How to travel sustainably (and respectfully)

Travelling is an incredibly enriching experience not only for yourself, but also for the economy of the country you are visiting.   Economically-weaker countries with enchanting landscapes and a rich culture tend to generate a significant part of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) through tourism. This in return improves the livelihoods of the citizens as well as the quality of their infrastructures, something that benefits the country itself as well as those visiting it. Travelling is of course a privilege that enriches the individual, since being exposed to different cultures and traditions opens one’s mind and broadens one’s horizons.   However, there are also negative sides to travelling, the main one being its impact on the environment. Frequent travel by plane or car causes a lot of CO ₂ emissions to be released in the atmosphere, emissions which contribute to global warming and climate change. Severe draught and heat waves, radical changes in animal’s habits and natural habitats, limited crop productions, these are just some of the effects that unrestricted and unregulated travel can have on our planet.   Of course, the solution is not to stop travelling completely, but to learn how to travel by keeping the planet’s health into consideration. So if you are planning your next trips around the world or you are abroad right now, here are some tips that will help you reduce your ecological footprint.

Tip #1: Transportation

As shown by the graphic on the right, to reach one's destination by plane or car is the worst choice when it comes to the health of our planet. Although biking would be the best, given its almost null impact on the environment, it is not doable when travelling long-distance. Good alternatives are travelling by bus or train given the lower emissions these means produce. If you still decide to travel by car, starting a carpool reduces how many pounds of CO2 are emitted per passenger per mile. If there is no choice but flying, then finding a direct flight with an environmentally-friendly airline is the best choice. Once you get to your destination, avoid renting a car and take advantage of the local public transport.

Tip #2: Pack lightly

Taking a lot of luggage does not equate with travelling sustainably since it impacts the weight of your chosen means of transport, which in return results in higher fuel consumption. Travelling with one backpack or one small trolley is not only better for the environment, but also better for you, since it allows you to be more flexible when visiting your destination.

Tip #3: Go digital!

Instead of buying physical guidebooks and maps, or buying expensive or disposable cameras, the smartphone that is already in your pocket can provide you with all you need and more. Google Maps, Waze, Citymapper, or are the best tools to find your way in a foreign country, and don't have the same environmental impact as a paper map. The quality of pictures taken with your phone has become so high that you don't need to buy a camera to take pictures, reducing the amount of plastic and of batteries that are produced and then thrown away.

Tip #4: Reduce your plastic consumption

The more you travel, the more plastic you use. Water bottles, straws, takeaway food containers and plastic tableware pollute water sources and accelerate the destruction of our environment. Tupperware and reusable cutlery for your food on the go are a great way to reduce your plastic consumption. When it comes to drinking, bringing your own water bottle and metal straw is ideal from a financial and environmental perspective.

Tip #5: Support the locals

A way to support the local population when travelling is booking a room in a hotel run by locals and not by a big corporation or chain. Water consumption is much lower in a local hotel, as there are no large pool facilities and bed linens and towels are changed every other day. If you go sightseeing, do so with the help of a local guide. This is the best way to really get to know the place you are visiting as well as helping the local economy. Something that might help you ahead of your travels are our Sprachcaffe travel guides, which outline some interesting information about culture and traditions. Lastly, when travelling abroad it is important to experience the local dishes for a truly immersive experience, so don't forget to eat at traditional restaurants and shop at local grocery stores.

Tip #6: Always respect the culture

Behaving in a respectful manner and adapting to the local culture is fundamental when travelling. The clothes you wear reflect your character and who you are as a person, so choose your clothing carefully. Wearing something from the culture you are immersed in shows both appreciation and respect. Learning some words of the local language is also incredibly appreciated by the locals, it shows that you have spent time and effort to truly get to know their home country. Body language can be universal, and a nice smile can also take you far.

We hoped you enjoyed our tips on how to travel sustainably! Travelling responsibly does not mean not travelling altogether. On the contrary, it means carefully planning your trip by keeping in mind how your choices effect the local economy and the environment at large.