In 2022, the number of worldwide international tourist arrivals reached approximately 917 million. While there are many advantages to tourism (including employment opportunities, social benefits, and stimulation of economic growth), an increase in international travel has also seen a rise in carbon emissions, destruction of natural habitats, and exploitation of natural resources.
Thankfully, reducing these impacts does not mean you have to close the door on international travel altogether. There are a number of ways you can continue to explore the four corners of the world through sustainable travel.
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What is sustainable travel?
Sustainable travel is all about minimising the negative environmental, social, and economic impacts of your trip. From the moment you begin booking your trip until you arrive back home again, the best practices should be used to ensure that you are not only reducing the negative effects of tourism, but also increasing the positives.
How to travel sustainably
Changes to the way you travel that will ensure the places you visit are preserved for years to come. We’ve put together a list of our top sustainable travel tips.
Travel by road or train
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Flight shame, from the Swedish “Flygskam”, has become a popular sensation for many people travelling by plane. This term refers to the guilt that people feel for travelling by plane at a time when we are all desperately trying to cut down our carbon emissions.
Globally, the aviation industry accounts for 2.5% of total CO2 emissions. In light of this news, many people are now offsetting their carbon emissions through companies such as Atmosfair and Tentree. While the work these companies are doing is a huge step in the right direction, many experts highlight the problem with carbon offsetting, namely that it doesn’t really work. For example, when planting trees to offset emissions it will take 15-30 years for trees to grow big enough to begin absorbing this carbon dioxide.
The best way to cut out, or dramatically reduce, these CO2 emissions is to skip the flights altogether. To put things into perspective, taking the train from London to Paris instead of flying would reduce your CO2 emissions by up to 90%.
Take the path less travelled
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Hundreds and thousands of tourists travelling to popular destinations during peak season results in the phenomenon that is now known as overtourism (or mass tourism). This can cause damage to ecosystems, as well as making life very difficult for local people both in and out of peak season.
Reduce overtourism by heading off the beaten track and exploring some of the lesser-known parts of the globe. There’s a good chance the experiences you have will be far more unique and valuable as a result.
If parting ways with bucket list destinations like the Angkor Wat or Machu Picchu sounds too troubling, how about visiting during the quiet season instead? Not only will you avoid the hustle and bustle, but you’ll also be supporting local businesses that may struggle outside of peak season.
Reusables help you minimise waste while you travel
Away from the comforts of home, we are much more likely to find ourselves reaching for plastic bottles of water in 7-eleven, or grabbing a take-away in plastic packaging. The eco-friendly habits we’ve developed at home end up slipping out of the window.
Solve this problem by coming prepared. Switching to a reusable bottle saves around 150 single-use plastic bottles from being thrown away each year. If you’re worried about the water quality in your destination, consider a reusable bottle with a built-in filter or water purifier.
You can also avoid single-use plastics from takeaway by slowing down and opting to dine in. If your heart is set on takeaway, try to source cafes or restaurants that dish up their goodies in compostable packaging.
Local, local, local!
Whether it’s products, services, or experiences you’re purchasing, shopping local is the best way to both minimise the negative impacts of tourism and as well as boost the positives.
Travelling to exotic parts of the world and eating at chain restaurants doesn’t benefit the local people, nor the planet. By choosing local accommodation, opting for local experiences, and eating at locally-owned, independent restaurants, you’ll be supporting the local economy and creating a positive impact.
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Use Airbnb with care
When first created, Airbnb was designed so that people could rent out their flat while they were away. As its popularity boomed, many discovered that renting out property on Airbnb is an extremely profitable (and largely unregulated) venture. The problem is, this has led to many people buying properties to rent out as short-term lets, leaving the locals with a competitive and unaffordable housing market.
Many cities are now clamping down on this, including Barcelona where over 4,100 Airbnb were recently removed in a bid to prevent short-term rentals taking over neighbourhoods. People wanting to rent out a property on Airbnb in Barcelona are now required to obtain the relevant licences prior to listing it online.
In Berlin, similar regulations have been introduced, under the name “zweckentfremdungsverbot”, also known as the “anti-Airbnb law”. As a result, only a few landlords have permits from the city for short-term Airbnb rentals, and hefty fines of up to 500,000 euros are used to enforce this.
So, what are the ethical alternatives to Airbnb? Staying in traditional, licensed B&Bs as well as hotels, hostels, and lodges. You could also consider using house sitting websites such as Mind My House or Nomador as a cheaper alternative.
Choose eco-friendly accommodation and travel operators
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One of our top sustainable travel tips, and the best way you can support the environmentally-friendly travel and tourism industry, is to choose eco-friendly accommodation and travel operators.
Studies have shown that a 200-room four star hotel can use nearly 300,000 pieces of single-use plastic in one month, including plastic water bottles, amenities and food packaging. The shift towards ecotourism has seen a rise in environmentally-friendly accommodation, such as Jetwing Surf in Sri Lanka and Pacuare Lodge in Costa Rica, where plastic waste is reduced (or eliminated), local food is served, and buildings are made from sustainable materials.
Activist travel companies, such as Responsible Travel, are a great way of booking trips without having to do all the research for yourself. These companies can help you book trips that support local communities and preserve nature for future generations.