While traveling is really one of the most satisfying things you can do, it's hard to deny it's not the best thing for the environment. Tourism leads to ecologically damaging developments and lots of natural resources wasted through transportation. However at the same time, it brings about new and illuminating experiences and leads people greater respect and understanding of other cultures. How can you resolve the two?
It may be impossible to travel without leaving behind an eco-footprint, it is possible to reduce it. To give us some expert advice on how to traverse the world more sustainably and ethically, we asked Misty Foster, founder of Green Suitcase Travel, to provide some insight. Ahead, she guides us towards mindful traveling that can provide a better experience for both you and the places you are visiting.
“One of the most surefire ways to make a direct impact on a destination is by supporting local establishments,” suggests Misty Foster. “It often leads to a much more authentic experience!” Her tips? “Skip the mass-produced souvenir shops and instead buy from local artisans,” she says. “You can also wine and dine at locally owned restaurants. Another yummy alternative? Buy locally produced food or take a local cooking class!”
Foster also recommends seeking out experiences that explore the local culture and history. “Try and work with companies that hire local guides or staff,” she says.
You could also try lodging in a different kind of environment with a homestay experience. “Don't just Airbnb it,” shares Foster. “Stay in a local's home through a home exchange program.”
Reduce Your Plastic Consumption
“Single-use plastics are responsible for nearly 40 percent of the world’s plastic consumption,” notes Foster. “The bad news? We’re recycling under 23 percent of it.”
“It can be really easy when you are on a vacation to pick up a water bottle or plastic bag from shopping. Opt out of the plastic problem by bringing your own reusable gear instead! Traveling with a reusable water bottle, utensil set, and tote bag goes a long way for our planet.”
Take Energy Efficient Modes Of Transportation
“You may have to fly to get to your destination but once you are on the ground, try taking more eco-friendly alternatives for getting around,” suggests Foster.
“Exploring by foot has the lowest impact, but biking, trains, buses, metros, and other forms of shared transit are a great option, as well! If you do have to fly, consider taking direct flights and offsetting your carbon emissions through carbon offset programs.”
“Practice being mindful about how you interact with a destination's people, wildlife, animals, and culture. Remember you are a guest and should treat a place as such,” says Foster.
One way to pay respect is by asking before taking a picture of someone. “Think of how you would feel if the situation was the other way around,” notes Foster. She also advises to dress respectfully in consideration of a destinations religion and cultural norms.
To preserve landmarks and environment, Foster says, “Pay attention to and observe signs around historic sites and nature reserves.” Additionally, she recommends skipping animal experiences where they are on display or held captive for human enjoyment.
Give Back In A Meaningful Way
“Many people have a desire to volunteer or engage in a community project while traveling. It's a noble desire to want to give back, but if you plan on doing so, look at the long-term impact,” Foster advises. “Short-term projects can often do more harm than good, especially when working with children and wildlife as it can perpetuate a culture of abandonment and paternalism. Do your research to avoid scams or contribute to a project that may be having a negative impact on the host community.”