A little while ago, I had the privilege of going to hear Jane Goodall speak about her amazing journey. Near the end of her talk, she spoke of how her focus has changed from learning about chimpanzees, to protecting their habitat, and now to protecting the environment more broadly.
Hearing her speak was inspirational on a number of levels, but it also got me thinking about ways to live sustainably. One dilemma that came to mind was the sustainability of travel and tourism. As an archaeologist, I’m often all too keenly aware of the dilemma between wanting to showcase an amazing site by allowing tourist traffic, and the very real damage that tourism can cause to that same site. The same principle applies to the reefs, jungles, beaches, etc. that are such big draws for tourists, not to mention the waste that can often come with mobile living, such as plastic water bottles, single-use items, the fuel that gets travellers from place to place, and so on. The cultural impact of unsustainable tourism is also an important aspect; though the development of tourism in an area can be a welcome source of money in a community, it can also lead to displacement, cultural appropriation and commodification.
I’m still very much learning about how to make my travel more sustainable. As I’ve learned more and more about the issues, it has become clear that some of these issues are easier to address than others. Though I’m just starting on my journey of sustainable travel, here are a few things I’ve been learning about.
On the easier end of the spectrum is, quite simply, to leave no mess behind and to avoid plastic waste. A great motto is, “Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints.” As a traveller, it’s really easy to always carry a reusable water bottle (not to mention a good way to stay hydrated). I try to do this whether at home or abroad, so no worries. Where it can be difficult is in countries where it’s unsafe to drink tap water. In places like that, you’ll have to take a few extra steps to avoid bottled water, such as boiling and filtering tap water, using iodine tablets, or products such as SteriPens. I’ll admit that, as much as I use my reusable bottle in areas where it’s easy to do so, I still struggle with taking those extra steps when it’s not safe to refill my bottle and drink water straight from the tap.
Support and frequent local businesses rather than chains, where you know the money you spend is going back to the community. Thankfully, this is something that’s been made easier by organizations like AirBnb, Couchsurfing and Uber that allow locals to provide services that replace hotels and cab companies.
This one can be tricky. I always try to stick to walking, cycling, or public transportation both at home and abroad. Air travel, however, is undeniably tough on the environment and can be difficult to avoid. The David Suzuki Foundation has some small things that you can do to try to offset the effects of air travel, though ultimately, almost any other form of transportation is more environmentally friendly. All the more reason to change it up by taking the train!
Ecotourism = Sustainable Travel?
A number of responsible organizations have cropped up that help tourists have more sustainable, low-impact visits to natural environments, which differentiates it from other forms of sustainable travel. This sort of travel highlights some of the struggles that areas, sites and cultures have to deal with, raising awareness and funneling tourist dollars towards conservation efforts protecting these environments. These organizations focus on conservation, environmental sustainability and supporting local communities.Beware of ‘green-washing’ organizations which make themselves sound ecologically friendly, when in fact, they are anything but (i.e. putting a cool hotel underwater or in the middle of a jungle and calling it ecotourism). It can sometimes be tough to distinguish the two, so do your research!
Responsible Travel Report and the Sustainability Abroad group at Yale University have compiled some very useful tips and tricks to becoming a more environmentally and socio-culturally friendly traveller at every point of your trip, from the planning stages until you’re heading home.
Do you have any tips and tricks for more sustainable travel?
For more information on Jane Goodall and the work of her foundation, visit the Jane Goodall Institute.