It's not just hippies and alternative types that love the idea of sustainable travel. It's been growing and growing among all sorts of travelers in recent decades, bringing all sorts of environmental and ethical ideas to the forefront of the industry. So, if you're looking to minimize your carbon footprint, dodge cruel tourist attractions, or just give something back to the world you enjoy so much, be sure to read on for LBW's guide to sustainable travel.
For a long time, just the mention of sustainable travel has drawn sighs and eye rolls from so many globetrotters. Conjuring images of bearded hippies strumming guitars over a campfire, or naturist yogis going on about the energies of Mother Earth, it's been seen as something of a joke. We're here to say – no more!
Just check out this guide to sustainable travel and you'll see that moving around the globe responsibly isn't about cultivating your locks, choosing quinoa whenever it's on the menu and forgoing lux hotels for rustic campsites.
You'll see that it's about a whole mindset, a way of being and living. You'll see that sustainable travel is intimately wrapped up with your outlook on life and our place as humans within it. It's about giving back and enjoying the planet you have with a mind for the generations that will come after you. You'll also see that it's starting to work.
Small Decisions – Big Impacts
Small decisions – big impacts. It's the mantra of sustainable travel the world over. You don't have to ditch your mod cons, the iPhone, the internet. You don't have to forgo the luxuries of a visit to the spa or having a pool outside your hotel room. You don't need to dress only in organic hemp and furnish your next travel pad with all upcycled stuff. You don't need to do any of that stuff – unless you want to, of course. If you want to, go right ahead. It can't hurt.
You don't need to because that's not what the drive towards ethical and conscious travel is asking of globetrotters. Instead, it's asking just a few small changes; minute decisions, alterations in the way we move around the globe. It could be as simple as swapping out a plastic straw for a biodegradable bamboo one the next time you grab a dragon fruit smoothie in Bali. It could be just stopping with the disposable bags whenever you hit the supermarket. I could mean dropping plastic bottles for reusable ones as you hop between the Thai islands…
Be Plastic Conscious
…leading us neatly to plastics. Anyone who has ever tried to surf the swells of Kuta or laze on the white-sand beaches of Koh Rong will know that plastic is becoming a huge issue for the planet. Everything from bottles to straws to sweet wrappers can be found lining the shores of once-pristine tropical islands. And that's just the bits we can see. What about the reefs? The oceans? The mountains? The streams? The jungles? And what the darn about all the animals in them!?
It's a sobering thought to think that in the last 10 years alone, we've manufactured more plastic than we have in the whole 100 years before that. What's more, it's estimated that we throw away enough of the stuff each year to encase the Earth four times over. There's surely nothing sustainable about that, now is there?
Answer (in case you weren’t sure): No. Hence why we think it's more important than ever to make small changes on the plastic front. Ask yourself if you really need that extra bag for the groceries. Check if they have biodegradable toothbrushes in that cosmetics shop. Stop using bottles. That last one's a huge one, and one we're leading the charge on in LBW, where every traveler on our Thailand tours now gets a re-fillable bottle and access to cooled, safe water in every place we stay along the way. It's the Blue Project.
Check Your Providers
Whether you opt for an organized tour of the Land of Smiles or just a daytrip to the nearest animal park, it's now more important then ever to check who your providers are. Take the case of Thailand's elephant "sanctuaries". They are infamously split between bona fide conservation parks that are dedicated to helping the national animal, and rough, unaccredited places where the big-eared, beautiful beasts are still chained up and forced to traipse along muddy paths with photo-snapping tourists on their back, day in, day out. Needless to say, you're going to want to avoid the latter.
We made the switch to only ethical, real elephant sanctuaries as soon as we became aware of the problems with elephant tourism in Thailand, but we're also aware that this sort of thing happens in a whole load of different industry sectors. The upshot is that you'll need to be diligent in your research when it comes to picking which tour provider or outfitter you go with. Alternatively, pick someone like LBW to organize the whole shebang for you, relaxed in the knowledge that you won't ever stray over the ethical line.
Be Mindful Of Your Chosen Transport
Going green with your mode of transport is an important aspect of sustainable travel. Remember that unless you're whizzing around on Elon Musk's futuristic tube cars (clue: no one is whizzing around on Elon Musk's futuristic tube cars) then it's likely your going to be contributing to carbon emissions. Everything from buses to trains, speedboats to planes has CO2 or fossil fuels that billow out into the atmosphere.
The point to bear in mind is that some modes of transport are far better than others. If you're serious about pursuing sustainable travel, you can start by planning travel trips that make use of modes of movement that aren't so bad. Walking is best – you expend nothing but your own energy when you're getting around on two legs, and you can look forward to some real adventures along the way. Of course, walking isn't always possible – Bali and Vietnam aren't just a stroll from New York, eh?
When it comes to longer hops, you should consider travelling by train, bus or shared car whenever possible. All of those offer ways of minimizing your carbon footprint. They might mean longer, more arduous journeys than a quick hop, but they can also be experiences in themselves. They are bound to stick in the mind more than just a speedy trip to the airport and back. I can think of day-long connections that took me through the misty Tenasserim Hills of Thailand, overnight buses that see you wake up in buzzing Ho Chi Minh, night trains from Budapest to Vienna, and breathtaking hitches travelling in Greece and its rugged mountains, all off the top of my head, and all carbon-saving to boot.
Flights Are Carbon Creators
That all leads us neatly to our next point: flights. Flights are a total killer when it comes to reducing your carbon footprint on the planet. A whopping 5% of all carbon emissions are said to be related to global air travel, and it's estimated that even a relatively quick long-haul flight – say from coast to coast in the United States – can account for around a third of the overall carbon release of the average individual for the whole year. That means three flights and you're out; you've already soared above your average carbon emission count for the next 365 days. Wowza!
Of course, flights are sometimes totally unavoidable. We don't want you to stop travelling at LBW – no sir, we want you to travel more. Hence why we're grateful to carbon offsetting programs which can help you reduce your impact when flying with larger airlines. You can mitigate it even more by going for nonstop flights – taking off and landing are the real culprits, say the climate-watching community. And you can mitigate it again if you replace extra short-haul routes with train travel or buses once you're on the ground.
Experience-Driven Tourism Can Help
A huge 69% of travelers now say that they plan on trying something new and different on that next trip. That's important because it signals an intention to engage with the world, not just enjoy it. In fact, experience-orientated travel is riding high, with more and more folk looking for tours in the ilk of LBW – jaunts that offer an authentic, raw slice of place and culture.
That's good news for sustainability for a number of reasons. Firstly, there's the fact that experience-driven travel tends to involve locals. Locals have traditionally played second-fiddle to big-name brands or hotel resorts who funnel money away from a destination and back into their own coffers. Secondly, raw, authentic travel that really offers a glimpse at a destination is a great way to raise awareness for the plight of peoples and cultures.
We've seen that happen ourselves, with projects like ours to build homes for locals in Nicaragua. It's a prime example of tourism money being redirected to alleviate poverty for people in a destination that's captured our hearts. And boy does Nica capture hearts…
Remember You Are A Part Of A Movement
Just when you thought your small effort wouldn't make a difference, be sure to remind yourself that you're a part of a movement of travelers that's helping to change the way we do things. It's not about saving the world by swapping plastic bottles for reusable metal ones. It's not about stopping global warming by opting for trains instead of short-haul planes. What it is about is raising awareness, spreading the word, making small impacts, and being part of the big machine that's in the process of changing direction.
There's oodles of evidence to show that it's working, too. As many as 72% of travelers say that giving something back is now high on their list of priorities when abroad. Add to that the fact that a vast majority of travel tour organizers (yours truly included) has some sort of environment consultant, environmental plan or initiative in their portfolio. And drop in the reality that voluntourism and ecotourism are on the rise year on year. It's not all bad, you know.
Don't miss the boat – sustainable travel is the new thing. It's affecting the way we hop around the globe, whether that means changing the way we fly to simply what we drink out of. At LBW, we're determined to be on the forefront of it all, helping the globe while loving it as we move. If you'd like to join us, be sure to check out our range of awesome tours and trips. We go from Bali to Thailand to tropical Costa Rica plus many more. Check them all out HERE.
"Rich is a traveler, writer and filmmaker who's always after somewhere new to go. He's been hopping around the globe since 2011, from Poland to Paris, Mumbai to Ho Chi Minh. He runs several travel sites of his own, from Ski Eastern to Live Krakow to Crabs Move Sideways. When he's not planning his next trip, he's usually listening to 50s jazz, surfing in Wales, skiing in the Alps, or just swigging (too much) great craft beer."
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