Tips for Sustainable Travel Abroad
What you can do
The sustainable travel movement is strong and growing and includes multiple organizations around the world that are seeking to educate people about how they can help. Many of the suggestions are simple, can be easily instituted, and will make a difference. Whether you are going to a highly-developed urban center or rural setting in a less developed country, as a responsible tourist you should be knowledgeable about your destination, seek awareness of the impact that your presence has on the local population and environment, and attempt to minimize negative impacts. Safe and sustainable travels to you!
• Learn about current environmental issues in the places you are visiting. Different regions will have different situations based on their ecosystems. Learn about the effects of mass tourism on beaches, mountains, wetlands, deserts, etc. and then seek to counter those effects.
• Use water sparingly. Many communities face water shortages and water usage costs money. One small gesture you can make is to take quick showers. If you are curious about how much water you use now, check out H2O Conserve's water calculator.
• Carry a Reusable Water Bottle. If tap water is safe where you are traveling, reduce your environmental impact abroad by avoiding bottled water and bring a reusable water bottle with you abroad.
• Save electricity. Turn off lights, air conditioners, and heaters when you are not in the room.
• Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. These elementary school tenets hold true no matter where you are. Always try to use less - reduce. Recycle if the country you're in accommodates recycling. If not, think of new uses for products before you throw them away.
• Use local and public transport whenever possible. Take a train or bus. Bike or walk. Try to fly less-airplanes produce massive amounts of ozone-depleting carbon dioxide.
• Buy Local, Eat Local. Rather than heading to a chain grocery or department store (where more energy is used to ship food further distances), stop by the market or a street stand (and bring a reusable bag for shopping). And it's not always easy to find restaurants that serve organic food, but you can usually find some that buy the ingredients for their meals locally.
• Don't litter! Even if you notice the locals doing so, try to find a container to dispose of your litter.
• Don't buy products made from endangered species or valuable, historical, or cultural artifacts. Ask about where a product comes from. Many of these products are illegal to export. Report incidences to local or national conservation organizations.
• Don't disturb the wildlife. Maintain a proper distance at all times. Don't use loud, motorized equipment among small communities of people or in areas where there is wildlife.
• Don't pick up and take home natural resources such as shells, plants, animal bones, etc.
• If you go camping, make sure you have any necessary permits and follow local park rules. Pack out what you pack in. Stay on trails.
• Choose your recreational activities wisely. Low impact sports that don't involve a lot of equipment or fossil fuels and that don't disturb the environment or local communities are preferable.
• Use accommodations that have a reputation for being sustainable. Sustainability can mean many things: they recycle, use alternative forms of energy, are owned by or employ locals, contribute to local causes. Increasingly, there are regional and national certification systems that accommodations can obtain if they are sustainably-operated, much like the organic labeling system. Check to see if there are any local certification labels that can help you to determine where to stay. Search the Internet to do this (country name + tourism certification) or inquire with the visitor's bureau or local tourism offices.
• Research your destination. Learn about its history, political situation, current events, cultural groups and intercultural dynamics, religion, geography, cuisine, transportation, etc.
• If you don't already have proficiency, learn at least a few basic phrases in your host community's language. Learn how people greet each other and practice that greeting. Body language is also important. Be astute and adapt your body language appropriately.
• Find out about local taboos and customs by asking people who have traveled before you and by consulting guidebooks, and then respect them.
• Dress appropriately. Respecting the dress code where you are is very important, especially around religious sites.
• Be snapshot savvy. Don't experience your entire trip through the lens of a camera. Ask locals before taking photographs of them or activities they are involved in.
• Learn about something you're interested in while you travel. Do you have a passion or hobby? Find out how people in another culture approach or deal with the same theme.
• Get off the beaten path. Seek out events that are not mentioned in guidebooks and places that are not overcrowded with like-minded tourists. Go where the locals go; however, use your discretion and don't infringe on people's private activities and spaces.
• Bring small, thoughtful gifts from home if you know that you are going to be spending time with a local family or in a community.
• Buy locally produced products and services. Don't bargain too much over an extra dollar or two that will go a lot farther for your seller than for you.
• Go Local. Stay in locally owned accommodations, eat at locally owned restaurants, and hire local guides. Usually, smaller equals better. If you decide to go on a guided tour through a tour agency, ask about their sustainability practices (e.g. what do they do with garbage generated, who do they employ, who is the agency owned by?)
• Contribute something to the place or community you are visiting, beyond just the money you are spending to get what you want. Plan ahead to contribute some time and volunteer at an organization that you deem worthy. It would be wise to research what organizations exist and contact them to inquire whether they receive volunteers before you leave.
• Consider your destination's commitment to sustainable practices including their human rights record, environmental conservation record, commitment to peace. Check with Ethical Traveler about this.