. Such habits waste energy and water. They also push the hotel to use more cleaning chemicals and detergents that may be harmful to the environment.
When you’re at your hotel, you’d be doing the local environment a huge favor by adopting responsible habits. It’s not really that hard to do. They’re just simple things like using a glass when brushing your teeth or turning off the lights before leaving. These things can add up and do a lot of good.
Also, is it really necessary for you to have housekeeping clean your room daily? If the sheets still feel and smell comfortable, maybe you can use them for a few nights more. Leave a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door to tell the staff not to clean your room.
6. Use public transport.
If you’re confident enough to drive around where you’re going, then by all means rent a car. But it’s more eco-friendly to use public transport or alternative ways of getting around. Get on a bus or a train to get around. Rent a bike. Better yet, if your destination is not that far, take a walk.
When you use public transport or alternative transport, you minimize your carbon footprint as you travel. It’s also an adventure. These modes of transport will expose you more to the locals and their way of life. They will add more color to your trip.
A lot of cities around the world have also city bikes which you can rent. Good for the environment and good for your health.
7. Learn a few native phrases.
You don’t need to take a crash course on the language the locals speak at your destination. Nonetheless, it will help you a lot if you know a few basic phrases. Knowing how to say “hello” and “thank you” in the local language can take you far on your trip.
Learning a few basic phrases in the local language doesn’t just help you communicate with the locals. It also endears you to them. It shows them that you have taken the effort to get to know them more. That’s something they appreciate a lot. They’d also be more willing to help you out if you need assistance on your travel.
Wanna learn how to say hello in other languages? Read my post on 62 ways to say hello and thank you:
8. Be mindful of the local customs.
When you have guests staying over at your house, naturally you’d expect them to follow your house rules. You’d be upset if they don’t, as they’d be violating your hospitality. The same thing applies when you’re traveling to a different place, especially a different country. You’re going to upset the locals if you don’t observe their customs.
Sadly, a lot of tourists insist on doing things their way when they travel to other countries. It’s rudeness borne out of a bloated sense of superiority. Don’t expect the locals to be friendly and welcoming if you carry on being the rude foreigner.
Thus, learn the customs of the people living in your destination before you go there. Observe these customs as much as possible. For example, in Muslim countries, women are discouraged from showing too much skin. So if you’re traveling to a Muslim country, try to dress conservatively. In most Southeast Asian countries, it’s considered bad manners to talk to someone loudly in public. No matter how annoyed or angry you are, try to stay calm and keep your voice down.
You won’t lose anything by following the local customs. You’re also more likely to win new friends if you respect these customs.
9. Be respectful of the people you meet.
The local customs are not the only thing you need to respect whenever you’re visiting a foreign country. You need to show respect and consideration to the local people themselves. After all, you’re guests in their home.
Therefore, you should mind your manners whenever you’re interacting with other people, locals and fellow tourists both. Be polite when speaking with them. Ask nicely when you need something from them. Seek their permission first if you want to take their photograph. And, of course, mind the local customs.
10. Support local businesses.
Whenever you travel, you should support the local businesses as much as you can. Instead of eating at your hotel or at an international restaurant chain, try to have your meals at a local restaurant. Buy locally produced souvenirs. Book your tours and other travel services from local companies.
Why should you do this? For one, it’s a form of giving back to the community’s economy. Your money contributes to the livelihood of families in the community.
For another, shopping local and eating local are both ecologically friendly. The products you bought or consumed did not travel great distances to get to you. Therefore, they have smaller carbon footprints.
Lastly, supporting local businesses is a great way of immersing in the local culture. It’s a way of getting to know the people in the place you’re visiting and how they live.
11. Don’t haggle aggressively.
Haggling is part of the fun of shopping abroad. You spot a piece of clothing or a knick-knack you like from a vendor at a flea market. You examine the product. And then you play the game of knocking down the price tag before buying. It’s fun to see how low you can pull it down.
As fun as it sounds, try not to do it too aggressively. That unique souvenir you spotted may be handmade. Its price tag reflects the creativity and craftsmanship of its maker. Perhaps making such handicrafts is the crafter’s sole source of income and way of supporting their family. Maybe the sale of these handicrafts goes to support people in need in the community.
Haggling may be fun. But doing it excessively does more than pull down the price tag. You’re essentially slashing at the knees of the people who made them.
12. Vote with your wallet.
Before you buy a souvenir, try to ask the vendor a few questions. Find out what the product is made of and where the materials are sourced. Needless to say, don’t buy products crafted from parts of endangered animals like ivory. You won’t be able to stop the killings immediately by choosing not to buy. But if more tourists vote with their wallet, so to speak, the impact is going to be strong enough. It will pull down demand for these products, and the killing will have to stop. The same applies to products or services made with child labor or human slavery.
13. Leave no trace.
Leave no trace of your presence when you travel. That’s the most important way you can minimize your impact on the environment while traveling. Leaving no trace means you only leave your literal footprints behind. You can do this by:
· Staying on marked trails while hiking. In doing so, you don’t accidentally harm local vegetation. You also get to avoid dangerous situations if you stay on marked trails. Dangerous situations may include encountering wildlife.
· Don’t throw garbage just anywhere. Stash your trash inside your bag. Just dump your trash when you find a garbage bin. Remember to reuse and recycle what you can.
· If you’re up to it, bring a bag and pick up garbage as you hike along the trail. Some tourists care nothing about throwing garbage all over the place. You’re going to do the local environment a huge favor if you pick up after them.
Tourism has a huge impact on global warming and climate change. As tourists, we have this special responsibility to help protect the environment we enjoy during our travels. Let’s all do our part so that others would also take pleasure in these places .
Check out what these travel companies do for sustainable tourism: