Sustainable Tourism: How to See the World and Help It, Too

by Michael Catford February 18, 2017

The world is begging to be explored, but unfortunately exploring can often mean unintentionally harming it. While the ideal is to take only photos and leave only footprints, the reality is usually quite different. 

The carbon footprint of your plane ticket. Habitat destruction in the name of tourism. Endangering species through the purchase of unsustainable plant and animal products. These things are all part and parcel of the travel and tourism sectors, particularly in developing nations. 

So how do you go seeing the world, but in a way that ensures it’s there for future generations to see as well? Here are a few tips and tricks to help you be the most sustainable of tourists. 

  • Don’t litter. If you’re exploring somewhere that is unlikely to have trash cans, such as nature trails and beaches, be sure to take a bag for your waste.
  • Go reusable. Invest in a good quality water bottle rather than buying plastic. Consider taking camping cutlery and crockery too. Take sturdy bags shopping with you.
  • Conserve energy. Just because you’re not paying the electricity bills doesn’t mean that you have the right to leave the TV on all night, or turn the air conditioning down to freezing.
  • Avoid giving gifts to kids. This can eventually lead to an area developing a begging economy. If you wish to make the lives of locals better, consider donating time or money to a school or a local NGO.
  • Use public transport. This reduces your carbon footprint when compared to hiring a car.
  • Purchase carbon credits. Most major airlines offer passengers the opportunity to purchase carbon offset credits for their flights. It’s good practice to spend a few dollars to reduce your environmental impact, but it’s wise to first check the legitimacy of the airline’s program.
  • Avoid purchasing drugs. The profits earned on the black market may fund the sort of untoward activity that can cripple an area in the long term.
  • Choose accommodation wisely. Does your accommodation have a recycling program? Do they pay their staff a living wage? Do they consider the environmental impacts of their business?
  • Eat sustainably. If a dish sounds as though it’s made using an endangered species, it probably is. The same goes for the likes of clothing and alternative medicines.
  • Support the locals. Buy local handcrafts and souvenirs. Eat where the locals eat. Avoid multi-national hotel chains where possible.
  • Volunteer. If you’re able of body and mind, offer you services to a local volunteer program.
  • Use local language. With globalization and the internet making English ever more ubiquitous, millennia-old languages are in danger of dying out. Do your best to converse, or attempt to converse, with locals in their native tongue.
  • Use the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign. You (presumably) don’t clean your whole house every day - the cleaning agents that you’d chew through would be monstrous. So why do you need every surface to be wiped down daily in your hotel room?
  • Take left-over complimentary toiletries. Half-used bottles and unwrapped soaps will likely be thrown away, so pop them in your bag if you’ve broken the seal.
  • Finally, respect cultural differences. The world is a wonderfully diverse place, and while you may not agree with how things are done in certain regions, it’s important that you don’t impose your own set of rules on someone else’s situation. Provided they don’t hurt anyone, learn to respect and eventually enjoy any cultural differences that you may encounter.
Being a sustainable tourist isn’t rocket science, but it does require a concerted effort from your end. But by endeavoring to travel responsibly now, you’ll be doing all that you can to ensure that this amazing blue marble that we call home is able to be explored for years, decades and centuries to come. 

Michael Catford
Michael Catford


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