This year is about to end and while we are sad over so many travel plans that didn’t materialize, we are also equally grateful that we are still here – alive. At this point, we can only hope that after all these, we come out of this as better people (better than our old selves) and with a new found appreciation for travel, time and space (and everything else). Part of this renewed perspective is being able to rethink the ‘way’ we travel while preparing for the next one. As we restart tourism, NOW (not later) is the perfect time to plug in sustainability in our travel habits.
What does it mean to travel sustainably?
According to the UN World Tourism Organization, sustainable travel means –
Finding a way that tourism can be maintained long-term without harming natural and cultural environments. It should minimize the negative impacts of tourism and ideally be beneficial to the area in which it takes place.
They have broken this down to three sustainability principles namely:
- Protect the environment.
- Maintain essential ecological processes.
- Help conserve natural heritage & biodiversity.
- Respect socio-cultural authenticity.
- Conserve cultural heritage & traditional values.
- Contribute to intercultural understanding and tolerance.
- Ensure viable, long-term economic operations.
- Help provide stable employment and income earning opportunities to host communities.
- Contribute to poverty alleviation.
In addition is, of course, the tourist experience. Host communities should give tourists a reason to want to come back by providing a meaningful and satisfying travel experience. Evidently, this balance between sustainability and tourist experience can only be achieved through a joint effort of the government leaders, host communities, private sectors, and the travelers.
And how do we this? There are many ways! But let’s start with these 7 practical ways:
HABIT # 1
Let’s be honest! Sustainability isn’t the first thing in mind when planning for transportation. When designing my itinerary, the top three things in mind are safety, comfort, and cost. Now that we are rethinking things, sustainability should no longer be ignored. Remember that the main goal is to always lessen your carbon footprint and use as less energy as possible. Ways to do this are:
- Commute. Imagine the number of people that public transportation can carry and the space it occupies on the road vs a car with just one passenger.
- Car Pool. If renting a car is the wisest on budget, safety, and comfort, then maximize the space. Travel in groups.
- Bike your way. This is especially pleasant in places with excellent bike system. Take advantage of it.
- Walk. This will save you on cost, allow you to see more of the place, shed off those food trip baggages, and lessen traffic congestion. When I plan land arrangement, I always ask “Can I walk this?” before considering other options. It has saved me a lot of money.
HABIT # 2
How can we support local?
- Buy. Visit the local market. Buy local produce. Try local food.
- Avail. Hire locals for services. Am a fan of DIY travel but I also like hiring local tour guides. They give you the scoop! They know the place better than anyone. You also get to know their stories. You become an employer for a day by providing them a job.
- Instead of fancy hotels, sign up for homestays and get to experience genuine interaction with the locals. A fancier version of this is to look for local homes via apps like AirBnb.
- If you really can’t let go of the hotel convenience, look for hotels that are owned and operated by locals.
HABIT # 3
- Go for reusable travel essentials. If you use plastic one time and throw it away after, it doesn’t really go away. It takes hundreds of years before it disappears.
- Manage and dispose your waste properly. Follow local waste management guidelines.
Note: During this pandemic, take extra precaution in refilling water in public places. Safety is always priority. Find a system that allows you to stay safe and healthy and true to the sustainability principle.
HABIT # 4
- Before going on a wildlife tour, research for operators who practice humane treatment for animals. Do not support those who foster suffering and captivity. Alternatively, visit shelters or sanctuaries but don’t get fooled by names. Do your research.
- Sign up for tours with a cause at least once in your life. These tours are already pre-arranged with an immersion with the locals and will provide you an experience that you will not forget.
HABIT # 5
- Interact with the locals. Ask for tips. Most love to share.
- Be polite and show genuine care and curiosity.
- If language is a barrier, don’t let it. I have survived a gun shooting class through visual cues. Ha! But don’t forget to learn a few phrases before you even go on a trip. Most will really appreciate your effort and a laugh is probably the worst you can get if you say it wrong.
- If you’re lucky, you might just end up developing friendships that go beyond your tour.
HABIT # 6
This is a pretty straightforward message. Something that, honestly, should not need reminding but should never be left unsaid. It’s the golden rule. We will always, always spot a difference in the way we do things. It is important that we not only show respect and gratitude but that we also contribute to understanding.
HABIT # 7
When traveling, go beyond just seeing the place or signing up for tours. Actually live the life with the time given to you while there. Here are some tips you can try:
- Try seeing the place from above. Go up tall buildings or towers, zipline over the greenery, or save up for a once-in-a-lifetime helicopter ride on a shared tour.
- Never leave without trying the local beer. Try a bottle, alright!
- Try a night in a tent or nipa hut very close to the beach for a night. Hear the sea whistle you to sleep. I can never forget mine in Baler and in Real Quezon.
- Open your eyes when walking. You’ll be surprised to see so many art pieces around.
- Wake up early and walk or run. See how the place comes alive.
- Maybe eat your first Kimchi in South Korea (I did) or first ramen in Japan.
The key is to genuinely immerse yourself to the place by savoring every experience with an open mind and appreciation. I tell you, you will leave a different person, a better human.
Finally, amidst all the fun and discovery, let’s not forget the good ol’ reminders.
- Safety first. Make informed choices that balance safety, comfort, affordability and, this time around, sustainability.
- Research a lot but leave room for discovery. DO NOT shortchange research on need-to-know local laws and health protocols.
- Go for reputable travel agencies, tour or hotel operators.
- Seek advice. Ask experienced travelers, read blogs, watch vlogs for tips. Then open yourself to the possibility that yours may be different. Adjust accordingly.
I hope this post helps you jumpstart your sustainable travel journey. Baby steps and we’ll get there. I didn’t learn from one trip alone. Every travel teaches me something new and I still have a lot to learn. The most important thing is to START and to CONTINUE educating ourselves. There’s still a long journey ahead.
May we all get out there the soonest.