The reason we travel is to experience the beauty that this world holds. And there really are so many phenomenal places. Ironically though, our desires to experience these wonders are changing them, and not in a good way. Tourism is a massive industry and in an attempt to cater to visitors, and to ultimately make money, natural gems are being polluted, taken for granted, and overrun. So what are some things that we can we do to make our impact less harmful?
1. Reduce the use of plastic as much as possible-no matter where you are. Go old school and opt for re-useable products. Our modern-day lifestyles have become very disposable. I’d like to hope that we can reverse that. Buy second hand; get yourself a thermos and steel or glass straw; use glass jars instead of Tupperware; choose biodegradable materials; use a cloth shopping bag. Avoid goods that are sold in plastic packaging as much as you can (no easy task I know). Write to companies with products that you like and tell them that you would be more likely to use and recommend their product if it used less harmful packaging. Check out the Plastic Pollution Coalition for more ideas for alternatives to plastic. If you make efforts to eliminate plastic use at home, don’t stop just because you are travelling or on vacation.
2. Travel during off season. This results in less traffic jams, hence less idling cars/buses/airplanes. Plus it is cheaper and less crowded. It also helps to provide a year-long income to local communities that depend on tourism, rather than only seasonal spikes.
3. Choose slower forms of transportation over airplanes whenever you can. Airplanes give off a lot of emissions. Slow travel has its perks: it immerses you into local culture, allows you to take the scenic route, and is usually easier on the pocketbook.
4. Fly with airlines that are making moves to be ‘greener’. Continental Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines (Blue Skyways), Virgin Atlantic, and Jet Blue are some airlines that have made changes to reduce CO2 emissions, and reduce waste. Before you fly, investigate which airlines are making the effort and choose them over others.
5. Fly on newer aircrafts. When you are making your reservation, try to get on newer model airplanes. The older ones are less fuel-efficient.
6. Pack Lightly. Do you really need to take 9 pairs of shoes? The heavier the collective luggage is, the more fuel is needed to haul it. Think about the way back too. If you buy souvenirs, choose light weight ones (and try to buy from independent artisans rather than large foreign-owned chains). Consider taking shoes/clothes/books that you can part with and leave them for locals/organizations/other travellers when you return home.
7. Support eco-friendly accommodations as much as possible. Research the hotel where you are thinking of staying to see if they are environmentally conscious. Some of them can be identified by memberships in green industry associations. If you find that they are not particularly concerned about conservation and sustainability, why not send them an email telling them that the reason that you did not end up booking a stay with them was because of this. As travel consumers, we have a lot of power to change how businesses operate. Let’s put some pressure on companies to be more environmentally responsible.
8. This seems obvious but NEVER buy products made from an endangered species!
9. Use energy and water sparingly. Try to avoid using air conditioning, turn off lights and appliances when you are not using them. Hang clothes to dry. Take short showers. If you are staying in a hotel, let the cleaning staff know that you do not need new towels and bedding every day. Don’t waste water!
10. Don’t underestimate the little things. Buy local, only take brochures and maps if you actually NEED them, don’t leave garbage, pick up other’s litter in natural spaces, use eco-friendly sun screen and insect repellent, educate children on the importance of protecting the environment and lead by example!
11. Use your consumer power! If you felt that the companies (hotels, restaurants, tour agencies, airlines, etc.) made an effort to reduce their impact on Mother Nature, send them an email to let them know you appreciate it. Recommend them to others. And if you were disappointed, also let them know. This is important. In an industry that caters to tourists, we need to make it CLEAR that what we want is a tangible and real effort to tread as lightly as possible.
12. Support and get involved with local and international conservation projects. The more we learn, the more we can help. And the more educated we are about the solutions, the more we can spread the information to others. Check out some of these well-known defenders of wildlife and the environment to find out more ways to help.
13. Don’t participate in activities that exploit animals. Do your research when it comes to animal-related tours or activities. Choose organizations that have a good reputation for acting in the animals’ best interests and are conservation and education oriented, rather than profit based. Always respect animals and their habitats, and keep your distance if you come across any in the wild.
14. Speak up! If you have a platform, use it. If you are a writer, teacher, tour guide, public figure-anyone who has an ‘audience’, spread information about the importance of sustainability and conservation. Pass along tips for concrete actions that people can start doing in their lives to help. And perhaps most importantly, instil and encourage a love and respect for nature.
15. Concentrate on the solution. I know that for myself, if I focus on how hopeless it seems, or on all the things that I am not doing, I get disheartened and think that my ‘drop in the ocean’ efforts are not enough. If we all START making small changes, they will lead to bigger changes that just might make more of an impact than we imagine. We can’t wait for leaders and corporations and governments to get their priorities straight. We need to act collectively to push for environmental protection, and to implement conservation practices into our own lives.
In what ways do you try to add to the solution? I would love to hear some more suggestions!