I’ve been thinking a lot recently about tourism and its impact on the environment and local communities. This is a complex subject, and I plan to write more extensively on this issue. Regardless, tourism is not going to go away anytime soon, and as the middle class rises around the world, more and more people will embark on holidays every year. Personally, travel is very important to me, and I don’t plan to stop travelling in the near future. Travel played a vital role in changing my view of the world, opening my eyes to other cultures and ways of life and most significantly my desire to protect our beautiful planet. For that reason, I try my best to be as conscious as possible while travelling in lieu of not travelling at all. There are simple things you can do to lessen your impact, and where you choose to spend your money while on holiday helps determine the development and direction of tourism in that country. Here are my tips for being a more conscious traveller.
Don’t drink bottled water
Let’s start wish an easy one. Have you ever noticed the sheer number of plastic bottles tourists go through when abroad? The vast majority of countries in Europe have clean and freely available tap water, so there is really no reason to be drinking bottled water. If you still have concerns, invest in a bottle which has a built in filter or take purification tablets with you. Many countries do not have the infrastructure in place to recycle plastic and tourists make a huge contribution to the waste pile up by drinking bottled water. If your hotel provides bottled water, leave it behind. And while we are on the topic of waste, say ‘no thanks’ to straws and plastic bags too!
It’s tempting to jump straight into that familiar supermarket when abroad. Although this may not always possible, try to buy groceries from local markets instead. Think about where your tourist dollars are going - most people want to genuinely contribute to the local economy while abroad, not some corporate giant HQ’d on another continent. Markets are far more likely to sell local produce which means you’ll also be supporting local farmers. While I was in Slovenia recently we discovered a grocery store which only sold fruit and veggies from that region - it was a dream!
Avoid the tourist traps
There are certain corners of the planet that have been completely inundated with tourists, to the point where it is clearly no longer benefiting the community. This could be entire countries, cities or a specific landmark, but either way try to avoid them. Do thorough research before you go and don’t only follow the well-trodden tourist path. There’s often so much you miss by only going to the popular spots.
Go in off season
Travelling in off-season also supports the local community in the normally quieter months, and eases the strain on local infrastructure during high season. I understand this might not be possible for those with children, but while you are in a position to travel in the off-season - do it! It’s also always much more pleasant to travel when you’re not accompanied by thousands of others.
Choose green accommodation
Hotels are extremely energy and water intensive and produce huge amounts of waste. I personally always opt for an apartment or hostel, as this is more environmentally friendly and for me a more enjoyable experience. However, there has been a big increase in the number of eco-hotels popping up around the world. Do some googling and find out if there is a green hotel where you plan to travel. This is a good way of reducing your carbon footprint if you prefer to stay in hotels. Check out this lonely planet article to learn more about picking an eco-friendly hotel.
Avoid flying (if you can)
We all know flying is terrible for the environment. Is it possible for you to travel to your destination another way without adding too much time and money onto your journey? While I live in Berlin and I’m perfectly placed for travelling mainland europe by bus and train, I’m going to take full advantage of this. If I do ever need to fly (case and point, to go home to Scotland) then I offset my flights. Buses tend to be, overall, the most eco friendly option, so if you’re in Europe check out Flixbus.
The more weight trains, planes, and cars have to carry, the more fuel they use, and the more greenhouse gases are emitted into the atmosphere. Think about what you really need to bring on your trip - I used to pack mountains of clothes and end up only wearing a few outfits. It’s more convenient all round to pack light - taking only hand luggage on a flight means you don’t have to wait once you land and the less stuff you have the less time you spend packing and repacking if you’re on the move.
Don’t engage in unethical tourist activities
By now most of us are aware of the terrible animal abuses that go on in places like South-East Asia, all in the name of tourists (e.g. drugged up tigers used for selfies and elephants made to do elephant rides). Be very careful when it comes to anything to do with animals - it can often be difficult to decipher which organisations are genuinely doing good (e.g. ‘shelters’) as locals have cottoned onto the fact that most tourists do not want to contribute to animal abuse. For this reason I would recommend avoiding animal related activities altogether, unless you are confident it’s an ethical organisation. In addition, avoid sports or activities which have a cause harm to the environment and support organisations you know are striving to be more sustainable.
These are just a few of the many things you can do to be a bit more conscious while you travel. It’s important to remember you are guest in the country you are visiting and to be respectful to the environment and the locals who live there all year round. If we all make a few changes to the way we travel, we can reduce our impact on the environment while still enjoying the beautiful places our planet has to offer.