Tourism is a major international industry especially considering what kind of impact it is making on the environment. Climate change, deforestation, pollution and other factors essentially started with us and are made worse every year because of population growth and commercial/residential sprawling. If you're conscious of your "footprint" on this planet and desire a way to travel sustainably, then maybe with enough people we can turn the state of the environment around.
Sustainable travel means simply that you strive to make a low impact on the environment and the local culture while building employment opportunities. This may be readily applied to third world countries and overseas nations but also to the natural landscapes of the United States. Many of our national parks, wildlife reserves, and natural wonders have been put under preservation status in order to restore their beauty and richness to their original state before human involvement. Sites like Hanauma Bay in Hawaii have been a conservation restoration success while others are still struggling.
There are many ways to get involved if volunteering (aka voluntourism) is something you'd like to do but you can also play the part of the old fashioned tourist, gliding through the icy waters on the Alaskan shoreline or zipping through a canopy in Costa Rica. Ecotourism, or the travel effort to experience natural environments to support conservation and wildlife, is an excellent opportunity for student groups to explore the world sustainably. Some popular ecotourism activities include kayaking or canoeing, hiking, camping, or guided tours through various ecosystems.
So how does one participate in sustainable travel? Here's how...
- Don't litter - This is obvious but every little thing helps. If you're hiking and don't have a trashcan, put the trash in your backpack or pocket until you find one. Throwing a granola bar wrapper into a forest is never a good idea and it could harm the wildlife.
- Avoid waste where you can - This means cutting down on plastic water bottles and excessive amounts of trash. Instead, bring or buy a reusable water bottle - in the end, it's healthier for you as most plastic bottles contain trace chemicals that can seep into the water.
- Conserve water - We all know that person who has to have those thirty minute showers but honestly it's a waste of water. Conserve the water as the environment and local community probably needs it more, especially in drought areas like Southern California and Nevada.
- Utilize public transportation - This is a big one. It may not look that sustainable as it's a giant honking bus spewing exhaust fumes all over the road but in actuality, it's a lot more green than every single person driving their own cars. By piling dozens of people into a train, bus, or metro, you're eliminating that many more cars on the road, spewing fumes and using gas. Plus it's cheaper and less hassle for you finding parking and navigating a new city. Win win. (If you do drive, try to rent a hybrid or electric car.)
- Support the local economy - In major tourism centers like Los Angeles and New York City, this is more like saying support the mom-and-pop shops rather than big name franchises. However, you can choose wisely in where you spend your money and eat at restaurants serving sustainable food in a farm-to-table fashion, that way you know your money is going to a worthwhile, healthy business.
- Book non-stop flights - This may be easier said than done, especially when it's loads cheaper for you to have a layover or two or three. But no layovers means less gas consumed by your various airplanes which means fewer harmful emissions in the ozone. You can also choose airlines based on their carbon emission output or choose those that participate in a carbon offset program, working to reduce their carbon footprints.
- Don't use the hotel laundry services - Hotels invariably wash guests' clothes separately even if they only have a few items, which is a waste of water. Instead, if you're staying long enough to need laundering, go to a self-service laundromat and do yours and a friend's laundry at the same time.
- Take hotel soaps, shampoos, etc. when you leave - I know this is kind of taboo in some places but in all honesty those items are thrown away in most hotels after a guest leaves so take them home.
- Utilize your smart phone - Don't waste money and paper on travel guides or brochures. You have a phone, tablet, or computer right? If you're like the majority of the nation, you can use your smart phone to pull up maps, site information, and even download free travel apps to help you on your journey.
- Don't harm the environment! - This is kind of sustainable travel 101 but it's something that people sometimes do without thinking. Don't pick flowers on a hike, don't take home wildlife like turtles or insects or fish as it disturbs the balance of the ecosystem and also disrupts that animal's life, and of course don't litter. Also, here's a big one, absolutely do not feed the wildlife (unless you're in a petting zoo or a park ranger said you could). This tip's, and this blog's, motto could be seen as Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Footprints.
This may be a lot to take in, I understand. A lot of people don't necessarily practice sustainable living, and that's their choice, but for those who do or would like to, this is a wonderful place to start. While you're traveling, instead of creating waste and harming the environment, however inadvertently, practice your sustainable travel tips to tour responsibly in order to give back to the community and the planet at large. Because if we all chip in and do our part, then we can make this a better place for everyone.