National Geographic recently came out with a wonderful and insightful article about how travelers can step it up a notch and become more sustainable, and better overall, when we are finally able to leave home again. And with travel looking to be possible this year (fingers crossed), it is the perfect time to do some self-reflection and research on how to be an overall better human while abroad. While most of these things are rather obvious, they are no less important.
So what did National Geographic point out as the key aspects of being a conservation-minded traveler?
First, step off the beaten path and linger longer in a place (aka slow travel).
You can already guess how we feel about the first part: getting off the beaten path is at the core of our travel style (and this website in general). We have always understood the importance (and necessity) of finding hidden gems and having experiences in places that otherwise not a lot of people go to. It was interesting to learn that that idea not only means fewer tourists and more authentic experiences, but that it is also better for the planet.
Similarly, if you are able to spend more time in a place (our goal is 3 months, minimum) you aren't just helping the planet (less traveling means less carbon emissions for example), but also helping yourself. Anyone can go and spend a week in a country and then leave. But that is really only just skimming the very, very top of the surface. Especially if in that week you only hit the most popular tourist spots (Machu Picchu in Peru, the Eiffel Tower in France, etc.). Sustainable travel is all about getting below the surface and having real, authentic experiences - experiences that immerse you in the culture completely. And the only way to do that is by sticking around a while.
Second, always respect cultural differences.
Traveling kind of automatically makes you more aware of cultural differences. The culture of the United States of America is very different than the culture in say, Peru, or Thailand, and that is why those places are so special. To be a sustainable traveler means understanding the differences in culture - food, lifestyle, views, etc. - and being okay with it. It is having an open mind and a gung-ho spirit of learning about different ways of life without judgment or fear. Being an open-minded traveler is truly the key to having a great time while abroad - and making meaningful, lasting memories.
Third, focus on reconnecting with nature in the wild spaces around you and support organizations that are protecting the planet.
The world is one big fantastic outdoor playground just waiting to be explored. When adventuring outside it is important to be good stewards of the planet - for if all of us do our part, we can make a huge difference. Just as you should respect the different cultures you come across while abroad, you should also respect Mother Nature. Don't litter, stay on designated trails, don't take or kill indigenous flora and fauna. Really just subscribe to the idea of "leave no trace."
And while it is 1,000% important to be good stewards of the planet when outside enjoying nature, it is also important to support organizations and businesses that are trying to do good by the planet as well. For us, that means only buying items (especially clothes, shoes and gear) from sustainably minded businesses (a few of our favorites: United by Blue and Allbirds). But this doesn't just pertain to material goods - you should also give your time or money to organizations that are actively trying to help the planet. This includes non-profits, conservation groups, outdoor organizations, parks, etc. If you want to keep our great outdoors great, you need to do your part and help others do theirs.
Finally, try to find ways to reduce your carbon footprint and be more sustainable overall.
This goes back to the first idea: spending more time in a place can help reduce your carbon footprint (less travel = less emissions). But there are a lot of ways to be a more sustainable traveler: spend more money on experiences, not things; use public transportation vs your own vehicle; use less plastic and other non-reusable goods; buy local groceries and goods. All of these things can make a difference, no matter how small. The point is to stop and consider how your actions are impacting the planet. And once you consider that, try to make small changes during your day to day life (for us that is buying fewer goods) that lead to progress. We understand it can sometimes be tough - especially when traveling - but as long as you are mindful and actively trying to be more sustainable, you are on the right path.
Traveling has never been easier (not considering the pandemic and all). That is why it is vastly important to consider the way you act while abroad. Being a sustainable traveler means focusing on visiting lesser-known places, being open minded and respectful to new and different cultures, leaving no trace while enjoying the amazing outdoor places Earth has to offer, giving back to organizations and businesses that are trying to make a positive difference in the world, and finally, traveling in a way that means less emissions and more time experiencing an awesome place.
Curious to know more? Read the full article from National Geographic here.