11 Tips on Travelling Sustainably
These 11 points for conscious travel are easily digestible takeaways that support the findings of Trippin’s Future of Travel report. The points of action are spread evenly into pre-, during, and post-travel, and incorporate actions in support of the environment, people, and culture. Each point of action ends with several questions you can ask yourself as an exercise.
Choose your destination wisely
Local travel is growing in popularity, both because of the pandemic and an increase in environmental awareness. Even if you don’t want to stay within your country, there are a number of questions you should ask yourself before choosing your destination.
Has it ever seemed that everyone you know is travelling to Mexico City or Positano at the same time? Social media has led to an echo chamber, and its algorithms amplify content that is already being shared. When we think of where we want to travel next, our minds subconsciously flit to the beautiful beach we saw our friends lounging on on Instagram.
There are many reasons why we want to visit a place, including because it may be aesthetically beautiful. If you're stuck on choosing a destination, perhaps think of the places which would benefit from your tourism dollars. Many countries rely on tourism to stay afloat, or need tourism dollars to rebuild after political tragedies, natural disasters, or being tainted by Western media bias — and they might not be getting the spotlight.
Rwanda is a great example — the country, which saw the mass murder of around 800K people from April to July of 1994, is one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa and has become an unlikely tourist destination. It’s had to undergo a massive tourism rebranding in order to move out from under the genocide’s shadow in Western media. Back in 2011, Japan likewise experienced a tourism drought, after a difficult year of natural, and man-made, disasters: an earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown. Today, it’s one of the most popular travel destinations, but at the time, the drop in tourism severely impacted Japan’s local economies. When planning your next trip, try to push yourself outside your newsfeed.
Questions to ask yourself: Where have I not yet discovered in my own country? Why did I choose this destination? Where did I find my information? What destinations can economically benefit most from me visiting? Where have I never considered visiting, and why?
Do your research — beyond brunch spots
Be conscious of why you’re choosing your destination. There’s nothing wrong with discovering new places via social media, but be wary of tourism propaganda, government campaigns, and political climates. The Saudi Arabia influencer campaign scandal is a good example of a corrupt government taking advantage of social media to wipe its reputation clean.
Questions to ask yourself: Have I done my research into a country’s political system? Is there political unrest? How will it affect me in ways I might not have considered? How could I be contributing to exploitive/harmful governments? Will my personal safety be endangered because of my gender, race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation?
Set an intention
Ask yourself, am I travelling for holiday? Work? Volunteering? This should help set the tone, planning, and decisions for the trip ahead. This is also a great way to check in with yourself during your trip, and stay in touch with your trip’s purpose.
Questions to ask yourself: Why am I travelling? Where should I stay to make sure I remain aligned with my trip’s purpose? What decisions can I make ahead of time to help me meet my goals during the trip?
Plan ahead to lighten your carbon load
There are many ways to make your trip greener before you’ve stepped foot out the door. If you’re able to, choose eco-friendly travel options (like trains or boats), pack lightly (every kilo counts - more weight means more carbon emissions to power a plane), and reserve at eco lodges, green hotels, and restaurants. Skip cabs, and take public transportation instead.
Keep this in mind at every point of planning, and you’ll be amazed at how many greener options are available. Of course, your socioeconomic status can impact how ‘green’ you can make your decisions — such as how long you can travel for. In this case, eco-friendly travel, which can take much longer, might not be a realistic option. For budget travellers who cannot afford eco-friendly travel and accommodation, consider how often you are travelling, and read on for more ways to make up for your carbon footprint elsewhere.
Travelling sustainably is in the decisions you make, but it's also a mindset. If you do decide to jump on a plane, be more mindful in your behaviour when you arrive.
Questions to ask yourself: If I’m not flying overseas, can I take a train? What affordable eco-lodging is available? Is there a route or decision I can make to make this more eco-friendly? What local sustainable or vegan cuisine do I want to try?
More green doesn’t necessarily mean more $
56.3% of young creatives said their main frustration with purposeful travel was the cost. While it’s true that more sustainable travel options are often more expensive, eco-friendly “sacrifices” aren’t really sacrifices at all — there are incredible train journeys, cruises, and eco lodges all around the world that are not only beautiful, but can become a valuable part of your trip.
For example, an overnight train is far more expensive than a quick flight, but it offsets the cost of accommodation. Public transportation is always cheaper and more green than a cab.
As mentioned, not everyone can take a lot of time off work. If time is a barrier to choosing the longer, greener route, consider destinations closer to home, or more conveniently accessible — being more selective and realistic with your travel destinations could mean a much lighter carbon footprint.
“How can we ensure we factor in the true cost of our actions so sustainability is automatically rewarded?” Remember that flights and Ubers are artificially cheap — their true cost far outweighs what we pay, and that money is taken from elsewhere. Worker exploitation and eco-destruction are two such effects, and it’s not the wealthy that will feel the impact — 1% of people cause half of the world's aviation emissions, and most flights are from the global north. Climate change also disproportionately affects those in the global south, in particular people of colour.
Of course, choosing the longer or more expensive route isn’t an option for many. But consider which choices are in your control, and how you can offset your carbon footprint in other, more creative ways. Questions to ask yourself: How much money and time do I really save with a flight? Why is my flight so cheap? How is my local travel polluting the environment? How can I use the money I save for more eco-friendly activities?
Post with purpose
Over 80% of creatives said they’d be motivated to change their behaviour if they were socially rewarded for making purposeful and sustainable decisions. Positively and negatively, social media plays a huge factor in both how we document our travel, and how others perceive us and the countries we visit.
COVID-19 has unleashed a new desire for escapism — but around a quarter of young creatives still believe you shouldn’t be travelling at all in the near future. Many young creative travellers are becoming more self-conscious with how their travel is being perceived by others.
There are a number of new travel apps and services that allow for a different kind of travel documentation and discovery — such as Polarsteps, Drifter, Step Your World, Momento, Eat With, and more. Think about how you want your trip to be perceived, and what impression you’re leaving of the countries to others with what you post.
Questions to ask yourself: Do I need to post? What tools are available to share my trip in a more creative and unique way? How can I properly convey my trip’s purpose? What have I posted that has positively or negatively impacted the representation of a country? How can I post in a way that shows I’m respecting health and safety concerns (including COVID-19)?
Health is a factor
Keeping health in mind should increasingly become part of purposeful travel. While personal health is important, put research into your destination’s healthcare system — both for yourself, and for the economic pressure your travelling might leave on a place.
Questions to ask yourself: How is my personal health? Have I been tested for infectious diseases, such as Covid-19? How can I ensure the health of myself, and others, on my trip? What is the healthcare system like in the place I’m visiting? Will I be putting unnecessary pressure on a country’s healthcare system by travelling there? Have I purchased traveller’s health insurance?
Contributing to the local economy is one of the most important ways to travel with purpose, and it’s relatively easy to do.
Avoid large corporate chains, research local restaurants and cuisine, and research off-the-beaten path options. Look into local companies and establishments owned by marginalized local communities.
Also, educate yourself on local supply chains — is a company you’re spending money with linked to a corporation, and what are some better alternatives? By choosing local, you are ensuring a mutually beneficial impact of your trip — focus on giving as much as you are getting back.
Questions to ask yourself: What accommodation and travel options can I choose that will benefit local individuals? Can I avoid corporate chains altogether? What can I research and plan ahead of time to make sure I contribute economically as much as I can to local communities? Have I benefited marginalized communities with my spending choices?
Leave no trace
Whether you see travel as becoming a voyeur or visiting someone else’s home, leaving behind a positive, or at least neutral, impression is key. Economically, this means choosing where you spend your money.
Culturally, this means thinking about how you behave in a way that’s being respectful of a space and people.
Environmentally, this means leaving no litter and cutting pollution down as much as possible.
Questions to ask yourself: What am I posting on social media that can negatively affect a culture’s representation? Am I being excessive? Did I leave any trash anywhere in public? Did I recycle? Did I consider local customs and traditions when moving in a public space? What impact am I leaving behind?
Choosing to travel in a place where you already know someone, or looking to make lasting connections while travelling are two recurring themes in Trippin’s purposeful travel research.
Reach out to friends and acquaintances - or even friends of friends - at your destination ahead of time to ask advice and recommendations, plan a meet-up, and connect. This is also a great way to have a local friendly face in case of emergency.
By focusing on your interactions with individuals of a community, you’ll automatically create meaningful and lasting ties to a place.
Questions to ask yourself: Do I know anyone at my destination? Who can I ask for local contacts? How many conversations did I have with locals? Did I make any new friends or relationships? What did I learn about their lives? Did I see this new place through their eyes?
Staying longer in a place has numerous benefits — more time to enjoy and explore, and less travel means less environmental impact.
While not everyone has the option of taking a lot of time off work or paying for a month’s worth of hotels, staying in a place for longer allows you to naturally build ties to the local community, and pushes you off the tourist path. Working remotely has become the norm, and this will likely carry on far after Covid-19 — taking your work abroad is a great way to travel for longer while still earning money.
Questions to ask yourself: How much time can I take off? Can I work remotely while travelling? Are longer-term rentals more affordable than short-term accommodation?