How sustainable traveling turns from chore to joy and how to alleviate travel guilt | Sustainable Travel Series / Part 2
Hey there, I’m Daniela and this is the Science of Travel Blog + Podcast! Here, geosciences, traveling and environmental protection and preservation collide.
Topics range from geoscientific stories about the formation and history of Earth, and the formation of specific landscapes to sustainable, respectful, conscious, and regenerative traveling to philosophical contemplations about living life as an Earthling.
This is a 3-part blog series that covers what sustainable traveling is, why it is important, and how you can travel sustainably. These tips are for affluent and budget travelers alike. Sustainable traveling is not a matter of money, but of goodwill, common sense, values and responsibility. It is neither expensive, complicated, nor difficult to travel sustainably.
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This is what the individual parts are about:
Part 1: What is sustainable traveling and why is it important?
Part 2: How sustainable traveling turns from chore to joy and how to alleviate travel guilt
Part 3: Build your ecofriendly itinerary: Sustainable travel tips for before, during and after your trip
This is part 2
How sustainable traveling turns from chore to joy and how to alleviate travel guilt
I know something about you simply because you landed on this page: You love to travel and you care for the planet. Nowadays, with climate change and environmental pollution, these two traits seem to be incompatible. This makes you wonder whether traveling the world during your lifetime is okay. That makes two of us!
In this article we explore why loving to travel and caring for the planet are not incompatible and how these traits, when combined, can lead to meaningful, rewarding travel and life experiences for all involved – locals, nature, travelers.
Unfortunately, taking care of the planet seems like a chore sometimes (even to me, honestly) especially if we want to relax and have fun like we do on vacation – because taking care of the planet is uncomfortable as it requires effort. This article shows you how sustainable traveling can turn from chore to joy, and how it can create even more meaningful travel experiences.
In this article:
- Should we feel guilty when we travel?
- How can we alleviate travel guilt?
- What makes a good traveler, a better traveler?
- How does education support sustainable traveling?
- How does sustainable traveling turn from chore to joy?
- What does a headache have to do with poor traveling?
- What is the root cause of poor traveling?
The fact that you're here proves to me that you have contemplated and/or are open to contemplating whether traveling is something you should feel guilty about.
The desire to be a good, long-term thinking citizen, a human that cares for the planet, shows what a beautiful soul you are. You care about the planet, your travel destination, and ultimately, you care about more than just yourself (hooray!).
I love to travel and I sometimes feel guilty or bad about it, and I also feel privileged. Before I contemplated the question "Should I feel guilty when I travel?", I felt it. I felt travel guilt. I'll tell you about that a little later. Before I do, I want to explore where this desire to become a better traveler emerges.
- We are good people and want to give back.
- We feel selfish, guilty, and want to do something good.
Basically, we feel guilty because our actions are not aligned with our values.
Let’s have a look at the definition of guilt. Guilt means we don’t feel good about a decision we’ve made or how we behaved. We think that we did something wrong, and that we’re aware that there is a better way to go about doing it.
In our case, we think there’s a better way to travel. A way of traveling that has the potential to fulfill us more, that gives back to the destinations we visit, a way of traveling that is more ethical, more meaningful, or simply put: that makes us feel better – and that gives back (although these two are connected).
Before I go on, here’s a list of things that definitely apply to me. Can you relate, too?
- I’m constantly thinking about traveling. I always want to be somewhere else.
- When I just returned home from a vacation, I’m already thinking about planning a new one!!
- I hear "Where do you NOT want to go?" more often than "Where do you want to go?" which leads to my next point...
- My “don’t want to go”-bucket list is shorter than my “want to go” bucket list
- I’m obsessed, very obsessed, with beautiful landscapes (and my definition of "beautiful landscapes" includes an array of landscapes, I love basically all the landscapes on the planet) and I wonder how they formed, too.
- I have constant wanderlust and itchy feet. I love to go on trips, even short ones.
Does that sound familiar?
But there's a catch: I always feel a sense of guilt for loving to travel. And with the climate crisis and environmental pollution, I always wonder if I’m ever able to see all the beautiful places I want to see, and if I should see all the places I want to see.
I want to see so much of the world. And the places I want to visit are usually very far away. I want to go to New Zealand, visit countries in Africa, I want to go to Canada, Polynesia, Scotland and Hawai’i again, only to name a few bucket list goals. Airplane travel means carbon dioxide emissions and travel packages make me feel like I’m a spoiled, entitled person, while the workers in the destinations are underpaid or serving me. I don’t like that feeling – at all. Therefore, I'm searching for new perspectives and alternatives.
A new perspective that I created for myself is to segment the destinations I want to visit in my lifetime into: "must see" and "nice to see". I limit the "must see" segment to 3-5 destinations where I plan to spend at least 4 weeks, ideally 4-8 weeks. If I visit these destinations in my lifetime, I am satisfied. All the other places on my "nice to see" list are the cherry on top.
However, there is always this voice in my head that says: Am I selfish if I travel? Tourism threatens species, nature, and cultures. Tourism harms and simultaneously supports destinations and communities. What a dilemma. Is it okay if I travel? How can I be a better traveler for the world in general, but specifically for the place I want to visit so badly?
Here’s what I think:
- It’s okay to feel guilty. It’s a valid feeling that alerts you that there is something in your life that you’d like to change. It’s a great thing!
- I think yes, it is okay to travel. I don’t think you need to feel guilty about it. If, big IF, you travel the right way.
- When traveling, we, ideally, support local communities and economies with our visits.
- Travel makes us open-minded, tolerant and adaptable. It educates us and enables us to appreciate the beauty of the world and our lives. It allows us to see and appreciate the world in a new way, a way that we can’t necessarily experience in our home country. Sometimes we need to go far away to appreciate the beauty of the world and to fully unfold ourselves and our potential. And that’s okay.
As humans, we love to explore. It’s inherent.
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How can we travel and still leave a positive impact in the destination? Not just a neutral impact. A positive impact.
How can we be such great tourists that the travel destinations and their residents love us, are willing to show us their home, are willing to share their home with us, instead of despise us because we’re reckless, disrespectful, arrive in masses, and for retaining our false sense of entitlement?
I’m going to tell you my personal view on the topic and my personal cure to alleviate the feeling of travel guilt, and overall, how to become a better traveler forever.
I truly believe that my way can help others too, but I’m aware that this doesn’t work for everyone. Also, this solution doesn’t make us saints, but I do viscerally believe it makes us better travelers/tourists, and even humans.
What makes a good traveler, a better traveler?
In my eyes a better traveler is a person who treats the place they want to visit like the home of a close friend. Part 1 of this sustainable travel series covers this. When you visit a friend’s house, you enter with joy and gratitude that they invited you to stay. You respect their house rules, you don’t pick their flowers in their garden, and you don’t break their windows. You don’t take their belongings with you as a souvenir. You don’t disturb their pets, you don't trample their plants in their backyard. Instead, you tell them how beautiful their garden is. You’re curious about your friend, you ask questions about their past, about their future, about their dreams and you are interested in their well-being.
You want them to feel safe with you, you want to leave a good impression, you want to care for your friend, you listen to your friend’s stories. You have the best intentions about maintaining a good relationship from the start.
This is exactly how we should behave when we enter a destination. We should be curious, and respectful. Appreciative and grateful of their hospitality. We should accept the destination’s cultural rules and its character. We should marvel at the landscapes, not destroy or litter them. We should even take it a step further and care for the landscapes, tend to them. We should be in a constant state of curiosity, gratitude and giving.
To put it in a nutshell: A better traveler is a traveler who visits a place with the best intentions, educated and curious and who treats the people and land with respect.
You probably already know how you can travel sustainably. The suggestions and sustainable travel tips are legion. There exist hundreds of great websites with lists and suggestions created by amazing people who have the same desire as us: to be a better traveler. I even made my own list and shared it with you in part 3 of this sustainable travel series.
But right now I don’t want to talk about those suggestions. Right now, I don't want to talk about flying less frequently, staying longer, using fewer plastic products, buying carbon offsets and so forth.
What I want to talk about is the root cause of poor traveling.
There is one thing you can do that helps ease travel guilt and that turns you into a better traveler forever.
It is only one single thing.
This one thing will help you feel connected, free, happy and at peace with the destination, the community, the nature while traveling.
This one thing, doing this one thing, tackles reckless traveling at its roots.
And most importantly: This one thing established a fundamental mindset to travel sustainable and thoughtfully forever.
And again, it’s not paying the airplane carbon compensation fee, carbon offsets. And I’m not talking about traveling less. After finding out and applying this single strategy, you’ll be intrinsically motivated to live and travel more sustainably.
When you do this one thing, sustainable traveling turns from chore to joy.
You’ll want to pay the airplane carbon compensation fee and you’ll want to travel less. You’ll want to travel longer if you travel. You’ll want to avoid using the plane if it’s possible. You’ll want to choose ecofriendly options. You’ll think twice about booking that 8-hour flight to a far-away paradise if all it is you want to do is relax. You'll want to skip on those short trips. You’ll search for alternatives that are closer. You’ll think twice about going on that cruise, you wonder if it’s truly a good idea, and if it's aligned with your values. You won’t trample the native and introduced plants in your travel destination. You won’t feel privileged and entitled and superior and above everyone else.
The one thing I am talking about, the one thing you need to do to travel better is: Appreciate, respect and connect with your travel destination by learning about it. Education is key. Learning about your travel destination creates an awareness and understanding of the place and your impacts of travel and enables you to make informed decisions for the benefit of your host destination.
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Before we will talk about how education supports sustainable traveling, let me tell you a little bit about myself to give this context:
I tend to get super obsessed with travel destinations and when I feel stuck and unhappy, I always dream of places that are far away. Luckily, I’ve been fortunate to have seen quite a bit of the world already. I visited Spain, Turkey, Vietnam, the United States for an extended period of time, Hawai’i, Finland and many other countries. I've visited beautiful places in Germany such as the Bodensee area (Lake Constance), Austria, and Switzerland.
I’m not saying this to brag about where I’ve been, I do have a point. Actually, I have three points:
- Traveling is an adventure to me, and I grew up visiting other places. I like to believe it’s made me highly adaptable, tolerant, open-minded, and curious (or do I love to travel because of these character traits? Chicken or egg? I don't know). Anyway, I do believe whether we have these character traits or not, traveling makes us adaptable, tolerant, open-minded and curious.
- I’m very certain that I can’t live without traveling. It’s so intrinsic and I was born with the desire to see the world and to understand the world.
- When we spent that time in Turkey and Spain and Vietnam, I always had moments when I felt bad. We went camping in northern Germany, at the North Sea and at the Baltic Sea, when I was very young, but later we booked travel packages and stayed in touristy hotels and resorts. But I always felt like a spoiled brat from Germany, being served all day long. I didn't like that feeling.
Because I loved travel, I decided I wanted to study tourism (and also because I didn't have the courage to study geography). I decided to participate in a study program where I worked at a tour operator half the time and went to school half the time. The job description for the vacancy at the tour operator-student position sounded amazing, just like me. They were looking for people who are good at languages and geography and interested in cultures. Every piece of that application, or job description, screamed my name. So I applied and got the job. I worked at Germany’s second largest tour operator for about 4 years. I was a part-time student there for 3 years and later fully employed for about one year until I called it quits. During that time, I was able to join colleagues on business trips to Malta and Egypt and Mallorca. During the entire time working at that travel company, I always had this nagging sense that something was off, was wrong, was missing, that my calling was something else.
And I soon knew what it was.
I wanted to understand Earth’s processes and how these landscapes we always marvel at during travels were shaped. I didn’t want to sit behind a computer all day long, send people off to far-away places, where they would learn nothing about that place. It felt so hollow, so shallow, useless and empty to me. To me. I repeat to me to emphasize that tour operators are important. They help us visit the places we dream of. They organize trips. They organize vacation. I was supervised by and worked with kind and interesting colleagues who all shared the same "Fernweh" character trait. The work there just wasn't the right fit for me.
Besides working at the tour operator for four years, when I grew older, I realized that I didn’t like the conventional tourism at all. I didn't like how destinations are marketed as products. I didn't like how tourism encourages the destruction of nature because hotels have to be built. It disturbs animals, it clogs streets. It pollutes the air and the oceans. Hotels waste water. Creatures we share our time on Earth with are disturbed by us. Masses of tourists who just visit a place for that Instagram picture are ridiculous. At one point, traveling seemed so pretentious and disgusting to me. Traveling can be preposterous and disrespectful if we do it wrong.
What is traveling worth if we send people to resorts where they see nothing of the country? And even if they did see the country, but they knew nothing about it, what sticks in the end then? The tan line? Where is the sense in visiting a place just for the pictures you have to share on social?
When I was still in school, I had always been interested in geography and the Earth. But I never thought I could study it. I thought I wasn’t smart enough. A few years after school, I had collected some courage and self-esteem and I decided I’d give it a shot and signed up to study geosciences at the University of Cologne.
And I thought I was done with the tourism sector. But I was wrong. Because I had an idea. What if I could find a format that would allow me to share with people how the landscapes in their destinations formed? What if I could use my knowledge and my passion to bring them closer to nature again? What if this was my way to contribute to sustainable, regenerative traveling? And the result is: EarthyMe and the online course platform EarthyUniversity as well as the Science of Travel Blog + Podcast. But if you want to I’ll talk about that a little bit later.
How does education support sustainable traveling?
Education has the power to turn sustainable traveling from a chore, a sacrifice, to joy, to second nature.
Education changes our perception, our mindset, and will make all of the sustainable travel tips self-evident to us.
Education gives you an essential understanding of the destination. With this understanding comes a deeper connection to nature and the host community. And with that connection comes a desire tread lightly.
Education resets, redefines our personal set of values that we conduct our lives by, and this includes our travels.
The cherry on top
You travel experience becomes infinitely more meaningful, memorable, and rewarding if you understand and connect to your host destination with its nature and people.
I want to illustrate this with an analogy.
An analogy: stress-related headache and poor traveling
Imagine you have a headache. What do you do? You throw in an Advil or Aspirin. You want to get rid of the symptoms. Of the symptom only – and carry on with what you’ve been doing. Disconnected from your body and the signal your body is giving you. What you really should be doing is ask this: What is my body lacking? Why do I have a headache? Am I lacking sleep? Water? Food? Movement? Perhaps you should put down that phone, leave your desk for a good while, close your eyes, breathe in and out, go for a walk, dance, exercise, listen to music. What is it that your body wants? What is it that your mind wants And why is this symptom, your headache, there? Are you stressed? Are you tired? Are you worried? Are you anxious? Are you over-worked? Are you sick?
To answer these questions, you have to do two things:
First, you have to connect to yourself.
Second, you have to find out what your body wants. You need knowledge about it. Nobody can tell you what you need. No Instagram influencer or YouTube star. Only you, and perhaps a physician.
Only if you connect, if you have knowledge about yourself, can you figure out the root cause of your suffering, your headache.
And this is precisely what we need to do when we travel. We need to connect and gather knowledge about the place we want to visit.
What is the root cause of poor traveling? Treating symptoms vs. root cause
See, reckless, disrespectful traveling that destroys and pollutes the environment (which in my eyes is poor traveling) is caused by a lack of connection humanity has with our planet and nature. This is the root cause.
And all the above-mentioned methods to travel sustainably, such as traveling less or avoiding using the plane or choosing eco-friendly accommodation, are merely the painkillers, the Advil or Aspirin, we use to make ourselves feel better. Don’t get me wrong: These methods are great, and I admire anyone who seeks to travel more sustainably.
However, dear listener, they are only treating symptoms. What we need to do is to connect with our travel destination on a deeper level.
In this analogy the disease is poor traveling.
The root cause of this disease is the lacking connection humanity has with nature.
And the symptoms are airplane travel, cruises, over-crowded beaches, superficial vacationing, littering beaches, destroying landscapes, lack of respect and appreciation and so on.
The painkillers we use to treat these symptoms are buying carbon offsets, traveling less, participating in beach clean-ups and so forth. Again, if you do this you are awesome. However, these painkillers merely treat symptoms and only have short-term effects.
Another analogy: Visiting a museum
Imagine visiting a museum. We walk inside a museum, strolling about and are bored out of our minds. Don’t be ashamed, we’ve all done it, I’ve done it. Why are we so bored, why don’t we like them? (Nowadays I like museums, by the way. But when I was younger, I didn't appreciate museums at all.)
Because I didn't read the information that is always written down on some signs or posts. But without that information, the hideous mask or dinosaur bone has no meaning. Without the information, it’s just a big fat bone.
Without information, no knowledge is created. Without knowledge, no understanding and no connection is formed. We get bored, we forget about it sooner than later, and we do not care.
Without knowledge, that rock is a boring rock. But what if that rock was from the Moon? And you just didn't know, but what if you knew that that rock is from the Moon? You’d be amazed, right?
What does all this mean for you? Simple. Before you travel somewhere, learn about that place.
Learn about anything you want. History, culture, language, climate, landscapes, or geology. Whatever your heart desires. Learn, educate yourself. Consume it, soak up the knowledge like a sponge soaks up water and see what the knowledge does with you.
I promise you that something inside you will change. Something will shift. You’ll feel a stronger connection to this destination, the people and the culture. And it’ll make you want to respect them and their land. It’ll happen automatically. I can promise you.
A final analogy: Getting to know new people and things
Ever notice that you liked a person even better after you got to know them a little more? Or that things become interesting once you get just a little bit of a deeper insight into them?
And suddenly you start to care. You start to care about that person, that culture, that community, the nature, the ocean.
Personally, I love landscapes. I always wonder how they form. Whenever I go somewhere it’s the prevailing question in my head. How did this get there? How was it made? And the background noise goes: Wow, Earth is so holy bananas beautiful.
But I never found easily accessible and detailed information about these landscapes, about their formation and how they were shaped. Travel guides are great, but they focus on activities and accommodations and restaurants, but not on the geological formation of landscapes, or nature in general, at least not in the depth as I would require it to form a deep connection.
And this is exactly what I do at EarthyMe, EarthyUniversity, and the Science of Travel Blog + Podcast and with the emails I sent out in the STORIES OF EARTH newsletter.
I provide knowledge, understanding. I want to make geology, or geosciences in general, accessible to you. The traveler. I know the true value information has, and I love sharing about my passion and I love sharing my knowledge. Because I know that learning all this about Earth and nature has definitely changed the way that I see the world, and the way that I want to take care of it. I even created an online course because of that.
I tell stories, the stories of spectacular landscapes and destinations. I create online video classes that are well-researched, digestible, light, conversational and insightful – but scientific. Nobody needs to be scientist to follow along, though. You need no prior knowledge. It is much easier to understand geology and nature than you think.
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Case study: Hawai'i vacation
You want to travel to Hawai’i and you’ve already purchased flights. Now, you’re ready to do even more research and see what activities you can do and what accommodations you want to stay at. You want to learn about the natural history, the geology and volcanoes of Hawai'i, but you don't want to go on an extended geology trip.
And here's the addition to your old travel-planning routine
You go to EarthyUniversity and see if there are free podcast episodes and a travel class available. You see: Yes, there are travel classes available, even two travel classes about Hawai’i! And there are a bunch of free podcast episodes and blog articles about Hawai'i as well! You watch the classes or listen to them. You learn a lot and you are amazed. You would’ve never known about these things if EarthyUniversity didn’t exist. Because you learned about stuff you didn’t even know existed. You couldn’t have known what to research because you didn’t know it was there to research in the first place, because you didn’t know it was worth knowing about this topic. You learned about the formation of these unique islands, and now you feel so much more connected to the people, because you understand them a little bit better. You want to make a positive impact in Hawai’i. Not just a neutral impact. A positive impact.
You’re so relieved you watched these classes. Because now you know that you want to choose eco-friendly hotels. You know that you need reef-safe sunscreen. You only book activities with ecofriendly providers or those that provide educational services. And you also understand why it is important to be a good traveler who respects the destination they visit.
The cure for poor traveling and travel guilt is simply connecting with our destination by educating ourselves about it. Education resets our values, and sustainable traveling does not feel like a chore anymore but becomes self-evident.
The lack of connection to our planet that we’re suffering from is the root cause of poor traveling. Taking on the responsibility and trying to understand our own individual role in the world by simply learning more about it and the destinations we want to travel to is an important part of being a better traveler and also living a more sustainable, meaningful life.
Education is the absolute foundation, the building block, of truly sustainable change. When education starts, better decisions will follow. Because we start to understand, to connect, to care.
That's a wrap my friend. If you like what your just read, then you’ll love my emails. The STORIES OF EARTH newsletter is a sanctuary for travel enthusiasts, the big-hearted and the curious. Sign up if you want get emails about Earth, nature, sustainable traveling and the geological history (formation) of travel destinations and landscapes, notifications for the SCIENCE OF TRAVEL Podcast + Blog as well as alerts and updates about new online travel classes at EarthyUniversity. The emails you receive from me read like emails from a close friend.
This episode was about establishing the fundamental mindset that is required for sustainable traveling that doesn't feel like a chore. Part 3 of this series is about building your ecofriendly itinerary and gives concrete sustainable travel tips for before, during and after your trip.
I hope you join me for the next and final episode of the sustainable travel series.
The Sustainable Travel Checklist
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. Before you head to the next article, download the Sustainable Travel Checklist:
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 newsletter. 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 newsletter.
Blog banner image: Taryn Elliott - Photography (pexels.com)
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