How to Travel More Sustainably (Once We Can)

As the world has been forced to sit still and travel is on pause, we’re taking this opportunity to think ahead. What do we want the future of travel to look like? What lessons have we learned from this forced period of stillness? How can we ensure that this activity we love so much, travel, can be enjoyed for many years to come? How do we travel more sustainably? 

Support local businesses 

One of the hardest hit sectors during the coronavirus pandemic has been the travel industry. And while some giant brands will be able to ride out the downturn in business, not everyone will. Many small, local businesses will have to close up shop for good.

In our own travels and the ones that we plan for our clients, we love visiting local businesses. Some of our best experiences have come from making gnocchi with a family in Italy in their kitchen, meeting an artisan in Indonesia as she weaves a silk blanket, and touring a town in Belize with a guide who has spent his whole life there. These experiences are intimate, memorable and authentic. They’re the best kind of travel. 

When we do get to travel again, let’s prioritize buying from and booking with local small businesses. Let’s put our tourist dollars directly into the hands of hard working locals who need it the most. Let’s invest in the parts of travel that we love and help preserve important cultural practices. 

Support sustainable travel by buying from a local artisan
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Do more research into “sustainable” travel companies

Many of us find ourselves with lots of time on our hands. So let’s put that time to good use. Now is your chance to do more research and plan your next trip with even more care. With so many aspects of the travel industry in jeopardy, it’s now more important than ever that we are selecting the right companies to work with. We always want to make sure we’re working with companies who are doing their part to promote sustainable travel.

Now is the time to do some research. How is this company impacting the environment? How are they supporting their local community? Do they have practices in place, like recycling programs and local hiring initiatives, that prove they really are sustainable? 

Unfortunately, not every company that calls themselves “sustainable” turns out to be. Be on the lookout for greenwashing – a marketing tactic where a company portrays themselves as more sustainable than they truly are. Buzz words like “eco-friendly” and “natural” should have actions behind them that backup their claims. 

Once you’ve found companies that you trust and want to move forward with, consider what you can do to support them before you’re able to travel. If you have the means, you can make a donation to help support their work or purchase a gift card for a future booking. Non-monetarily, you can support them by giving them a shout out on social media or sharing their name with other traveling friends. Or if you’ve worked with the company in the past, leave them a review! 

Slow down

If there’s anything this time of lockdown has taught us, it’s the power of slowing down. And that’s a lesson we should take with us into our future trips if we want to travel more sustainably. 

Slower travel is more sustainable and environmentally friendly. For example, if you choose to overland through Germany and France, you could take a train instead of hopping on flights and moving to a different European city every two days. 

Slowing down also gives you more time. You can appreciate things because you take the time to stop and notice them, like a street food festival that is only on once a week. You can enjoy more, like making a friend at a local coffee shop you frequent each morning during your stay. And you can save money, by cutting back on transportation and taking advantage of long-stay discounts. 

Sustainable, affordable and more fun? We’re all for slowing down. 

biking like a local in Amsterdam
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Travel like a local

One of the best ways to travel more sustainably is to travel like a local. What are the locals doing that allow them to continue enjoying life in that city?

Some ideas of living like a local include taking public transport, renting a bike or walking instead of taking a cab from place to place. Opt for a reusable water bottle and reuse your towels, instead of choosing plastic single-use bottles or getting fresh towels each day. Experiment with making your own food, if you’re staying in an accommodation with a kitchen, or visit a local eatery instead of your hotel restaurant. 

Traveling like a local not only is more sustainable, but it also gives you a better experience abroad. You get a peek into local life and a chance to experience the local culture. What are you missing if you only take cabs, go on private tours and eat at chain restaurants? A lot. 

Appreciate nature

Once we’re allowed to leave our homes, you better believe we won’t be taking it for granted. We will appreciate nature so much more once we’re allowed to go on hikes up the mountain, stroll through neighborhood parks, go kayaking on the lake and set up camp in the valley. 

The biggest part of appreciating our return to nature will be protecting it, and ensuring it’s there for others to appreciate too. This can be through big actions, like joining a climate change organization or raising funds. But it can be through small actions too. On your next hike, consider bringing along an extra bag to pick up trash or participate in a beach clean up. 

And always ensure you obey all the rules meant to preserve and protect nature, like sticking to marked paths and keeping a distance from wildlife. Take only memories; leave only footprints. And even better yet: leave it better/cleaner than you found it.

Travel more sustainably by hiking and respecting nature
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Study up

What else are you going to do while you’re stuck at home? Now is the best time to study up and do some research on the destination of your upcoming trip. 

Beyond looking into sustainable companies, as mentioned above, you can dig deeper into your destination. Learning about a place is the best way to respect the local culture, enjoy your trip on a deeper level, and ensure those travel experiences are around for many years to come. 

While you’re home, take some time to learn a few phrases in the local language, learn about local customs and do some research on the local cuisine. Studying doesn’t have to be boring! Make it fun by playing music from the locale, watching movies filmed there, reading books by local authors, and trying your hand at local recipes. 

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