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Traveling sustainably, or respectfully, is a great way to contribute to a better, inclusive, respectful world. You'll make the lives of people in your host community, the lives of animals and plants, and your own life, easier.
Sustainable traveling equals respectful traveling
In our everyday lives, striving to follow a zero-waste or low-waste lifestyle, reducing the use of plastic products and renouncing to use single-use plastics overall is an honorable trait.
Eating less meat and dairy products, incorporating more vegetarian or vegan meals into your diet and riding the bike more often are also ways to live a more ecofriendly life and to reduce your carbon footprint. But you know all this already!
When it comes to travelling, all of these measures are valid as well.
And it's just as important to be respectful of our host community.
As travellers, and as humans, we should be mindful of this simple fact:
Traveling means entering the home of others
Of other people if we visit a new region or country.
Of marine animals if we take a dip in the ocean.
Of other animals when we hike through the forest or up a mountain.
We should care about our travel destination as if it were our own home (and in a larger sense it is - as Earth is the home of all of us). But on a smaller scale we are guests everywhere we go that is not our home.
I got a Q for you: How do you want to feel during & after your vacation? Relaxed, happy, fulfilled, like you did something good?
One way to leverage your own happiness is by helping others.
Helping others helps ourselves.
We've all experienced this: if you've ever given something from your heart (a compliment, time, donation, a gift or smile etc.), you know that it feels great to make someone's life easier and to brighten their day. Both parties benefit: you and them.
If you want to have the most fulfilling vacation, one that makes you feel great, puts a big smile on your face, there are many things you can do that will achieve that.
Trying to travel as sustainably, or respectfully, as you can is a great way to contribute. You'll make the lives of people in your host community, the lives of animals and plants, and your own life, easier.
Here are actionable ideas that could maximize your positive impact:
10 tips for traveling more sustainably:
Be sure to download the corresponding PDF Checklist at the end of this page. Challenge yourself and your friends on your next trip: How many circles will you tick off?
1. Treat your travel destinaton like the home of a friend
Always be aware that you're a visitor to your travel country. Always remember to treat it like the home of a friend. Show respect, appreciation, be friendly and have the best intentions in maintaining a good relationship. This is perhaps the most important point, as it primes you to treat your travel destination with respect from the get-go. Ask yourself these questions: How do I behave when I visit a friend's home? Do I litter their house or backyard, do I take their belongings as souvenirs - or do I accept and respect their house rules, am I kind and generous, show interest in their lives, appreciate their way of living and beautiful garden?
2. Educate yourself about your travel destination
Learn as much as you can about the culture, language history, nature, geology and geography of your travel country.
This way, you'll show respect and appreciation. By education yourself you'll also automatically contribute to the preservation of the local nature, culture and community.
By simply education yourself you will gain a new perspective and see your travel destination with new eyes. I can't tell you enough how important I think this step is. :)
3. Support local communities
By spending your money on locally made souvenirs, food or crafts, you support the local artists, vendors and producers and strengthen the local economy and protect cultural heritage directly and immediately.
When taking part in local clean ups, voluneering at animal or homeless shelters or any other place you want to support, you're taking care of the country and the people you visit and contribute to a more friendly, healthy environment for everybody.
4. Choose ecofriendly products only
Purchase only reef-safe sunscreen, ecofriendly insect repellent and other products you use when staying outside. Sprays and cremes oftentimes contain harmful chemicals that threat the health of wildlife.
5. Use reusable products
Bring your own refillable water bottle or coffee mug, use tote bags when shopping, choose products not wrapped in plastic foil, don't drink from plastic straws. Reducing the use of plastic products in general will result in less trash and less environmental pollution and less (micro)plastic in our oceans.
6. Don't buy or eat wildlife products or produce
Please never ever buy souvenirs, food or other products made from wild animals such as sharks, whales, sea turtles, dogs, cats, puffins and others. By purchasing those products, you directly support poaching and hunting of these precious animals that keep our world in balance.
7. Make only memories and take only photographs
Please leave all sand, all rocks and all coral fragments at the beach or in the water. Don't take anything with you. Never pick or injure flowers, plants or trees. View nature with your eyes, feel it with your hands, smell it with your nose - but never take a piece of nature from where it belongs.
8. Stay on tracks when hiking
Not only for your own health and safety, but for the sake of the health of wild animals and plants, you are strongly encouraged to stay on the designated hiking trails prepared by local or state authorities.
9. Never touch animals or approach them too closely
You could startle them, harm them, scare them, offend them, be seen as an intruder, risk your health or well-being. Enjoy the animals' presence from a distance and everybody will stay happy and safe.
10. Old but gold
Saving water helps to reduce the overall amount of sewage (containing harmful chemicals, oil, gas, pesticides) entering our natural bodies of water.
Use trash cans to get rid of litter. Never ever leave your garbage on the beach, in the forest, or anywhere else in nature. If you smoke, don't flick your cigarette butts on the floor. Instead, throw them away. Smoking is bad for you and the environment anyways - don't make it worse by leaving traces behind.
The Sustainable Travel Checklist
I've summed up all of these points in a practical 4-page checklist you can bring on your next trip. Download it by clicking on the image:
About the author
Daniela is convinced that by gaining deep insights into planet Earth and travel destinations you’ll create meaningful, grounding and memorable life and travel experiences. She explains fundamental geological processes that form and shape landscapes and combines these insights with philosophical and philanthropical views in her online courses, articles, podcast and e-letter. She holds two bachelor's degrees in geosciences (B.Sc.) and business administration with tourism (B.A.). She is the owner and founder of EarthyMe, EarthyUniversity and the Science of Travel blog and podcast and the Stories of Earth Letter.