Learning to be a Sustanaible Traveler

Learning to be a Sustanaible Traveler


With every trip, I am trying to figure out how to be a better traveler, and how to impact the places I visit in a positive way. It is really important to me to support businesses that conserve natural resources and sustain local communities—or at least to avoid the destructive ones. I'm hoping that by sharing my experiences here, we can figure out how to do this together, so please add your thoughts and tips to the comment section below.

As I move towards travelling more sustainably and ethically I am finding a steep learning curve. The terminology can be misleading and some companies use eco labels loosely and dishonestly in order to appeal to a growing ‘green’ consumer base.

Here are some things I’ve discovered along the way.

Ask questions before you book tours and accommodations.

  1. What is your environmental policy?
  2. Do you employ local citizens?
  3. Do you support any projects to benefit the local community?

Tips before you go:

  • Learn some key words and customs. It's a great way to be respectful and make friends.
  • Pack thoughtfully. By connecting with an organization like Pack for a Purpose you can take along some extra items and donate them when you arrive.

Ask questions when you’re there. I can be a little shy sometimes but I'm realizing that the best way to know is to ask.

  1. Is it ok to take photographs? This can be a culturally sensitive topic.
  2. May I enter? You might be in a sacred place or on someone's private land without realizing.
  3. Can I touch it? Protect the natural environment. It's easy to transfer human diseases to animals and disrupt delicate eco systems.
  4. What is it made out of? Be aware that you don't purchase items made from endangered species.

Tips for when you arrive:

  • Buy local. When you spend your money at locally owned businesses the community benefits directly.
  • Pay a fair price. The few dollars you might save by aggressively bargaining are probably most of the profit margin for an artisan.
  • Hire local guides. You will likely have a more authentic experience and benefit the community you are visiting.

A BIG part of the sustainability equation is, of course, the carbon footprint involved in getting to a destination. While there are airlines that are making a concerted effort to reduce or limit their environmental impact, the effect of air travel is significant. So what to do?

Weigh the alternatives and be aware of your impact.

  • Consider other modes of transport. Trains, buses and even cars are more energy efficient, plus you have the benefit of seeing more along the way.
  • If you're flying, minimize the number of flights, take the most direct route and pack light.
  • Consider buying carbon offsets.

Thinking about all the various factors can get overwhelming, and it's pretty easy to feel guilty. But my urge to go is just as strong as it always was. I’m approaching figuring out where and how, not as a barrier, but as an opportunity to learn and spread the word.

Some really great further reading to be found over at these orgs: The David Suzuki Foundation // The Rainforest Alliance // The Frog Blog // Responsible Travel Report // Sustainable Trip

Do you choose destinations based on ethical/green options? I would love your thoughts and tips on this topic! As I discover things along the way, I will share.

(Photograph by Abbie Calvert)

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