How to Become a Mindful, Sustainable Traveler!

Hello neighbors!

Traveling is one of my favorite things to do. But the more time I spend on this planet, the more I realize how important it is to be a sustainable traveler – to tread lightly and support the places I travel to in the best way I can. Not only can it help preserve natural resources and improve human health, as we discussed last week, but it can also make your travel experiences more enjoyable!

Sustainable travel is on the rise

Sustainable travel is on the rise. If you’re thinking about booking that next trip, consider what it means to be sustainable from when you leave your home to when you return and how you can engage with your destination in a way that makes it better for everyone involved.

Eco-Friendly Travel is an umbrella that fits concepts like ecotourism, sustainable travel, green tourism, nature tourism, mindful travel, and so many others underneath. I am going to use them interchangeably in this episode.

But overall – these terms all share the idea that when we travel, we should not only incorporate environmentally friendly practices (like we do in our daily lives) but create better places to live for the communities at our destination as well as create positive experiences for tourists who come from other areas of the world. It’s about preserving these communities’ culture, history, and nature for future generations while giving people who come from near and far a chance to enjoy these things too!

local communities part in tourism

It’s all too often that tourist destinations have people who work for companies or try to sell products without having any ties to the local community. They just want a piece of the pie to take home instead of sharing with people at the party!

Locals should be involved in the process and be tourism stakeholders in their communities.

Some common strains that arise from travel not respecting the local communities can include:

  • Over-tourism – Overtourism puts a strain on the society and resources in a community when too many tourists are there at once – causing higher prices for local residents and reduced quality of life.
  • Aggressive Development – or rapid construction without considering resources, urban planning, or environmental degradation.
  • Pollution – that can come from excessive waste or irresponsible waste and the inability of local infrastructure to support it, as well as the noise and visual pollution when parking areas, hotels, service areas, and more have to be put into place to support the tourism infrastructure.
  • Resource Scarcity – putting the needs of tourists before that of the local communities’ essential needs for food, water, and electricity. So take, for instance, water use – in many tourist areas, we see hotels, golf courses, pools, and more put into place for tourists – which results in overuse and potential scarcity of fresh water for the community that lives there.
  • Biodiversity loss – A big piece of this is not respecting the local natural environment. Take, for instance, the signs that say, please don’t feed the birds or any other creature there. There’s a reason for that. Just trampling on natural spaces can cause loss of organic matter, loss of ground cover, and accelerated erosion, which changes the landscape and how wildlife interacts with it.
  • Cultural loss – Loss of culture can occur when native languages aren’t honored, the culture is appropriated or commodified, and cultural sites aren’t respected.

One example that comes to mind is the culmination of these strains in Hawaii. Euro News reported that Hawaii has experienced in the last few years “Hospitality worker shortages, congested roads, and 90-minute restaurant waiting times,” along with tourists touching endangered Hawaiian monk seals and hiking on forbidden trails. Locals experience water shortages and are fined for non-essential water-related activities like washing their cars to meet the water demands of tourism. Many locals have been displaced due to new construction and gentrification, and culture has been lost through colonized narratives and whitewashing of the area. That is an oversimplified example, but there are a lot of examples that are similar and more complex.

So how can you become a mindful, sustainable traveler?

How to Become a mindful, sustainable traveler

Leave no trace

First, you can follow the Leave No Trace principles we discussed in Episode 36. Leave no trace applies to how we interact with natural spaces and wildlife sustainably.

The most important of these principles is to plan ahead and prepare, which, if done well, can prevent issues down the line and reduce your impact. In the greater context – we can plan and prepare to be mindful, sustainable travelers.

Plan and prepare

Before you decide on a location, research your potential destination’s language, cultural norms, issues happening there, and water and resource conditions before booking anything. Knowing how things work there will save time and money while helping keep locals employed rather than relying on tourism dollars which may not benefit the local community.

Usually, you can find the best times to travel that can help reduce over-tourism. And remember to visit places that need support – not those struggling because of tourism, just because you feel like you HAVE to go there.

Stay in eco-friendly accommodations

When planning, you can also choose accommodations with a green rating – meaning they have a low environmental impact and adopt energy and resource conservation measures. It’s becoming increasingly popular to find places with certified ratings for energy, water, and waste efficiency with a simple Google Search.

Embrace responsible tour activities and groups

You can find organizations for activities and tours that promote responsible, sustainable tourism. These groups seek to promote responsible, ethical tourism in their local communities by abiding by specific standards regarding what they do and how they do it – contributing positively to the local environment and people’s well-being.

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council says, “Certified sustainable tour companies and certified sustainable hotels proudly display information regarding their certificate and the certification body that issued it.” So look for these certifications and do the research. Asking questions about the business’s practices will help raise awareness of consumer demand for sustainable options.

Travel with a small footprint

You can travel with a small footprint. Traveling light with your baggage will reduce your carbon footprint and then you can rent what you need from locals. This also includes thinking of what you’re packing – including bringing a reusable water bottle, packing for minimal waste, ensuring your sunscreen is reef safe (click here for other essential summer swaps!), and more! Again, if you do your planning well – you should have what you need – nothing more, nothing less. And in my personal experience of traveling, that is so freeing.

Travel in small groups

Traveling in smaller groups is another great way to reduce your environmental impact and travel with a smaller footprint. Smaller groups enable you to make less of an impact on the places you visit and can be more fun and affordable.

Use mass transportation whenever possible

To reduce the carbon footprint of your travels, you should use mass transportation whenever possible. That means taking the bus or train instead of driving your car, using car-sharing services, renting a bike, or walking short distances.

The option that will save you the most money and energy is public transport—if there’s a bus stop nearby, then that’s probably your best bet and will give you a better look at the area from a locals perspective.

Consider carbon offsetting when necessary

And as controversial as it is, Carbon offsetting is a way to compensate for the carbon emissions you create on your travels. There are many types of carbon offsets, and some are more effective than others.

Carbon offsets can be purchased at any time and cover a specific period of time (e.g., ten years) or activity (e.g., flights). It’s essential to choose an offset provider that has been approved by an independent third party, such as Climate Trust or Gold Standard.

Travel Close to home

Finally, you can travel close to home to reduce your overall footprint, and you’ll likely have a better idea of the local community and how to interact with it. Traveling in your backyard gives you much more appreciation for where you are and the beauty surrounding us.

Small steps add up

If we each take small steps to protect the planet when we travel, it will have a cumulative effect on our environment and future experiences as travelers.

Research shows that “Tourism has the potential to increase public appreciation of the environment and to spread awareness of environmental problems when it brings people into closer contact with nature and the environment. This confrontation may heighten awareness of the value of nature and lead to environmentally conscious behavior and activities to preserve the environment. To be sustainable in the long run, tourism must incorporate the principles and practices of sustainable consumption.”

In the same way irresponsible tourism can be harmful to culture, responsible tourism can bring people together from all walks of life and create an increased appreciation for local culture and tradition.

Tourism can also be wonderful financially – providing communities with revenue and allowing for conserving sensitive areas through park entrance fees and tourist operations.

Mindful, sustainable travel is about taking the time to think about your actions and respecting the place where you are visiting. We must first be aware of our impact to show up better.

Something to grow on

For this week’s Something To Grow On Segment, I’ll leave you with a quote by Nombulelo Mkefa, Former Director of Cape Town Tourism, for you to ponder in the next week “Responsible travel is the journey, sustainable travel is the destination.”

Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or a newbie, there are ways in which we can all do our part to make the planet a better place while getting to experience its beauty and culture. So what are you waiting for? The world is your oyster!

Until next time, thanks for joining me, neighbor!

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