5 Ways to be a Sustainable Traveler

Tourism brings jobs and income, which is especially valuable for countries still carving out their path to economic development. Many of the most exotic and appealing places to visit are in countries struggling with issues such as poverty, inequality, poor infrastructure, and economies that are often dependent on exporting raw materials. However, tourism doesn’t address all these problems and can take it’s toll on local cultures and natural resources, changing the unique aspects that attracted tourists there in the first place. The story is all too familiar to those who have seen their own quaint slices of paradise transformed to huge international hotel developments, taking over prime beach areas and hurting the cultural and natural resources that drew the giants there in the first place.

Benefits to local businesses from tourism are seen through an increase in the demand for their products and services as well as new opportunities. But the import of foreign products and underselling can also push out small businesses to the emergence of speciality services catering to wealthy travelers instead of the local community. Furthermore, the natural environment is affected by the influx of visitors through a strain on natural resources, an increase in waste, and  environmental degradation. In a perfect world, regulation would combat these concerns, but that is often difficult due to weak institutions and lack of resources for the monitoring and enforcement of regulations already on the books. However, the presence of non-governmental organization (NGOs) is common and concerns are  increasingly being addressed by local communities themselves all the way up to the international community under the umbrella of sustainable development. There are also choices that we can make as travelers to encourage sustainability and preserve unique destinations around the world.

5 Tips to be a sustainable traveler:

1. Don’t pollute. Dispose of trash appropriately so it doesn’t end up littering the landscape and harming wildlife. Buy all natural, biodegradable shampoo, soap, laundry detergent, and sunscreen, especially if you are going to a region that lacks water treatment facilities. Your local health food store probably sells all these items; just look for plant-based, raw, and/or organic ingredients. Many developing countries, and especially rural areas, have poor infrastructure meaning waste  and shower water may go straight  into the ocean or into the ground. For example, soaps that contain phosphates reduce oxygen and can kill plants and fish through process called eutrophication.

2. Use less. Try to minimize your use of energy, water, and waste (especially waste from single-use items) on your trip. Although we should make the effort whether at home or abroad, it is especially important to watch your environmental footprint when you are traveling to reduce strain on local resources and services. For example, minimizing waste reduces landfill space needed, thus preserving surrounding area and reducing your contribution to climate change through the greenhouse gases emitted from the landfill.

3. Support local economy. Eat at local, family owned restaurants, use local transportation, tour operators, and when purchasing souvenirs try to find something special made by local artisans. Fast food restaurants and big box stores such as Wal-Mart and  Costco may supply jobs, but also illustrate  how tourism dollars are sucked from the local economy. Getting to know the place you are visiting is one of the main reasons that we love to travel, so show your support for all the community has to offer by asking local for a recommendation. By putting money into local economy you are supporting people’s livelihoods, culture, and self-sufficiency.

4. Stay at sustainable and/or local accommodations. Eco-friendly options are increasingly available and sustainable certifications such as Green Globe show that the accommodation is considering its impact. Additionally, it is usually a good deal and experience to stay at local family owned motels, bungalows, or rent a room in a house. Hotel zones take over prime beach areas, decrease biodiversity, and other environmental effects while creating a division between tourists and locals. If you cannot go eco or local this time around, ask your hotel about their efforts to be more sustainable; guests showing that they care may just be the spark needed to look at impact and improve.

5. Learn about and respect your destination. Read up on the social and environmental issues, history, and any other characteristics that are unique to the place  you are visiting. The understanding gained from a little research supports your ability to interact with the environment and locals in a positive way and can further guide sustainability efforts. For example, if you are visiting a place that is prone to droughts, pay even closer attention to water use. If illegal logging of rare trees or poaching of an endangered species is prevalent, don’t purchase products made from those materials.

Statistics show that the tourism sector continues to grow around the world, but the outcome from an increase in visitors depends greatly on the expectations and actions of tourists. Although the concept of sustainable tourism has been growing in recent years, all travelers can shape how their visit affects the destination of choice through these 5 ways to be a sustainable traveler.

–Featured on The Huffington Post–

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