We cannot talk about travel without talking about its impact on the environment and the communities we visit. But how do we travel more consciously to minimize our social and environmental footprint? As travelers, there are things we can do before, throughout, and even after we return home from a trip. As you check this list and reframe how you travel, consider this a journey, not a destination. We encourage you to try one new thing and build from there. Finding ways to apply this to your travels will take time, as will changing your habits. But if you can start with just one idea, you are already improving your footprint. Those small changes will add up.
This article is a follow-up to ideas we shared for the planning stages of your travel. In this companion piece, we share how you can minimize your impact (while still having an enjoyable trip) once you’ve reached your destination.
EMBRACE SLOW TRAVEL
As you are transitioning to your vacation, explore the transportation options at your location beyond taking a private taxi. Traveling by bus, train, or other forms of public transportation is not only friendlier to the environment, but it usually reveals more of the land and culture than if you were simply taking the fastest, most direct route. These options often show hidden gems and local favorites that might not be obvious in the guidebooks. They also provide an opportunity to connect with the local community and are typically lighter on the pocketbook too.
As you are moving through communities on your trip, strike up a conversation with locals. Do so with the intent to purely connect as humans – not to extract information. From these conversations, you may learn about issues or perspectives that would not have occurred to you when simply passing through the location. As a bonus, you might even gain a few insider location tips on where to eat or what to do. Sometimes a city tour or home-cooked meal is offered too!
When booking tours and services, seek out companies with ethical practices. This spans from their employment practices and wages paid, to the types of vehicles used, to the way with which they interact with the flora and fauna. An ethical company, for example, will ensure you are accessing spaces that are open to tourism and avoiding those that are sacred to local communities or otherwise reserved. They will also not chase or bait the animals you encounter. As tourists, we don’t want to introduce practices that alter the local economy and ecosystem simply for our short period of enjoyment there.
SHOP LOCALLY TOO
When it comes to mealtime, don’t be afraid to visit the local market or grocery stores rather than eating out every meal. This provides more opportunities to interact with the local community and culture since you will be sure to sample more of the local flavors too.
When you do eat out, find locally- or family-run restaurants. You are keeping the recipe of someone’s grandparent alive by doing this. These local establishments often have a lower price tag than international chains, which could free up more room in your travel budget to purchase a handmade souvenir or an ethical tour.
Continue thinking locally and ethically as you are shopping for souvenirs. Art, crafts, textiles, music, food, and spices all make great keepsakes or gifts. Buying directly from the artisans helps ensure responsible practices and transactions. Your support of authentic arts – not just those manufactured en masse for tourists – also helps ensure those traditions continue. And if your transaction involves haggling, do not low-ball Indigenous or local artisans. Pay them fairly.
CONSIDER YOUR WASTE OUTPUT
Be mindful that not all places in our world have robust trash collection and removal programs. In many Western locations, we do a great job of hiding our trash problem, but this is a luxury not available everywhere. So in addition to being mindful of the waste you create, take it a step further and bring a bag with you for trash pickup. Commit to leaving at least one location you visit better than you found it.
As you are planning your trip, be mindful during each step of the planning process. Where possible, take a moment to reflect on the impact of each decision from your transportation to lodging, tours, and more. Follow your dollars (or local currency) to ensure they land in a spot you can morally support.
If you don’t know where to start, the internet is full of sustainable, green, local choices. Numerous niche apps exist to help make your travel more responsible such as Alternative Airlines to find local flights and smaller airlines, Eco Hotels to locate sustainable properties, and Book Different for greener travel planning services.
If this still seems too overwhelming, many of the apps you are already using have built-in options you may not have noticed. Skyscanner has a filter for green flights and will show emission levels among your search results. When searching for a rental property on Airbnb, you can read about your hosts and ensure you are booking with a local host.
As you are starting to gather what you will take with you on your trip, go through your packing list or suitcase and eliminate any single-use items that will ultimately be tossed on your trip or once you get home. Your toiletries are probably the number one culprit here, but an easy fix. You can make a small investment in a reusable travel toiletry set and fill it up with products you have at home. You will only need to buy this once and think about all those one-ounce bottles saved!
Beyond that, envision what you will use in a location that will ultimately contribute to a foreign landfill (if that is even a public facility where you are traveling). What can you bring with you to minimize waste where you are traveling? Water bottles are another easy option to plan for. You can bring your own water bottle (with a filter or sterilizer if you can’t drink the tap water there) so you don’t need to buy water bottles while there. Think about how much water you might consume over your entire trip multiplied by the number of people in your family or group. More plastic is reduced! Another easy item to pack is reusable grocery bags. They come in lots of sizes and colors and are often made of recycled materials themselves. You can pack these for any shopping you might do while there, and as a bonus, they double as a day or beach bag. Packing items that serve multiple purposes is smart all around.
Beyond thinking about the planet and the environment you are visiting, the people are equally important in becoming a more conscious traveler. Start by doing your research on cultural and religious differences. What are the customs you should embrace, and others that might not be appropriate while visiting? Consider dress, gestures, and slang as a start. Learning at least a few words in the local language will also go a long way. Don’t assume or force anyone to learn English. Learning hello, please, thank you, and goodbye will help you connect with the people you meet.
As you are planning, expand your travel searches from “Best Things To Do in [Place]” and “Top 5 Things to Do” to dig deeper into both the history and present community. Are the articles written in the voice, and only that, of those in power? Do they gloss over or omit Indigenous communities, and/or other marginalized communities who made past and present contributions to the fabric of the area? Does their omission from the story mean they miss out on opportunities to shape the travel experience of visitors they host and the local economy as well?
Finally, discuss your ideas around socially conscious travel and global citizenship with your children. They are never too young to have these conversations and start building this lens. They will also better understand these practices and be more willing to participate when it comes time to travel.
If you have other ideas for our like-minded community, please share them in the comments section below.
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