PACK YOUR BAGS
by
Danielle Leonard
Mar 24
How to Be a Sustainable Tourist While Travelling the World

It’s always exciting to take a break from the daily grind and book a much-needed vacation. Whether it’s working at a desk, cooking dinners, or driving kids to school, who isn’t eager to leave it all behind? But, while you’re packing your bags and toothbrush, consider bringing along some sustainable habits from home, too.

For many of us, enjoying a vacation now goes beyond simply escaping from our everyday lives, and includes an appreciation for a destination’s environment, culture, and people. In 2018, there were 1.442 billion international tourist arrivals across the globe and that number is expected to increase, driving carbon emissions higher, if tourists don’t change how they travel.

While the travel industry continues to grow more sustainable, you have the power as a tourist to make an added difference all on your own.
Beach chairs under umbrellas on a sunny beach
Photo by Derick McKinney on Unsplash

Many of us know sustainable tourism is important, but struggle with the how. In a recent survey, 72 percent of travellers said travel companies should offer more sustainable choices, but almost half find it harder to make sustainable choices while on vacation than in their everyday life.

Today, we have more power than ever to travel in a way that respects the environment, preserves local culture, and reduces emissions. To help you get started, here are some tips on how to make your next travel adventure more sustainable.

What is sustainable tourism?

The term ‘ecotourism’ first emerged in 1991 to mean “responsible travel to natural areas that protects nature and sustains the well being of local people.” 

Today, the World Tourism Organization defines sustainable tourism as, “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.” While that’s a lot to wrap your head around, this broad definition offers plenty of opportunities to travel sustainably.

How to choose a sustainable destination

If you Google “most sustainable places to visit,” you’ll get plenty of ideas on where to book an eco-friendly vacation. With some websites offering up to 100 potential destinations, you may wonder what actually makes a place sustainable? The reality is you can add eco-friendly elements to any trip with the choices you make before and during your stay. 

A sign on a beach that reads Leave Nothing But Your Footprints
Photo by Vicky Hincks on Unsplash

How to book eco-friendly accommodations

Booking sustainable accommodations can be one of the more confusing aspects of eco-friendly travel. How do we know if a hotel operates sustainably? Some resorts and hotels boast various eco-certifications, but don’t overlook the many small accommodations that follow sustainable practices, but don’t have the money to purchase certifications to back them up.

While accommodations will vary on what sustainable practices they follow, here’s what to look for during your search:

  1. Plastic-free toiletries offered in bulk dispensers in lieu of bottles.
  2. That bottled water is not offered on-site.
  3. Accessible recycling receptacles can be found suites as well as public areas
  4. The business markets itself as a proud supporter of local business through purchase of food, art, and supplies.
  5. For places surrounded by wildlife, the hotel or resort actively protects the natural habitat and is wildlife friendly.
  6. Partnerships with local cultural organizations or Indigenous peoples for unique expeditions or experiences.
  7. Restaurants on premises offer plant-based menu items, locally sourced ingredients, and/or on-site vegetable gardens.
  8. Components of the building’s architecture are eco-friendly, such as solar panels.
  9. Management actively reduces energy use and encourages guests to do so, as well.
  10. The hotel or resort measures emissions and may purchase carbon offsets to minimize the footprint of its guests. 

You can make your search easier by visiting travel websites dedicated to eco-friendly accommodations, such as bookdifferent.com and lokaltravel.com.

Seek community-based travel experiences while abroad

You can seek out locally-led travel experiences at many destinations that are authentic, sustainable, and put tourist dollars into the local community.

Many of these experiences are offered in rural communities where locals offer eco-friendly tourists enriching opportunities to participate in their daily lives. From coffee plantation tours by farmers and guided hikes by locals, to enjoying traditional dinner at a local home, these experiences are worth looking into if they’re available. You can learn about what’s available through your hotel or resort, or book online through websites such as lokaltravel.com.

A woman carries a baby on her back as she walks through a clearing in a forest
Photo by Josh Willink on Pexels

Consider an Indigenous travel experience close to home

While Indigenous experiences are available across the globe, Canada offers an abundance of experiences that celebrate the culture of Indigenous peoples whose traditions respect the earth and all living things. With more than 700 unique Indigenous cultures in Canada, the selection of Indigenous travel experiences include nature and wildlife tours, cultural sharing, and culinary adventures across all provinces.

The most eco-friendly ways to reach your destination

Wherever you choose to visit, how you get there can have a big impact on your carbon footprint. Here’s the lowdown on what to consider when planning how to get to your destination.  

How to make flying more eco-friendly

For some destinations, flying is the only option. If you need to fly, consider these tips to minimize the effect on the environment:

1. Book a direct flight

An airplane’s liftoff and landing emits a significant amount of emissions, the more stopovers a flight has, the higher its emissions. When possible, book a direct flight.

2. Stick with an economy seat

The more passengers on a plane, the lower the carbon footprint per person. Since economy seats take up less space than first class seats, your best bet is to fly economy to lower your carbon footprint. 

3. Buy carbon offsets

Buying carbon offsets is an easy way to neutralize the greenhouse gas emissions from your flight. Many airlines offer carbon offsets when you book your flight. Alternatively, you can purchase them through one of many websites that calculate the your flight’s emissions and offer a variety of climate friendly projects to invest in.

Passengers sit on an aeroplane
Photo by Gerrie van der Walt on Unsplash

Book an eco-friendly train ride

In North America, since most trains are run on diesel, taking the train is not likely the most eco-friendly option. However, if you plan to travel farther once  you reach your destination,  choosing an electric train over a short flight is the better option. Electric rail is prevalent across many popular travel destinations, including Europe, Japan, and China. Riding the rails instead of the skies on a typical domestic flight can cut your carbon footprint by approximately 84 per cent!

When is driving better for the environment?

It’s not easy to measure the carbon footprint of driving a vehicle because it depends on many factors including type of vehicle, number of passengers, and distance. Certainly, a compact car is more eco-friendly than an SUV, and a vehicle packed with four passengers will have a lower individual carbon footprint than one with a lone driver. In some cases, flying can actually be more eco-friendly than driving when crossing a long distance. 

Two trains wait on the platform at a train station in Europe
Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

How to be a sustainable tourist at your destination

Whether you’re staying at an eco-certified resort or a family-run motel, there are plenty of ways to make your stay a sustainable one. Here are some easy tips you can follow on your next trip, whether you travel domestically or internationally.

What you pack impacts the Earth

Pack your own reusable items, such as a water bottle and shopping bag. Also consider bringing your own toiletries to prevent tossing out those mini shampoo and conditioner bottles in your room.  

Practice sustainability in your hotel room

Treat your hotel as you would your home when it comes to saving on energy. Always turn off lights and air conditioning (or turn down the heat) before you leave the room, and keep your showers short, especially in countries with low water supplies. When possible, hang your towels to prevent them from being washed unnecessarily. 

Support local culture

Visiting another part of the world is not unlike visiting someone else’s home where we’re respectful of their customs and appreciative of their good will. Some ways to support the local people and culture include buying from local artisans, eating at local restaurants, and reading up on their culture and language before your visit in order to engage with locals you meet once there.

A reusable water bottle is strapped to a kayak on the water
Photo by Bluewater Sweden on Unsplash

Find opportunities to slow your pace

Rather than plan a packed itinerary, consider travelling less and staying longer to enjoy a more immersive experience. The organization Indigenous Tourism BC advises its tourists to practice travelling with intention, not hyperspeed. Expanding your cultural knowledge is not a contest, and a non-stop itinerary can leave you feeling like you’ve checked all the boxes but missed it all.

Be considerate of animals while travelling

Respecting animals on land and in the sea are part of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. To play your part, refrain from eating or buying endangered species.

Walk, hike and bike

While on vacation, why not slow down and walk, hike, or bike? Although not always possible, these three modes are the top contenders for eco-friendly transit.

You have the power to travel sustainably

Thankfully, you don’t have to wait for change to happen on a broader scale to make a positive impact on the environment when you travel. There are many ways you can contribute to sustainable tourism on your own. 

Choices to reduce your carbon footprint, support local communities, and prevent wastefulness can make a big difference if each of us play our part. And, when you share your travel shots on social media, help spread the word about the importance of travelling lightly, respectfully, and sustainably.

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This article offers general information only and is not intended as legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While the information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada, RBC Ventures Inc., or its affiliates.

Danielle Leonard
Written By
Danielle Leonard

Danielle Leonard is a lifestyle writer and editor based in the GTA whose favourite earth-loving pastimes are tending to her vegetable gardens, riding her bike and advocating against urban sprawl.

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