As travellers, we’re often of a more free-spirited mindset... But if we’re not careful, that can come at a cost to the environment and local communities that we visit. So, how can we be more mindful when it comes to our actions and make our impact more positive? Well, eco travel can be a lot easier than you may think, and more rewarding for your travelling experience as well as beneficial for local communities!
Here is our complete guide to being more eco friendly whilst travelling!
What Is Eco Travel?
Eco travel is defined by The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) as "responsible travel to natural areas which conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people". It's all about trying to be more mindful of our actions when travelling and trying to make our impact more positive. TIES's 8 principles of eco travel are:
Minimise physical, social, behavioural, and psychological impacts.
Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.
Provide direct financial benefits for conservation.
Generate financial benefits for both local people and private industry.
Deliver memorable interpretative experiences to visitors that help raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental, and social climates.
Design, construct and operate low-impact facilities.
Recognise the rights and spiritual beliefs of the indigenous people in your community and work in partnership with them to create empowerment.
Why Is Eco Travel Important?
Sometimes referred to as green, responsible or sustainable tourism, eco travel is important as it encourages us to be more sustainable, helping to preserve the natural environment, local culture and the welfare of wildlife and animals. Although tourism can be a great thing for local economies all around the world, it can negatively impact the environment, natural eco systems and wildlife, as well as cause a loss of local culture, gentrification and over tourism.
The Problem With Over Tourism
Since travel has become more widely accessible and social media has enabled destinations to 'go viral', places all around the world have been struggling with the effects of mass tourism... It's an abundance of boat propellers scaring off or physically harming wildlife, corals unable to sustain themselves due to snorkelers wearing chemical based suncreams, Macchu Pichu itself crumbling under the weight of thousands of tourists, rent hikes forcing locals out of their homes in Barcelona, an inability to cope with the increased waste on the island of Bali, or levels of pollution forcing The Philippines to close Boracay island to tourists... Likewise for Maya Bay in Thailand. Even Mount Everest, the tallest peak on Earth, had to be cleared of over 6,500 lbs of discarded rubbish and mostly single use items in 2019.
The Benefits Of Eco Travel
When done right, travel can massively benefit local economies, preserve the local culture and help to protect nature. It can mean fewer crowds and a more enjoyable travel experience for everyone, better air quality and healthier eco systems, an increase in funding for conservation and education programmes and a greater love for the planet!
Travel is a powerful tool that makes people more aware, open minded and even empathic through experiencing different cultures and exploring distant destinations! When done wrong... well... It's the opposite... It's unsustainable. It can only continue for so long, until the impact actually outweighs the benefits, sometimes even forcing a country to close it's borders and cut off a major source of income... Sustainable travel can be income security and job longevity for people too.
What To Pack!
One of our top tips for eco travel is to pack like a minimalist! Too often travellers carry around a huge, heavy backpack and not even use half the stuff in it! Not only is a heavy bag a big nuisance, but it actually adds to your carbon footprint because all of that extra weight means more fuel is required to get it from place to place with you. Think about clothing options that are versatile and offer multiple outfits. Synthetic clothing such as nylon can actually shed plastic micro fibres into water ways when washed, which is really important to bare in mind. Also think about the quality of the items you're bringing... Are they just going to wear out or break after only a few uses? As the saying goes... "buy cheap, buy twice"!
From suitcases to sunglasses, buy stuff second hand to reduce your carbon footprint!
Although you can bring most toiletries in your checked luggage without restriction, it is unnecessary to stock up on too much stuff... Anything that you're going to need, you'll likely be able to get once you arrive! Definitely don't go for travel sized toiletries - they're incredibly over priced anyway! An alternative if you do need to pack liquids in your carry on are refillable 100ml bottles. Also stay away from any toiletries with micro beads, as the micro beads are made from plastic and go straight down the drain into water ways!
Essential Eco Friendly Packing List!
"Be The Change" reusable cotton tote bag
Reusable water bottle & coffee cup
Food containers / lunch boxes
Bamboo cutlery set
Solid soap & shampoo bars
All natural deodorant
All natural, reef safe suncream (a must for snorkelling)
Plastic free toothpaste, floss & mouthwash
Bamboo safety razor
Reusable make-up remover pads
Where Do We Start?! 10 Quick Tips!
Be a minimalist when packing & avoid adding unnecessary weight to your bag!
Limit the amount you fly and, when you do, fly direct and offset your carbon footprint!
Walk, cycle or opt for public transportation!
Conserve water, save electricity and be conscious of your air con use!
Look for accredited eco friendly accommodation through the likes of GreenGlobe.com!
Go for quality, not quantity with your tours, research them beforehand and stay away from 'hands on' wildlife experiences!
Vote with your money when travelling, shop local and support best practises!
Plan your travels in the shoulder or off-season months and seek out the hidden gems instead of the bucket list hot spots to combat over tourism!
Eat less meat to reduce your carbon footprint, protect the wellbeing of animals and avoid animal products linked to endangered species!
Refuse single use plastics and carry reusable alternatives with you!
In The Air!
The fact that air travel accounts for the most emissions in the tourism industry today shouldn't be much of a surprise, but what can we do to help combat it? Well, why not consider avoiding air travel all together? We’ve travelled right the way across South East Asia on busses before and found the adventure even better than if we were to fly from place to place!
Exploring what’s on your doorstep can be just as exciting too!
Another tip to reducing the amount you fly is to fly direct as much as possible. A lot of fuel is used when taxiing and taking off, so flying direct is definitely the way to go instead of stopping over somewhere and needing multiple flights for a single journey. Always flying in economy will also keep your carbon footprint down on flights, as the total carbon footprint is theoretically shared out between more people. That means the less legroom you have, the better! Silver linings right?
Pack light! Less weight = less fuel!
In conjunction with all of this, you can choose to pay a little extra for carbon offsetting schemes. The idea is that you can fund conservation programmes, which is usually done in the form of planting trees. Whilst it can be more effective to support an organisation who are experienced in this area and working to restore wildlife habitats and natural eco systems where it is most needed, it can often be done in your own back garden, or by maintaining any green space in your local area!
Once You Arrive!
After arriving at the airport, a lot of people’s next step is to hop into a taxi and head to their hotel. Unfortunately, this isn’t the most eco friendly form of transport and can often contribute to serious problems with traffic and pollution in cities. Where possible, getting a train or bus is definitely a better option.
Public transport is often a cheaper option too!
Likewise, once it’s time for some sightseeing, always opt for public transport when you need to get from A to B, unless of course you can walk or get hold of a bicycle!
At Your Accommodation!
Being more eco friendly at your accommodation can be as simple as saving water and electricity. It sounds obvious, but turn off the lights when they don't need to be on and turn off the air con when you leave your hotel room. Better yet, you can sometimes opt for fan-only rooms at some hostels and save a bit of money whilst you’re at it! You could also check your hotel for accreditation and eco conscious policies before you even book. A great database of accredited eco friendly businesses can be found on GreenGlobe.com
Look for any red-flags that may suggest that you're better off avoiding that place.
Also at your accommodation, hang your towels back up when you’re done with them as a way to say that they don't need washing, or leave the “do not disturb” sign on your door if the room doesn’t need cleaning. This in turn reduces the amount of harmful wash products being used, which can enter waterways and effect fragile eco systems.
Out And About!
Chances are, you'll be looking for lots of fun things to do when you're on your travels and perhaps also wanting to seek out some new experiences to try! That might mean hiking, snorkelling or even a cooking class! However, not all tour operators are all that eco conscious... In fact, some tours that we've been on personally have turned out to be a complete waste of money, and could have actually had a more negative impact.
Some tours can cause over tourism, harm animals and damage eco systems!
To save yourself the heartache, it's well worth doing your research before hand... Try looking at the reviews and go on a deep dive on their social media! Do they really care about local communities and the environment? One example where that's worked well for us was having to pick a dive shop in Malta... In the end, we found a dive shop that cared deeply about plastic pollution in marine environments and we were able to get involved in a 'dive for debris' with them, which is basically an underwater beach clean up!
Go for quality, not quantity with your tours!
Some harmful practises to stay away from are 'hands on' wildlife experiences such as elephant riding or tiger petting. Other wildlife experiences such as sanctuary visits can be questionable in their practises as well, so it's better to be safe than sorry if you're unsure. If the better tours cost more, just know that the extra cost could be the difference between tours with a more positive impact compared to those with harmful practises. The extra cost could quite possibly be going towards conservation and education in the area!
Be mindful of the dark side to 'voluntourism'!
It's horrible to think that some volunteer programmes are known to make attractions out of suffering people and communities... If you're wanting to really make a difference and do some volunteering, look for long term placements instead of any quick day visits. That way, you're more likely to have a last impact, and also might find the reviews of such organisations to be even more insightful! Also, try not to give any money to begging children... It's hard, we know :( Although some organisations can be quite corrupt and exploitative, supporting those that truly do great charitable work can be a much better way to help people in need.
You may be able to find social enterprises that you'd like to support too.
To help combat over-tourism, simply plan your travels in the shoulder or off-season months, and seek out the hidden gems instead of the bucket list, Instagram hot-spot destinations. You'll likely find yourself getting even more out of the experience of travelling and an even more enjoyable time being away from the crowds!
Vote With Your Money!
When we travel, it's important to remember that, every time we hand over money to someone, we are in theory deciding what kind of practises we want to support. Every time we book a hotel, a tour or a restaurant, are we supporting ethical, responsible and eco friendly practises, or harmful ones instead?
Shop local and support smaller businesses!
Not only that, but is our money actually going to support the local community, or a rich foreign investor or property developer? Ensuring that those tour companies, businesses and hotels are locally owned can help to ensure that your money really is going to make a difference and stay within the local community.