What is Sustainable Travel? (+ How to Be a Sustainable Traveler)


Close up of bright green ferns in the jungle.


TRAVEL IS FREQUENTLY STATED AS ONE OF THE BIGGEST CONTRIBUTORS TO CLIMATE CHANGE. BUT BY CHANGING THE WAY YOU TRAVEL, YOU CAN KEEP EXPLORING THE WORLD AND KNOW YOU ARE DOING LESS HARM. THIS IS WHAT WE LIKE TO CALL SUSTAINABLE TRAVEL.


 

Sustainable travel. A rising buzzword in an industry that accounts for a good portion of humans overall destruction of the planet. In fact, air travel itself contributes 2% of total greenhouse gas emissions. And that isn't even taking into account the other harmful deeds that airplanes do (like the exorbitant amount of plastic they use). But scarily, airplanes are not even the worst environmental offenders when it comes to travel transportation.


Cruise ships, which are often times called floating cities (which is fitting seeing as they burn as much fuel as a normal town does), are regularly rated as one of the worst forms of travel and transportation out there. In fact, not only do cruise ships use extremely high levels of fuel, but they also regularly produce over 200,000 gallons of sewage in a single week.


So what do you do? Do you give up traveling altogether.


While some people would likely answer yes. We instead believe that you can still travel the world while minimizing your negative impact. This is where sustainable travel comes in.



\\ What is Sustainable Travel?


Sustainable travel is a style of travel that focuses on doing minimal harm to the environment, usually through large and small changes and choices. The UNWTO (United Nations World Tourism Organization) goes even deeper and states sustainable travel as thus,


"Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities"


You can learn more about the organizations view on sustainable travel here.





In its most basic form, sustainable travel is about maintaining and conserving natural and cultural environments even with the onslaught of travel and tourism. The main focus is always on minimizing the negative impacts of travel and tourism on a specific destination. And, ideally, in a perfect world travel and tourism would actually be beneficial to the area in which it takes place.



\\ How to Be a Sustainable Traveler


Being a sustainable traveler often comes down to making changes, both big and small. A couple common changes include using alternate forms of transportation while traveling (say trains instead of planes), choosing to eat more locally grown foods instead of imported foods, shopping at small community markets instead of big box stores, and using less plastic and instead bringing reusable items with you, like water bottles.


Often times, the changes you are making to be a more sustainable traveler are relatively easy and inexpensive - two things that commonly hold people back from changing their habits. Similarly, many times when you start by making small changes - saying bringing a reusable bag to the grocery store so you don't use plastic bags - you eventually get the confidence and the push to begin making bigger changes (like walking everywhere instead of driving).


Now, if being a sustainable traveler sounds like too big of an ask remember that even the smallest change eventually makes a big difference.


Case in point: by choosing to switch to only using a reusable water bottle, you can help keep 1,460 plastic bottles out of the landfill per year.



 

MORE SUSTAINABLE TRAVEL TIPS

 


If you begin to look at sustainable travel as simply trying to minimize your harm towards the environment, it becomes rather simple. While some people might suggest that humans should stop traveling all together (which is fair), instead if you just try to make small sustainable changes throughout your travels, you can feel proud to know that in your own way you are helping the planet, and helping the destination you are actually adventuring in. Again those small changes could include walking more instead of always taking a taxi, or only shopping at the local market down the street. While making bigger changes is great (like only staying at a totally green eco-lodge), we understand that that is usually not possible for many travelers.


Sustainable travel doesn't have to be hard. And it doesn't have to be expensive. It comes down to whether you as a traveler are willing to do a bit of research and find ways to be more eco-conscious while traveling. Luckily, there has been a growing push towards more sustainable travel - including easily offsetting your carbon output from flying, more electric vehicles, a push towards longer vacations and remote work (aka slow travel), more eco-friendly accommodation options and a growing movement of vegetarian and vegan restaurants around the world.


We believe that sustainable travel is the future of travel. Because at the end of the day, if we as travelers, adventurers and frankly just humans, don't start to change our habits, then soon the places we already love to explore, and the places we have been dreaming of exploring, will no longer exist.



Silver train heading through open mountain meadow.


If you are curious to learn more about sustainable travel, then definitely consider subscribing to Backroad Packers. We are passionate about not only traveling sustainably and slowly - but also helping and guiding other travelers to do the same.


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What is your go-to sustainable travel tip? Ours is definitely only using a reusable water bottle. Let us know below!