The positive impact that travel has on the world is undeniable. Experiencing other cultures brings humans closer together. It helps us realize that, despite the languages we speak or the clothes we wear or the food we eat, we're really not so different from each other. It’s mind-opening and sensory-stimulating, and most of us can’t ever seem to get enough.
The travel industry even supports 10% of the world’s jobs, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council. But there can be negative side effects as well. Tourism can put pressure on natural resources when consumption increases. It can also create pollution like emissions, solid waste, sewage, and chemicals.
Every choice we make as a traveler affects the world around us – how we travel, where we stay, what we eat. There are simple ways to reduce your environmental impact. Here are six things you can do to be a more sustainable traveler!
1. Say No To Single Use
The world is being taken over by plastic and it’s imperative that we do something about it before it’s too late. An alarming 91% of plastic isn’t recycled, and by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in our world’s oceans. We’re living in a time where our ways of life are destroying the planet that makes it possible, and cutting down on plastic consumption is a practical way to make a big difference.
We sat down with Chelsea Yamase, travel creator and environmentalist, to give us some pointers. “Say no to anything single use: straws, plastic bags, water bottles. Bring a reusable water bottle, and consider buying one with a built-in filter if you travel abroad often,” she recommends. One option we love is instead of using plastic bags, bring a backpack – like a sustainably-designed bag from TUMI’s Recycled Capsule collection.
2. When You’re Flying...
The majority of carbon emissions caused by traveling are due to flights. Carbon dioxide (CO2) makes up 65% of global greenhouse emissions, significantly contributing to climate change. For most travelers, flying is necessary to get you where you’re going, but there are ways to reduce your impact.
Buy carbon offset credits. The money will fund projects that reduce carbon emissions in other ways, offsetting your footprint. Some airlines like Delta and JetBlue offer their own carbon offsetting programs, supporting a wide variety of projects like land use and renewable energy.
Support forward-thinking airlines. Airlines like KLM are testing biofuels, which reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 85%. They’re also reducing fossil fuel consumption by upgrading their fleet. The Boeing 787-9s reduces CO2 emissions by at least 20% compared to the planes they replaced.
Book direct flights. While not always possible, booking direct can help reduce your fuel use by making your route more efficient.
While you may not be able to avoid flights to get to your destination, you’ll likely have options when you land. Try using public transportation or exploring by foot or bicycle. Traveling around Europe? Take a train instead of a flight and you could cut your carbon emissions in half.
3. Stay In An Eco-Hotel
Eco-friendly hotels and accommodations are popping up everywhere as the hospitality industry pushes toward environmental initiatives. Using sustainable building materials, producing less waste, and utilizing renewable resources are just a few of the ways properties can reduce their environmental impact.
And just because it’s sustainable doesn’t mean it lacks luxury. On the cliffs of Bali, Indonesia, Suarga Padang Padang is built on stilts to preserve the natural environment and promote natural air circulation. Habitas in Tulum, Mexico (below) built its rooms with indigenous materials and has a plastic-free policy. You can even find eco accommodations in the city – 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge (below) is 100% wind powered and 54% of the materials are regional and reclaimed. Airbnb also has eco options, like Laurel Canyon Treehouse with 360 views of Los Angeles.
4. Support The Local Economy
Sustainable travel isn’t just about protecting the environment, it’s also about providing economic benefit to local communities. Tourism often causes economic leakage, as revenue leaks out of the local economy into international companies and foreign investors. According to The World Tourism Organization, only 5% of money spent on a trip goes to benefit the destination’s economy.
Supporting local businesses and artisans can help combat economic leakage and preserve culture in local communities. Try eating at restaurants that are owned by locals or that use local ingredients, shop in local markets and purchase souvenirs from native artisans, or take a tour with a local guide.
5. Research Your Tour
If you plan on taking a tour, make sure to do your research. Ask your tour company about their environmental practices and if they employ local guides. Be aware and focus on making a positive impact when you’re exploring.
If your tour involves animals, it’s important to consider if it’s ethical. Stay away from tours that capture animals from the wild or provide unhealthy living conditions. Sustainable Travel International recommends you avoid elephant rides, wildlife petting, animal selfies, and dancing monkeys. Make sure to also avoid souvenirs made from animals, such as ivory products.
If you’re looking to have a truly impactful experience, consider giving back to local communities – like volunteering at a local animal shelter.
6. Buy Things You Love
Chelsea Yamase says she frequently travels with only one carry on and a backpack for weeks at a time. She has to be picky with products she brings, which means she’s picky about the products she buys. “Only buy high quality things that you love and will last. This will help you consume less, which is ultimately the best way to reduce your impact,” she says.
Every traveler knows that their bag is an essential. The new Recycled Capsule collection from TUMI is the perfect option for any traveler who wants to live more sustainably. The recycled ballistic nylon is made from fabric scraps collected from factory floors and each bag saves up to 17 plastic bottles from ending up in landfills. The collection has been thoughtfully designed to last and individual parts can be repaired to help extend the life of each bag rather than ‘buying a new one. You can learn more about the collection and shop here.