Actionable ways to be a sustainable tourist
Okay, so you are ready for your next adventure but you have concerns about how to be sustainable. I got you! First of all, what is sustainable tourism? Great question, Sustainable tourism is a combination of environmental, economic, and socio-cultural sustainability. This means considering the impact you leave on the planet, the people, and their quality of life. Let's talk about a few ways to be sustainable in each of these categories.
Environmental sustainability tips:
Pack reusable food equipment. Having some tasty Pad Thai in Chiang Mai? Bring a reusable tupperware to save the leftovers (win for the planet and win for future you who's dying for a midnight snack in the hotel).
Okay this one might be obvious, but avoid single use packaging (especially plastic) where you can. Let's be real; as a traveler it can be tough to avoid single use all together. Just making a conscious effort to think twice about a purchase is a great way to care for the planet without holding the weight of the climate crisis on your shoulders.
Consider how you are getting to your destination. A plane? Train? Maybe a boat? If your budget allows, see about booking an option with less layovers to decrease air pollution. Once in your destination explore the local public transportation and save the taxis for special occasions. This saves on money, pollution, and allows for you to have a more authentic experience.
Economic Sustainability tips:
Bringing back souvenirs for friends and family? Search for locally owned shops rather than the tourist booths that are readily available. This takes a bit more investigation but not only will you come back with gifts people can't stop talking about, you will also go off the beaten tourist path. Now who doesn't want that?
Stay in a locally owned hotel or airbnb. Often this will bring you closer to the culture and create a more authentic experience while also putting your money into the local community vs. a large hotel chain.
Got a lot of vacation days saved up? Consider taking one trip to one destination vs. jumping around to see everything at once. This will give you more time to immerse yourself in the beauty and culture while also keeping your money local to that area during your visit.
Socio-Cultural Sustainability tips:
Have a destination in mind but not sure when to go? Try the “off season”. This is when tourism is lower due to things like weather, festivals, cultural attractions, etc. Here's the thing: Greece is beautiful all the time! If you can visit in a less busy season this benefits you, the locals and the environment.
Curious about the local nature? Look into ways you could join in the conservation efforts of the community. This focuses on caring for the planet, following the lead of the locals, and potentially contributing to a good cause financially.
If you are traveling somewhere to participate or view a cultural ceremony or celebration (Mardi Gras, Day of the Dead, Etc.) consider staying in a local accommodation where the host can guide you through how to participate in a respectful and exciting way! (The netflix show “The World's Most Amazing Vacation Rentals” has a great example of this in the Bali episode).
You may have noticed that many of these tips hit 2 or even all 3 of the pillars. This provides further proof that to be a sustainable tourist we must consider more than just our plastic consumption. You rock for taking the time to read these tips and consider not only how to do less harm but how to have a positive impact on people and the planet the next time you get bit by the travel bug. High Five!