Sustainable Travel: How To Be Part Of The Solution In 10 Simple Steps

Mass tourism is completely untenable.

Beautiful cities like Venice are being destroyed by mass tourism.

If one good thing comes from the world being shut down due to the pandemic it could be the realigning of how we travel so that when the world does reopen, maybe this time we can get it right.

Mass tourism causes irreparable damage on many levels but the three most pervasive are: environmental damage, social and cultural damage and economic damage. As much as you may think several thousand people dismbarking from a cruise ship boosts a local economy, guess what – it doesn’t. In fact it does the exact opposite.

This post is the final in a series about sustainable travel, what it is and why we need to be part of the solution.

What Is Sustainable Travel?

Before you start thinking Sustainable tourism is about driving a Prius and eating vegan food let’s look at what it really means. Sustainable travel means developing ways to travel that don’t harm the natural and cultural environments, that minimize the negative impact of tourism and ideally are beneficial to the places we are traveling to. The idea is to keep everything in good condition for future generations to enjoy.

10 Ways You Can Become A Sustainable Traveler

We can make a huge difference by just making a few simple changes in the way we travel. Here are 10 simple things you can do that will make you part of the solution rather thn part of the problem.

1. DON’T Book A Cruise!

The cruise industry is one of the worst offenders in the mass tourism game. Cruises have a massive negative impact on the oceans and the ports they arrive into.

Cruise ship leaving Venice. During the tourist season there will be 5 ships per day in port in Venice. That’s 20,000 extra people decending into a very small town that is extremely environmentally fragile.

The influx of multiple thousands of passengers is bad for the environment, bad for local culture and bad for the local economy.

Here are eight places being completely ruined by the cruise industry:

  • Venice
  • Barcelona
  • Dubrovnik
  • Santorini
  • Mallorca
  • The Great Barrier Reef
  • The Galapagos Islands
  • Bali

You can read more about cruise ships damaging impact on the environment here

RELATED POST: 15 Things You MUST Do In Venice

2. Be Aware Of The Trash You Create

When thinking about the impact you have on any place you travel to, any city, town, village, beach, national park, at all times be aware of the amount of trash you are generating and leaving behind. Even if you are putting it in a trash can or dumpster.

The worst offenders are single use plastics, like bottles of water. Choosing to use refillable bottles or refilling the one bottle can make a huge difference.

Crowds on Barcelona’s Las Ramblas. Imagine if each of these people purchased 2 or 3 bottles of water. Where does all that single use plastic go?

Also think about the amount of trash your food choices create. Making an effort to only eat sitting down in a restaurant/café/food bar can eliminate the trash created by the packaging for fast foods. Try keeping all your trash for two days – you will be amazed at how much you generate! Try imagining that volume of refuse multiplied out by the number of tourists in that town that day. For example if you are in Venice and buy 3 bottles of water you may not think that’s much waste created, but multiply that out by the 20,000 passengers from the 5 cruise ships in port that day and you start seeing what a huge deal that really is.

Beach litter in Hawaii.

3. Avoid Major Chains

Outside of your home country or traveling to the U.S or U.K avoid staying at major chain hotels. When you book with a major international chain approximately 16% of your nightly hotel fee won’t go to the local economy, it will go to the conglomerate. Booking a local hotel keeps the money in that specific town.

The same applies to your dining choices. Avoid the major U.S fast food chains – you didn’t travel across the world to eat McDonald’s and drink Starbucks. Eat at local cafes and restaurants where the food is locally sourced and prepared by locals and where all your dollars are going back into the local economy.

4. Book Direct

When you book a hotel reservation (or any reservation) through a third party booking service like Booking.com or Hotels.com 25% of the value of your booking doesn’t make it to the local economy. Find out what the price is with the consolidator then call the hotel and ask them to match it. 9 times out of 10 they will, and now once again you are putting all the money back into the local economy.

5. Choose Less Traveled Locations.

The Greek island of Paros is much less touristed than islands such as Santorini and Mykonos.

Rather than choosing the most touristed places for your vacation, choose a place less traveled. Rather than Santorini choose one of the hundreds of equally beautiful Greek islands that don’t get cruise ships. Instead of Barcelona venture to one of Catalonia’s equally magical smaller coastal towns. Seeking out smaller, less touristy locations helps dilute mass tourism.

If you must go to (a.k.a. don’t want to miss) the most touristed cities and islands try to go during the off season when then are fewer people around. I love Barcelona but only go between November and March when the cruise ships aren’t running.

6. Get Off The Beaten Path

Florence streets
Florence on a super crowded day. There were literally thousands of people about 500 meters away, yet we had the city to ourselves.

This goes with number 5. Even in the big cities you can still get off the beaten path. Avoid the areas that are full of tourists and explore some of the lesser known sights. You’ll have a much more enriching and fulfilling experience. My rule is spend 25% of your time at the big sites and the other 75% at lesser known, lesser visited places, or “off the beaten track”. Of course you have to see the Colosseum in Rome – it would be madness to miss it. But then go explore the less visited sites and you will fall in love with the Eternal City.

RELATED POST: 18 Things You MUST Do In Florence

7. Support Local Artisans

Rather than shop in high street stores which you have at home anyway, or buying junky trinkets in made in China souvenir shops, support local artisans.

In a random little town in Tuscany we found this local artisan with her loom, making beautiful hand designed pashminas, scarves and knitwear.

Apart from helping keep the crafts and cultures alive shopping from local artisans significantly impacts the local economy.

We bought pieces both for ourselves and for gifts to take home. There were six of us and we equalled her entire month in sales. Always support the local economy.

8. Check Your Sunscreen

Believe it or not something as simple as your choice of sunscreen can have an environmental impact. Sunscreen gets into the ocean and other waterways when you swim or shower it off. You don’t need to be vacationing near the coral reefs for your sunscreen to have an impact.

In 2015 scientists estimated that annually 14,000 tons of sunscreen wash into the world’s coral reefs.

Coral reefs are being destroyed by pollutants.

Some of the most common sunscreen ingredients, oxybenzone, octinoxate, nano zinc oxide and nano titanium dioxide can harm both sea creatures and coral reefs. The damage is significant enough that some places are banning sun tan lotions containing them. In 2018 Hawaii banned the sale of sun tan lotions, sunblocks and suncreens with oxybenzone and octinoxate.

For a list of easily available and affordable reef safe sunscreens click here

9. Travel By Train

italo train Naples

Trains have been shown to be the most environmentally friendly mode of travel. Where possible use trains to travel through Europe rather than cars or planes. Using car only on the days you can’t get places by train has a significant impact on the environment.

RELATED POST: 21 Books That Will Inspire Wanderlust

10. Choose Your Animal Experiences Carefully

Animals shouldn’t be used for entertainment and should be able to live with as little human interference as possible. If you need to see animals in the wild take your tourism dollars to wildlife sanctuaries and refuges and marine conservation projects.

Kim Kardashian with elephant
Kim Kardashian said this was at an elephant sanctuary but sanctuaries don’t ride elephants and don’t use ropes on them. This poor animal was being abused.

Be aware that animals are mistreated and abused in the name of tourism. Don’t take an elephant ride – riding elephants can be extremely harmful to them and the process for getting an elephant ready to be ridden is inhumane. (Rescued elephants go to sanctuaries to escape a life of being ridden and abused.)

Avoid all experiences where animals are not behaving naturally. Also be aware that animals are being torn from the wild to be made available for tourists to take selfies with.

Want to know more? Listen to the Any Given Runway Podcast episode where we talk about sustainable travel and how you can make a huge difference by doing very small things. You can check out the webpage here

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