With over a decade of experience in eco tourism, Kimberley Dawson is passionate about doing no harm when travelling. Read her expert tips on conscious travel below.
In Australia we have become intrepid travellers, fond of exploring the lesser trodden tracks. Travelling broadens our awareness, gives us appreciation and builds empathy for cultures different to our own, but we are becoming increasingly aware of the environmental and cultural effects of our tourism.
The term ‘Sustainable Travel’ encompasses a broad range of ethics to apply when travelling. It means travelling with the lightest impact on the planet overall, the direct environment you are visiting and the cultures you are witnessing. That may seem like a lot to cover, so I’ve broken it down with our travel tips below:
Keeping Carbon Neutral
Taking one international flight can generate more carbon emissions than some individuals produce in a whole year. A good way to offset the effect of travel is to look at reducing or offsetting your individual carbon footprint.
What is my Carbon Footprint?
Simply put, your Carbon Footprint is Carbon Dioxide emissions that result from all activities you do measured as tonnes of CO2. This would include your flights, food, electricity and transport. You can estimate your personal carbon footprint using a carbon calculator. While travelling you can look to reduce your personal carbon footprint by:
- Walking or using bicycle transport instead of driving
- Taking public transport instead of driving in a personal vehicle
- Taking a bus instead of a plane for short haul flights
- Turning off lights and air conditioners in hotels when you’re not there
- Eating local and seasonal food rather than imported food
- Supporting local projects and businesses which are having an impact on the environment (i.e. reforestation projects, rainforest protection projects, solar power installation initiatives).
Offsetting your Carbon Footprint
If you’re in a position to do so, you can offset the carbon from your entire trip. Carbon Offsetting is a way of compensating for your own carbon dioxide emissions by funding schemes designed to make equivalent reductions of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. They may involve reforestation projects or renewable energy projects and are a great way to reduce the overall impact of international travel. A simple way to do this is by joining the Carbon Neutral Plant a Tree program which will plant trees on your behalf to offset your carbon emissions. You can also search for carbon neutral tour companies and accommodation during your trip to further reduce your personal carbon.
Choosing a tour operator
Choosing a tour operator or tour group can be overwhelming! Even if you are planning on independent travel, at some point you will need to join a group to get the most out of your stay and when visiting sensitive local attractions it is usually best to join a registered tour company to avoid any damage to the site. To avoid the dodgy operators (and there’s plenty!):
- Search for the local tourism authority in the country you are visiting – they may have their own registration requirements or eco-accreditation programs.
- When you arrive in a new town, seek out their local tourism authority for the best advice – often booking locally is cheaper and better informed than booking from your home country – you’ll also avoid giving a commission to anyone not located in the country you are visiting.
- Look for companies with a focus on giving back to the environment and the community.
- Choose companies who use local tour guides.
- Choose companies who are owned locally.
- Avoid experiences where you are travelling to sites or areas which are known to be protected – a bit of research prior can avoid any wrong-doing.
- Seek out reviews from other travellers – they will often say if the operator has been doing anything unethical.
Keeping Cultural Impact Low
Tourism can have a massive impact on local communities. Overwhelmingly these impacts are positive with an influx of traveller money into the economy and the development of industry. However, there are negative impacts as well, so to make sure you avoid being part of the problem:
- Travel with reputable local operators who have a focus on cultural sustainability.
- Thoroughly research volunteer programs to make sure any funds you invest are going to the locals rather than a large umbrella company.
- Do not give money or treats to children begging on the street – often they are kept out of school to assist parents with bringing in money – whilst this is devastating, we recommend you contact schools or volunteer organisations to donate money or school supplies instead.
- Do not travel to areas which locals explicitly do not want tourists in.
- Follow local customs and traditions – even if you don’t agree with them – this might mean covering up your hair or wearing long clothing particularly in temples or other religious areas.
- Always ask before taking photographs; if someone says no, respect their wishes.
Being a Responsible Traveller
Being a responsible traveller has so many facets – most of them common sense.
- Organise travel insurance – if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel – don’t become a burden on the country you’re visiting.
- Reduce waste where possible
- Don’t buy bottled water if tap water is safe to drink – most western countries such as America, England, New Zealand and Europe should be fine for drinking – but check with local recommendations prior to departure. Products such as Lifestraw allow you to drink almost any water out of a tap or stream.
- Carry a lightweight cup and container for any takeaway food or street food.
- Carry a re-useable bag for any shopping you might do – many countries have poor recycling facilities, so the best bet is to waste as little as possible.
- Conserve water – keep showers short.
- Reduce energy use – turn off lights and air conditioners when you are not in the hotel room.
- Where possible always choose local operators, local food and local suppliers.
Travelling is a privilege we are so lucky to enjoy. A little bit of research, along with some careful planning before your departure, will mean that you are treading lightly on this planet we are so blessed to live on.