What is sustainable travel and how can we reduce our impact while on the road?

What is sustainable travel and how can we reduce our impact while on the road?

We’ve all experienced wanderlust- the intense desire to expand our horizons and see new and exciting parts of the world. On the flip side, we’ve also all seen the news about carbon emissions from air travel, chemical sunscreens bleaching coral reefs, tourism affecting local ecosystems, and other negative impacts travel can have on the environment. The drive to branch out and explore is as fundamental to human nature as flight is to birds. So how can we balance our longing for distant places with our need to live in harmony with nature? The answer is to learn to travel sustainably. 

What is Sustainable Travel?

As human beings, everything we do has an environmental impact, whether it’s the negative effect from flipping a light switch or the positive one from cleaning up a local park, everything we touch tips the scales in one direction or the other. Due to this law of existence, we will never reach net zero impact. While this may be true, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do what we can to balance the scales or even start tipping them in the right direction. 

Traveling sustainably means doing exactly that; being mindful of our impact no matter where we are in the world and taking all actions possible to reduce our effect on the planet while away from home. For many conscious earthlings, it simply means expanding what you are already doing at home to your travel practices and habits. 

The Dark Side of Travel

While there is no doubt that travel enriches our lives and often helps us become more well-rounded people, it also comes with unfortunate costs. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, travel and tourism are responsible for between 8-10% of global CO2 emissions. The vast majority of these are emitted by people getting to and from destinations, whether by plane, car, train, or boat. 

Tourism is also a major contributor to global plastic pollution. 8 out of 10 tourists choose to visit coastal areas and end up adding to the 8 million tons of plastic that wind up in our oceans every year. The travel industry also generates a lot of plastic waste in various forms. This includes things like the plastic cups used for complimentary drinks on airplanes, travel sized toiletries in plastic bottles often given away at hotels, and single use food containers that are used more often by individuals on the go. 

Travel can also put a lot of strain on natural resources in popular destinations. Some places that are heavily visited simply don’t have the infrastructure in place to support the large numbers of people that come every year. This can cause issues with over-consumption, land use, water availability, air quality and more.

As if all of this weren’t enough, there are also specific problems that tourism can create based on the ecology of the area being visited. This might look like the bleaching of coral reefs due to chemicals found in common sunscreens, the disturbance of delicate ecosystems due to trash or direct interference (such as feeding wildlife), or the destruction of nature trails from vandalism and overuse.

What Can We Do?

The issues created by travel and tourism may seem insurmountable, but fortunately there is a lot we can do without having to cancel our agenda. Here are some easy and practical ways to make your travel plans more sustainable:

  • Choose your travel method mindfully.

Unless you plan on walking or biking to your destination, any method of travel you choose will create some emissions, but some ways of getting from point A to point B are more eco-friendly than others. In order from most eco-friendly to least, some of the most popular methods of travel fall like this: train, bus, ride sharing, driving, and flying. When planning your trip, think about using an eco-friendlier mode of transport, or, if you must fly, consider purchasing carbon offsets to help balance the emissions from your flight!

  • Think of ways to reduce plastic consumption.

You might do this by bringing a reusable water bottle, coffee cup, cutlery, food containers, and reusable bags for travel purchases. You could also opt to travel with zero waste shampoo and conditioner bars, toothpaste, and other toiletries and declining the ones provided at your accommodation. This can also be as simple as refusing the plastic cup on the airplane and choosing to drink your complimentary beverage directly from the can.

  • Think about where and when you will be traveling.

To reduce over-consumption and avoid adding unnecessary strain to local systems, you may consider taking the path less traveled and choosing a less popular and more exotic travel destination. Alternatively, you could choose to visit a more popular destination during their off season.

  • Be mindful of the local wildlife and ecosystems.

Depending on your destination, this could mean staying on the trail and making sure your food storage is bear safe or opting for a reef-friendly sunscreen. Always be sure to leave only footprints and take only pictures, and never feed any wildlife!

  • Leave the area better than you found it.

In addition to minimizing your own impact, you can tip the scales even farther by helping to clean up after others. This could be as small as picking up any trash you see along your way, or as big as spending an entire day of your vacation cleaning up the beach or volunteering for a local organization.

No matter where your next adventure takes you, you can rest easy knowing Terraseed has you and your nutritional needs covered. We hope these tips for sustainable travel can help your next escape be a healing force for your mind, body, and the planet. As citizens of earth, we all carry the responsibility of making mindful decisions to help preserve this beautiful world for future generations. Only together can we protect all the incredible destinations our planet has to offer so every one of us can follow our wanderlust to our heart’s content. 

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