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The Gap Year Blog

A guide to more sustainable thinking while travelling

21 Jan 2019 17:35 PM
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Photo Credit: Flickr | Vaghan McShane

Edited with Permission by Frontier

Flying is a huge contributor to climate change, but often the only way to get from one place to another, which is why it is important to take the environment into consideration by contributing to a more sustainable way of living in the actual destination.

When it comes to sustainability, it is a common mistake to presume it only covers environmental sustainability. The impact your actions have on the environment and nature usually receives the most media coverage, but sustainable travel is so much more than just preserving the biodiversity of our planet. This kind of thinking does not help to maintain all the valuable aspects of your holiday destination that define and make it unique.

So, what are these other actions you can take beside living as environmentally friendly as possible?

According to World Travel Organisation, sustainable travel involves three main aspects to consider whether you are just starting to plan your next trip or are already in the destination.

The first, and the most well-acknowledged of those three, is travelling without compromising the biodiversity and the fragile nature of the area. There are many actions you can take towards this goal from recycling and plastic-free lifestyle to not buying wildlife products as many of them are endangered and illegal.

Photo Credit: Flickr

Secondly, investigate how you could contribute to the local economy and make sure that the activities you take part in are not in conflict with the local businesses or culture. Just think of it this way: do your actions only cater to the big, international businesses in the area, or do they also have economic benefits for the locals?

Lastly, we must not forget the local culture. A sustainable traveller respects the local culture, learns about it and the actions of that traveller help to preserve that culture, not to undermine it.

Photo Credit: Flickr

On their website, WTO defines sustainable tourism as something that “takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities".

Here are some tips how you can have a more positive impact on the destination you are travelling to:

1. Check if the town or city you are travelling to offers eco-friendly accommodation whether it is hotels, hostels or living with locals through Couchsurfing or Airbnb. Try doing research on things like whether the accommodation recycles, uses renewable energy or employs locals.

Photo Credit: Flickr

2. Be aware of ‘greenwashing’ – an increasing number of businesses advertise themselves as an eco-friendly option without actually contributing to the preservation of the environment, culture and economy.

3. Try slow travelling instead of staying only for a short while. The further you travel, the longer you should stay to avoid extensive air travel and mitigate the emissions it causes. 

4. Walk or use the local transport when you are in the location. If you are planning on renting a car, do it with a bigger group.

5. Avoid buying plastic, especially if there is no efficient way to recycle it. In many countries, plastic will end up in ocean where it will not dissolve for hundreds of years and ends up harming marine life. Not only will going plastic-free reduce the amount of waste, it will also cut down your carbon footprint. 

6. Refill water bottles with boiled water or use a bottle with a filter that purifies the water from bacteria or any other contaminants.

7. Use the same common sense than home when it comes to small eco-actions. Turn off the lights and TV when leaving the room, do not take long showers, recycle and collect all the trash you leave behind.

Photo Credit: PublicDomainPicture.net 

8. Do not feed the wildlife or participate to their maltreatment. This means not supporting companies that exploit animals for tourist activities, such as elephant riding. Remember, it is also illegal and highly unethical to buy any wildlife products as most of them are endangered. 

9. Buy and eat as much local as you can. Imported goods and products create more carbon emissions because of their long transportation route, therefore opting to buy locally produced items and eat foods that are in season is better for the environment but benefits also the local economy.

Photo Credit: Flickr

10. Respect the culture by listening to the locals and their wishes. It never hurts to learn few words of the local language. It shows that you are interested in the culture and more capable of communicating with locals.

In the end, it all comes down to supporting the local economy. Preserving the local social and economic environment guarantees that the local community will have the funds to preserve their culture and environment for the future generations. Travelling sustainably is all about finding a way to maintain tourism that will benefit the local economy without harming the culture or environment. Are you ready to take on the challenge?


By Tiia Karkkainen - Online Journalism Intern 

Frontier runs terrestrial & marine conservation, community, teaching and adventure projects in over 50 countries - join us and explore the world!