On the eve of Earth Day, it seemed only right to talk about the ways we can be more earth-friendly travellers. During the pandemic, avid globetrotters had no choice but to hit the pause button. And while we may have suffered a wicked case of FOMO, it also gave us the opportunity to stop and really think about the way we've done travel in the past. With cruise ships docked, flights limited, trains slowed and buses empty, tourism pollution was greatly reduced. The impact was both profound and positive. The way we travelled before is not sustainable. It's harmful to local communities, it's harmful to local economies, and it degrades an already fragile ecosystem. So let's do better. Here are a few ways we can.
Book the Non-Stop
According to a few sources, flying only accounts for 2.5-3% of the world’s carbon emissions. That isn’t to say that flying doesn’t contribute to climate change, however, there are a number of industries that produce far higher emissions like agriculture, ground transportation, and industry. With skyrocketing flight prices, it may be tempting to cut corners and book those ultra-cheap, multi-stop itineraries, but you're not doing the environment any favours. Besides, your time is precious, so why would you waste it on inconvenient flight routings? Minimize your carbon footprint, and book the non-stop.
Avoid Fast Food Restaurants
Fast food or chain restaurants produce a massive amount of waste. Single-use, plastics, poor waste standards and excess pollution plague fast food restaurants, and they’re not generally a good representative of local cuisine anyway so stick to local restaurants, food markets, or street eats.
Eat a More Plant Based Diet
Did I just hear a collective groan? Listen! Did you know that it requires approximately 15,000 litres of water and 25 kilograms of grain to produce a mere one kilogram of beef. And if that statistic doesn’t make your head spin, try this one; An estimated 30% of land on Earth is used for agricultural purposes. Yikes! We know raising generation after generation of meat-eaters just isn’t sustainable. There are so many incredible vegetarian and vegan cuisines around the world, so do planet Earth a solid, and consider going veg for at least part of your holiday.
The world is moving in the right direction by eliminating single-use plastics, many nations are still catching up. The LAST thing the planet needs is another plastic bag, filled with useless, plastic souvenirs. Not to mention, plastic bags in most North American cities cost you extra. Do your wallet and the planet a solid and bring a couple of canvas bags for your shopping.
Create an Eco-Friendly Travel Kit
Think about all of the single-use plastic you use when you’re on vacation. Everything from the coffee cup you throw away before you step on your flight, to the plastic cutlery, cocktail straws, and disposable toothbrushes; plastic, plastic, and more plastic! Put together your own eco-travel kit with reusable cutlery, metal straws, metal chopsticks, and your own steel travel mug. These materials are easy to clean and sterilize for reuse in your hotel or apartment rental.
Hire Local Guides
Using local guides is not only sustainable, but it’s also ethical. The best way to support the local economy of the destination you're visiting is to book with local guides and local tour companies. They’re also well-versed in eco-friendly and sustainable practices that benefit their region specifically. They also tend to be more cost-efficient than larger, international companies. This practice also allows you to support and empower local marginalized groups and their initiatives. There is still a lack of diversity in tourism, especially in leadership and tour guide roles.
You’ve probably heard of the term ‘slow travel’ before, but what does it mean? Slow travel generally means taking a trip and focusing heavily on one particular destination or region. This particular style of travel is popular with North American travellers because of their lack of holiday time. Slow travel generally means you’re not spending your days on non-stop sightseeing tours, bussing around, or catching trains. Your carbon imprint is smaller, and you often spend more time wandering your destination on foot, local transport, by bicycle or train.
Take a Cycling Tour
Test out those Peloton skills and explore a storied land or two on two wheels. If you're seriously dedicated to becoming a more climate-conscious traveller, book a cycling tour. With so many countries around the world working hard to improve their infrastructure for cycling enthusiasts, you may want to swap the 'ol fly n' drive for a cool cruise through the Dolomites, a heart-thumping ride to Stavanger in Norway or a breezy tour through the Netherlands.
Skip Out on the Big Cruise Ship Experience
I know I'm going to be razzed by my travel colleagues for this one, but we can't sit here and pretend that cruise ships have been great for the environment. I think we gave our oceans and all of its creatures great and small a huge gift by docking cruise ships during the pandemic. We saw life return to rivers that had once been devoid of certain species, we saw Blue whale populations increase, and orca and humpback whale migrations increase. We even saw fragile coral reefs sprout new life.
We can't really ignore the facts. According to a study in Marine Pollution Bulletin, "a large cruise ship can have a carbon footprint greater than 12,000 cars, while passengers on an Antarctic cruise can produce as much CO2 emissions on a seven-day voyage as the average European in an entire year."
But let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater, I'm not saying all cruising has this level of impact. If you really want to experience a vacation on the high seas, consider an expedition line, a small ship cruise, or step-on board any number of luxury river cruise ships.
Choose Climate-Friendly Accommodations
Do you know if the hotel you’ve just booked is sustainable? How rigorous is their recycling program? How much water do they waste or conserve? Do they adhere to any local green initiatives? These are all questions you should be asking before you book your hotel. Alternatively, look for eco-friendly lodges, inns, or resorts that use sustainable materials. These types of accommodations often incorporate locally grown foods into their menus, use handcrafted toiletries from local companies and have greater control over the footprint of their guests.
Support Local Wildlife Initiatives
Storied Lands takes stanch stand against harmful animal tourism. We refuse to book dolphin swims and elephant rides, nor do we promote wild animal encounters (unless they’re done so in a responsible, accredited, carefully vetted sanctuary. All of these tourist-focused practices are not only cruel to the animals that needlessly suffer, but they’re also not climate-friendly. These animals are often not fed what they need nutritionally, they attract large groups of tourists at once, and they have few standards when it comes to safety and sustainability.
Use Reef-Friendly Sunscreen
You know that yucky slick that your body leaves when you dive into a pool or go snorkeling on a reef? Yeah, that’s deadly for underwater flora and fauna. There are reef destinations around the world that have all-out banned harmful sunscreens, so if you haven’t started doing your research, you better start now. There are a number of mineral-based sunscreens that will offer you protection without damaging the ultra-sensitive marine ecosystems you want to explore.
Only Drink “Near-Beer”
Travelling is all about having that ultra local experience right? You’re already spending night after night dining on local delicacies, so why not wash it down with some of the local brews? Drinking ‘Near-Beer’ means supporting local breweries, distilleries or even vineyards, instead of drinking international options.
Being a more climate-friendly traveller means you get to enjoy those bucket list destinations in a more wholesome, more authentic way. Sustainable travel is the only way to preserve national parks, help preserve wildlife populations for future generations to enjoy, and reduce our overall carbon footprint. Sustainable travel has also opened up a newer sector of the tourism industry, which has led to an increase in jobs around the globe. Destinations are tapping into green initiatives to give visitors an overall cleaner, more locally authentic experience.
Want to learn more about the impact of travel and tourism on our climate? Watch the incredible film 'The Last Tourist'