One of this year’s hot travel topics – right after vaccinations and Corona regulations – is sustainability. More than ever, we want to know how we can minimize our CO2-footprints when venturing out into the world. Travel isn’t very sustainable in itself, but it seems like nothing can stop us from continuously exploring the beauty of this planet. So how exactly can you become a more sustainable traveller? Where to start? The responsibility is our own, so make sure to do your homework.
Here are 5 ways to travel more sustainable in 2021 and beyond.
Wait, what is sustainable travel exactly?
Glad you asked! It would be easy to say that travellers must simply look out for hotels carrying the green key and generally eat and explore local, whenever possible. But it would also be naive, cause sustainable travel entails so much more. Basically, there’s no universal answer to this question – each destination around the world holds its own challenges and possibilities, and this is what you as a traveller must take into consideration.
A hotel practices sustainability when reusing towels, conserving energy, limiting water waste, serving food made from local ingredients and equipping the staff with eco-friendly cleaning products (just to mention a few) – but there’s more to it. Sustainable travel is also about how destinations and accommodation providers take care of their staff members (their wages, working hours etc.) and how much pressure you as a traveller is allowed to put on an already crowded destination (just look at historical European cities such as Athens and Dubrovnik….).
There’s a huge financial aspect to sustainable travel as well. How much of the money you spend on your trip bounces back into the local communities you’re visiting and engaging with? How much of the food you consume is made from local ingredients and prepared by local work force? It might be interesting for you to know these things – especially if you’d like to become a conscious traveller. And boy, do we need more of those moving forward.
There’s no doubt that being curious, critical and asking questions is one of the most powerful things a traveller can do. If we want to change the way of the world, we must start with ourselves. No one’s forcing us to book a certain hotel or destination – we choose that ourselves.
1. Book green accommodation.
The Green Key Label is something to look out for when booking accommodation. A voluntary eco-label awarded to more than 3.200 hotels in 65 countries, The Green Key is a good indicator that a hotel meets certain environmental requirements. Booking a hotel with those green check marks is a great place to start, but don’t be afraid to ask questions when you reach your destination. If a hotel is labelled ‘green’ or ‘eco’, they’re usually happy to answer questions related to these topics. After all, it’s in their best interest.
2. Slow down.
Quite literally. In a post-pandemic world, many people have changed their views on travel and tourism in general meaning that we’ll travel differently than before. We’re more aware and more engaged – overall. Staying in one location for a longer period of time and really engaging in the communities we’re visiting, are two of the things that’ll make a big difference. For ourselves and the destinations we visit.
We’ll take fewer but longer trips moving forward, and those trips should embrace cultural exchange and curiosity. It’s basically about fully engaging in what you’re doing – whether that’s eating, reading, working or traveling. Slowing down is a consequence of this. Perhaps that’s why the terms ‘slow luxury’ or ‘slow travel’ have truly gained recognition amongst many people, especially during the Pandemic.
3. Reduce your waste.
Needless to say, sustainable travel starts with you, so limit your waste as much as you can. That entails anything from ditching the plastic bottles and plastic bags to reducing your use of water (especially in destinations where water is a scarce resource) and turning of the air conditioning in your hotel room (or at least using less of it).
A good rule of thumb is: recycle whenever you can.
Quite a few companies produce sustainable travel gear these days – from bags to toiletries made of recycled materials. Make it your mission to be more green, not only when traveling but in everyday life as well.
When hunger strikes, book a table in a local restaurant to a) support the local community, b) enjoy local food and ingredients and c) to reduce packaging. Take-out might be nice, but it does produce unnecessary waste (cups, cutlery, food containers etc.).
4. Stay closer to home
I get it. Nothing beats exploring new exciting territories and feeling like a world citizen, but what if exploring your own “backyard” could give you equally delightful experiences? Thanks to the pandemic, local travel is booming this year, and if you do it right, it could give you memories to last for a lifetime!
Ask yourself how well you really know your own country/state/city. You might be surprised about the diversity or natural splendour of your region. Take a few days to plan the perfect “staycation” and commit to supporting your local community – hotels, restaurants, parks, museums etc. I’m sure they’d appreciate it in the wake of Covid-19, and you might just fall in love with the place you call home all over again.
I’m not saying you should wave farewell to international travel, but reducing your oversea trips is a great place to start if you’d like to become a sustainable traveller.
“One of the simplest ways to become a sustainable traveller is to cut back on emissions by flying less often. That’s how we can reduce our individual carbon footprints.”Quotation from NY Times.
Now, I’d recommend you to read this post if you’re planning to embark on a staycation this year:
5. Choose the most sustainable destinations
If 20 wild horses can’t keep you from traveling abroad, you still have the choice of supporting more sustainable destinations. These destinations are often highlighted for their efforts of protecting their wildlife and environment, natural resources and heritage. Needless to say, destinations such as Barcelona and Paris did not make it to the list of the world’s most sustainable destinations as they’ve been overcrowded for years. Instead, look towards countries such as Greece, Finland, Slovenia, Scotland, Portugal and Palau. All beautiful places where the governments are taking action when it comes to sustainable practices. Palau is a small island country in the western Pacific, and they’ve implemented an extraordinary rule for those wishing to visit their beautiful country; all visitors must simply pledge to protect the cultural and national heritage before entering. A great initiative that – I believe – will transmit to other countries moving forward.
If you still want to visit more touristy destinations, try to avoid high season. Rule of thumb: stay longer, book eco-certified accommodation and support activities that gives something back to the local residents – not the tour operators etc.