As much as we love to travel, our travel is not without consequences for the people, places, and environments we visit. We feel it is our responsibility to maximize the positive effects of our travel and minimize the consequences. The idea of sustainable travel may sound confusing or difficult to adopt. But we have become more sustainable travelers ourselves, and we want to share with you some easy steps that helped us get there.
What Is Sustainable Travel?
Our definition of sustainable travel is traveling in ways that minimize the negative effects and maximize the benefits of your travel on the physical, social, economic, and cultural environments you visit. Being mindful of these twin goals in your travel planning is the first step to becoming a sustainable traveler.
Why We Became Sustainable Travelers
As food and travel writers, we often venture far from home to explore culinary backroads around the world. In the past, we traveled at any time of the year to any destination, always considering the maximum comfort and convenience for us.
Many years ago, however, we saw a conference presentation showing that some of the world’s most beloved historic sites and natural wonders were being destroyed by hordes of tourists eager to snap a photo and capture a memory for all to see. We realized at that moment that if things didn’t change, some of those magical places would disappear forever.
From that time on, we looked at travel through the lens of responsibility and sustainability, which now influences all our travel decisions and actions.
How To Become A Sustainable Traveler
Once you decide that becoming a sustainable traveler is important to you, you will discover that there are benefits for you as well as for the world.
You start thinking differently about the travel experience itself. Rather than determining how much you can see and do in the least amount of time, you begin to focus on what kinds of experiences you want to have and the best ways to achieve them. We have discovered that connecting to people, culture, and nature during our travel creates a vastly more enriching and memorable experience than checking items off a list.
Here are just a few ways to become a more sustainable traveler and benefit not only yourself and your travel companions, but the places and cultures you visit.
Stop Contributing To Overtourism
One of the biggest challenges to sustainable travel is overtourism. Barcelona, with a population of less than two million people, hosts some 32 million tourists annually, many at the same time. Angkor Wat, the Galapagos Islands, Santorini, and other dreamy destinations have become nightmares full of crowds, crumbling landmarks, and threatened wildlife.
As a sustainable traveler, consider a different approach. Instead of Santorini, visit the gorgeous and underrated Sporades islands of Greece. Skip Barcelona in the summer and enjoy the delights of San Sebastian instead. Visit more crowded spots during the off-season, when you’ll get better prices and avoid the crowds.
We’ve explored northern Greece, Yellowstone National Park in the winter, tiny towns in the South of France, and off-the-beaten-path locations all over the United States. While these weren’t your typical travel experiences, they were some of the best, most authentic adventures we’ve ever had.
Choose Sustainable Transportation Whenever Possible
While traveling by air is often the most convenient way to go, consider whether it’s truly necessary. If you are traveling somewhere that is accessible by train or even bus, the journey itself can be a fantastic travel experience. You can also save a lot of money. If luxury is more your style, there are elegant train experiences that you’ll never forget. In places like Europe, you can easily explore many countries with a single pass.
Once you are at a destination, you’ll also want to consider how you get around. Local public transportation, group shuttles, pedicabs, and walking are all more sustainable options than driving. They’re also a great way to meet locals and get recommendations on what to see, do, and eat.
When air travel is essential, look for eco-friendly airlines, fly direct when possible, and take your own refillable water bottle, which saves plastic when you’re exploring as well.
Seek Out Sustainable Accommodations
Choose locally owned accommodations whenever you can. Supporting local businesses is a good way to sustain the local economy.
Wherever you stay, check for green programs, certifications, and sustainability commitments. Some hotels offer recycling programs, minimized housekeeping services, and even rewards programs for going green.
When deciding where to stay, be sure to consider how the business contributes to community engagement and social responsibility. You may be surprised by how many amazing options there are, so check all your favorite resources using your new filters before making a choice.
Make Sustainable Culinary Choices
One of the greatest joys of travel for us is exploring the culinary culture of a destination. To enhance the benefits of your culinary travels, eat where the locals eat, shop where the locals shop, and seek out opportunities to try local specialties wherever you can.
Don’t forget to share food with your travel companions! We often order dishes to share, giving us more to experience with less waste. Refuse unnecessary or wasteful items like plastic straws and plastic bags.
Why Sustainable Travel Matters
One of the best things about travel is learning about different cultures, histories, traditions, and peoples. It is one way we can feel closer to those who are far away, whether in distance or in understanding. But if we do not take steps now to travel sustainably, future generations will have to live with the consequences.
What would our world be like without birds and wildlife and mountains and seas? How would we understand the history of civilizations whose artifacts have been completely destroyed? Who wants to stand amidst a crush of cell phones raised to capture a view that can no longer be seen through one’s own eyes?
This could all become reality if we choose not to consider more sustainable options. We are glad to be more sustainable travelers, and we know that with some attention to the suggestions provided above, you too can help create a future where we can all enjoy this beautiful planet we share.