How to Be a More Sustainable and Responsible Tourist
Travel is absolutely amazing. Take it from us, we LOVE it. So do a lot of people seeing as 1.2 billion people travelled internationally last year. It broadens worldviews, enriches lives, and creates lasting memories. Plus, it creates over 11% of the world’s employment opportunities and over 10% of the world’s GDP.
However, tourism and the tourism industry has its downsides, including a significant impact on the environment. You may feel at a loss in how to help, but there are some small changes you can personally make that can make a huge difference in mitigating the effects of tourism on the environment and local communities, making you a more sustainable tourist. Exploring the world is a real privilege, and there are ways it can be done more sustainably and responsibly.
Fly direct where possible
Airplanes and aviation are being increasingly criticised as top contributors to climate change. The environmental impact of aviation is real as airplanes emit particles and gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2). Plus, air travel has rapidly grown as a means of travel in recent years, leading to an increase in pollution that is indeed due to aviation.
To put this in perspective, a return flight from Dublin to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, one of the most popular destinations for Irish holiday-goers, emits 1.1 tonnes of CO2. This is almost double the amount of CO2 a person should contribute to per year in order to halt climate change.
Planes exhaust most of their CO2 on take-off and landing. Therefore, simply flying direct, although often more expensive, imparts fewer carbon emissions. Knowing that 40 million tonnes of carbon pollution are already pumped into the atmosphere every year, it’s important to minimize this where possible.
Offset your aviation emissions
Continuing to consider the facts above, there are even options to off-set the emissions from any past and future flights. This is best if you are not able to simply reduce your air travel. Visit https://www.myclimate.org/ and enter your flight information. This will recommend the monetary figure that is equivalent to offsetting the CO2 output from your flight. The money will assist some incredible organizations fighting climate change and in other climate projects in developing and newly industrialising countries.
In some good news, by 2021, airlines that fly internationally will have to offset any extra emissions under a UN agreement, the Carbon Offsetting Reduction Scheme for International Aviation. It will put the onus more on the airlines that are the direct contributors to offset their emissions.
Eat and shop local
When travelling, try to avoid large commercialized food, coffee, and restaurant chains. Instead, support the actual economy wherever you travel by going small and keeping it local. That means diving into the local cuisine and not falling for tourist trap shopping.
Stay in or dine in
Staying with the topic of food, we all know the culinary aspect of a holiday is an extremely important one. Be sure to enjoy it. But, make it common practice to either dine in a restaurant, or make your own food at your accommodation. Try to minimise taking away food as the take-away packaging is not sustainable and often not recyclable.
Leave only your footprints
Headed to the beach? Nature reserve? National park? Going hiking? If so, make sure you take everything you brought with you, back out with you, leaving only your footprints behind. There should be no trace of your presence in these places besides the imprint of your feet as you walk. Do not leave anything in these natural areas. That means take your rubbish, food, clothing, etc. with you when you leave.
Also, it is important to not take anything from these natural places, be it rocks, soil, etc. Take only photos, leave your footprints.
Avoid gimmicky souvenirs and wildlife products
Try to make it common practice to stray away from gimmicky souvenirs. They are often of low quality, made of bad materials like hard plastics or man-made materials, and not sustainable. Plus, they are often imported, meaning they do not contribute to the local community as effectively as they could. Instead, buy sustainable gifts that are made within the local communities. They may be more expensive, but they are more valuable and have a better story to tell.
Also, it is imperative that you do not purchase furs, ivory, seashells, or anything made from endangered or threatened species (crocodile handbags, for example). The same goes for foods like turtle egg soup or shark fin soup. Some of these practices contribute to and sustain illegal poaching, are not sustainable, negatively impact the welfare of certain animals, and can diminish populations of already threatened species. If the demand is not present for these materials, the practices will go away.
Moreover, even if you are aware, dealers and sellers realize that most tourists might not willingly purchase these type of products. Instead, they will describe them as ‘antique’ and will even pretend they are produced responsibly. So, just be cautious.
Don’t buy new things just for your trip
Have you ever gone out and bought a new outfit, shoes, accessories, or swimwear just for your holiday coming up? Know someone who has?
More likely than not, this is contributing to the issue of fast fashion and consumerism. But overall, it just is not necessary. Especially if the clothes you buy specifically for your trip are not 100% your style, they probably won’t get the wear time to make it worth it and will end up in a landfill. Odds are, there is something already in your closet that will suffice.
So, why not shop your own closet instead? Dig out your old things and stick to what you already have in your closet as the pickings for your upcoming trip. You’ll feel more comfortable and the earth will thank you.
If you must pick something up before your trip, try charity or vintage shops as your first stop!
Plus, we all know that you can’y travel with liquids over a certain quantity when flying. Try not to buy travel-size bottles as it is just more plastic. Instead, buy one set of reusable containers that are of regulation-size and pour your liquids, like shampoo, conditioner, and face wash, into those bottles to take on your trip. Or, there are plenty of brands that make solid bar shampoos and soaps which are not only more sustainable, they aren’t even a liquid! So no need to worry about getting your bag checked in the security line before you fly. Lush Cosmetics has some incredible ones and they are completely animal-friendly.
Use coral-reef-safe sunscreen
Sunscreen is an absolute necessity and should be worn every single day, especially on holiday. However, there is a chemical in sunscreen that is particularly detrimental to coral reefs – oxybenzone. It is a UV-filtering chemical compound which can damage the DNA makeup of the corals and can contribute to coral bleaching. Unsurprisingly, it was found that this chemical was present in its highest concentrations in locations popular with tourists. Some tourist locations have even banned the use of sunscreens which contain this chemical, so it is best to check before you head out.
The solution would be to find sunscreen which doesn’t contain oxybenzone or find a natural sunscreen, because there is a higher likelihood that it doesn’t contain the chemical (just read the ingredients list!). Be wary of brands that just say “coral reef safe” without checking the ingredients list, as that term is not regulated.
Or, make the first line of protection from the sun your clothing by finding clothing with built-in sun protection. This article here lists out some of the best brands. This is the best thing you can do as it will reduce the need for you to wear as much sunscreen, resulting in a major conservation win.
Do a #2minutebeachclean
You know the saying “leave everything a little better than you found it”? Well, here is one way to fulfill that! The #2minutebeachclean is an incredibly simple initiative. It is a small thing to do, but it can have a positive effect on the beaches that you visit on holiday. So, when you find yourself on a lovely beach, just take two minutes to scan the beach for any rubbish and clean it up, even if it is not your own.
Say no to single-use plastic and bring reusables
Bring a reusable coffee cup, water bottle, cutlery and metal straws with you on your holidays, if possible. These might take up a few more inches in your suitcase, but it will surely be worth it. Plus, they will minimise your overall plastic use, and could also save you a few bucks!
On top of that, not every place you travel will have sophisticated recycling abilities, and it is therefore imperative to minimize plastic use, especially in these areas.
Be considerate of the culture
It is important to remember that another’s culture and customs are not there to make you feel comfortable. So, be mindful that you have entered a place that may be different from where you come from and embrace it as much as you can by maintaining the utmost respect. Research the local customs and be considerate to the local residents and the place they call home.
Do your research on tours
We suggest you look into your tour operators and support responsible tourism organizations, or those local operators who are aiming to make tourism more responsible. Support tours that again, support the local economy. More often than not, they are a more authentic experience.
Plus, there are several countries advocating responsible tourism domestically and are worth supporting. Responsible tourism is important and countries like Iceland, Spain, and Thailand are leading the way.
Take public transportation
One of the biggest ways to keep your emissions down is to get to know the local transport. Minimise the instances where you might rent a car, and instead opt for public transportation. This may include buses, trains, or the metro or subway. Even better, use your own two feet or opt for taking a zip around on a bicycle. If a city has a bike share, you can take advantage of that. Not only is this better for the environment, but you will also see more as a tourist and be more in tune with the locals and their everyday experiences.
Inspired to make some changes in advance of your next holiday?