Sustainable Travel: 13 ways to be a better traveller for people & the planet

by | Mar 9, 2022 | Uncategorized

You’ll very likely to have already made some lifestyle changes in recent years. Whether it be leaning towards a plant-based diet, switching to a green energy provider or committing to only buy second-hand clothes, one thing we shouldn’t overlook – is the impact of our holidays.

Whilst travel can be portrayed in a negative light, due to carbon emissions from flying or thoughtless tourists trashing beaches; this isn’t the only side of the story. 

Rather than feeling guilty about travel, we can choose to feel empowered to make travel a force for good.  

Merely by taking a trip you can choose to support a local community or protect wildlife. Travel (done right) can uplift the host as much as the traveller. 

We’re here to show you 13 exciting ways to become a better traveller and fly the flag for Sustainable Travel. 

The first step is to let go of perfectionism, and acknowledge that every choice we make has an impact. If just starting out, try choosing 2-3 ways below, which will make a difference.

1. Switch up your Suncream 

The perfect starting point to become a better traveller starts with the C word. Chemicals. 

Any conversation on suncream must start with acknowledging that there is robust evidence that it prevents skin cancer. However, there is growing focus on the adverse effects of the most common UV filter: Oxybenzone. Zinc Oxide is often said to be the best rated UV-blocker for the health of us and the environment, and it’s as effective if not more so than Oxybenzone.  

Countries like Hawaii have already taken action by banning these nasty chemicals found in most sunscreen. Key West, Florida and the Virgin Islands have all followed suit. 

What you need to know

Science shows us that 97% of sunscreens on the market are toxic to corals, ocean life and decrease water quality. Not to mention they are not so great for us humans. 

Oxybenzone, or BP-3, is found in more than 3,500 skin care products worldwide. Even if you don’t go for a swim, once you hit the showers these chemicals will inevitably end up in the ocean and can cause harm.   

Healthy coral reefs are one of the most valuable ecosystems on Earth  and are home to a ¼ of the ocean’s marine life. They also generate clean air, protect vulnerable coastlines (that we all like to visit) and provide a source of income for millions of people. 

Top Tip:

  • Check the ingredients: Avoid Oxybenzone & Octinoxate 
  • Avoid anything with parabens and synthetics

2. Keep Your Money Local  

Are you curious about what happens to your money after your holiday is over and you return home? It’s worth giving it some thought if you’re looking to be a better traveller. 

It would be nice to think that all the money we spend in the destination goes toward supporting the local economy. The reality? A chunk of the money we spend while travelling ‘leaks’ out of the destination.

What you need to know: 

According to the UN World Tourism Organisation, only $5 of every $100 spent in developing countries stays in the destination’s economy. 

So, even with the best intentions of visiting somewhere where travel can better support that economy, and community, it might be that you’re lining someone else’s pockets. Large cruise ships can be one of the worst offenders. 

Top Tip:

Be part of the solution by injecting your money into locally owned businesses. This can be from the hotel, lodge, to the hiking guide, to the car hire or restaurant you choose to eat at. 

Some of our best travel partners are working to raise awareness of the issue. 

G Adventures created a concept known as the Ripple Score, which calculates for each of their trips what percentage of the money spent on that trip remains in the local economy.

3. Slow down, Stay A While

Going for longer and embracing slow travel is a great way to become a more sustainable traveller.  

Slow travel is a switch from the exhausting hopping between countries or cities in a short space of time to a more mindful, deeper, far richer travel experience. 

By taking time to connect with local people, your environment, and surroundings you’ll enjoy a better holiday on all fronts!

With flying being the single most polluting thing we can do as an individual (after having kids), the good news is if you do choose to fly, staying for longer and making low-carbon choices whilst in the destination can make a huge difference.

What you need to know:  

“A report commissioned by Responsible Travel in 2020 found that by making low-carbon choices while on holiday, our carbon emissions can meet the global sustainable average per day.” – Holly Tuppen, Sustainable travel 

Top Tip: 

  • Rather than taking lots of shorter trips each year, it’s more carbon efficient to fly to one place and stay for longer. 
  • Going for longer you can reduce your per-day holiday carbon footprint, immerse yourself in the culture and place

4. Check Your Hotels Mission & Vision

Sustainable travel is on-trend. Greenwashing is rife. So, it’s no surprise that identifying those places that are genuine in their approach is becoming harder, not easier. 

In the pursuit to become a better traveller don’t be swayed by eco-friendly language and clever marketing campaigns. 

More than declarations of hope ask for evidence. If you see the strapline ‘responsible luxury’, ask: ‘responsible in what way?’ Ask questions like ‘how is this hotel ‘caring for our planet?’

What you need to know: 

Look out for the hotels, guesthouses and lodges who go far beyond the sustainability box ticking and eco badges. They’ll usually have a dedicated page on their website about their mission and eco-practices. 

If all the focus is on saving towels, no plastic straws, and little else you might want to look elsewhere. Places which share their work with the community, promote local biodiversity and are transparent about where their food waste ends up are usually more genuine in their approach. 

Top Tip:

No one hotel is perfect, or 100% green. It’s not a destination but a journey, an ever-evolving target. 

Spotting the places which are genuine in their approach to ‘green travel’ is easy with our travel partner’s handy guide here.

5. See Seafood In A New Light 

Becoming a more sustainable traveller comes hand in hand with your diet. So, being open-minded to avoiding seafood when on holiday is a great place to start. 

Your next holiday is the perfect opportunity to try other types of food and will give your taste buds something new to try. 

The truth is we often have a romanticised view of the fresh fish on our plate when on holiday. The truth is over 50% of fish worldwide (even in that sunny seaside town) already comes from unnatural fish farms. 

What you need to know: 

High demand for wildly caught seafood continues to drive overexploitation and environmental degradation and in fish farms the conditions are often overcrowded and unsanitary.  

Top Tip: 

Rather than see it as a loss, view saying no to seafood on holiday as a huge gain. A positive shift even! 

Quite possibly a big one for your health (based on the amount of chemicals such as Mercury and antibiotics now found in fish flesh). 

6.Pack For A Purpose 

It’s easy to think about what not to pack when it comes to becoming a more sustainable traveller. It’s less often we hear about what we CAN pack.  

The Solution: 

The charity Pack For A Purpose directs travellers to items that specific charities or communities need, which you can easily add to your bag.

From healthcare suppliers, to school soccer kits, you make a difference around the world by using available space in your luggage to provide supplies to the communities you visit. 

Their mantra is: small space – little effort – big impact. 

7. Simply Buy Less

Going on holidays is often an excuse to go on a spending spree right? 

Booking into that eco-hotel in Costa Rica, followed by a brand new wardrobe is somewhat counterintuitive. The truth is we don’t need new clothes for every event in our lives. 

There are so many reasons to curb spending on clothes before going on holiday. Firstly, by saving your money for the more important things such as an experience whilst on holiday, it will give you far more joy!

What you need to know: 

Fashion has a huge impact on people and the planet, and fast fashion owns a large and growing share of the problem. 

Top Tip: 

  • If you are in need of some inspiration after years of simply buying stuff watch: ‘Minimalism’, a Netflix documentary
  • The best thing we can do is to stop supporting this fast-fashion industry or simply stop buying more. 

8. Support Indigenous Lives 

Despite making up just 5% of the world’s population, indigenous people protect 80% of the world’s biodiversity. It’s a staggering fact that a sustainable traveller cannot ignore. 

Supporting indigenous lives therefore is a vital part of protecting our planet and when it comes to travel it has a part to play. 

Whether it’s visiting a community that wants to share their story or travel that helps fund the protection of land rights, your holiday can make a difference. 

What you need to know: 

It’s important to be mindful of exploitation, consent is key. Think twice before making contact with a remote tribe or jumping in a busload to photograph a community. 

Top Tip:

  • There are small tour operators that are working closely with indigenous people, such as Visit Natives and charities like Survival International
  • Consider getting the book: The Essential Guide To Positive-impact adventures for ideas on experiences that support indigenous groups, such as South America’s ‘Mapuche’. 

9. Rethink When To Go

If you’re looking for ways to be a better traveller then rethinking when you go is essential. 

Furthermore, queuing for hours to see an attraction or sitting on an overcrowded beach – that’s not how you imagine your holiday, is it? 

Travelling off-season is not only more enjoyable. Experiencing a place that isn’t overrun and where the locals are more relaxed can transform a destination. 

“The city can have tourists, but the tourists can’t have the city” – Doug Lansky

What you need to know: 

It can be cheaper, easier to move around and you’ll often see the better side of a city, town, beach, or mountain when avoiding ‘peak times’.  

Top Tips: 

  • Ask our travel concierge team what the off-peak seasons are for your desired destination or simply seek the less crowded equivalent.
  • Avoid giant cruise ships as they are a big factor in overtourism or unbalanced tourism

10. Choose an Eco Destination

A great way to fly the flag for sustainable travel in 2022 and beyond is to champion the destinations that are showing love for the planet.

Whether powering their nations on renewables, or making positive changes in their cities for both the locals and wildlife, these destinations are by no means perfect, but are making conscious strides to make the world a better place. 

These destinations are not afraid of change and understand better than some that our survival, economies and wellbeing are intrinsically linked to the health of the planet. Let alone the future of travel. 

Top Tips: 

  • We recommend: Explore Costa Rica’s rainforests, or support endangered wildlife in Kenya. Explore the Oceans of Palau or Trek in the Mountains of Cambodia. 
  • If you’re looking for a city break why not visit one of the world’s greenest cities: Copenhagen. Or hop on over to the world’s cycling capital Amsterdam. 

11. Natural Encounters Only 

The best animal encounter is a wild one, so when you’re travelling always opt to see animals in their natural habitat where they can exhibit natural behaviours.

As a sustainable traveller there is nothing more poignant than standing up for the rights of animals. Animals aren’t designed for our amusement or entertainment, period. Yet every year, hundreds of thousands of tourists endorse these cruel practices by paying a ticket. 

This includes: Posing with a lion or tiger, petting or walking experiences, swimming with dolphins and riding elephants. 

What you need to know: 

Whales and dolphins are complex, highly intelligent animals who have their own language and culture. At marine parks, orcas are left in concrete tanks about 10,000 times smaller than their natural home range. Captivity cannot meet the welfare needs of these animals and often result in physical or psychological harm.

Top Tips: 

  • Avoid aquariums or marine parks where large mammals such as dolphins or whales are kept in captivity.  
  • Refuse any holiday, cruise or tour that involves swimming with captive dolphins. 
  • Spread the word on why this is important. You can learn more about the 7 stages of captive dolphin suffering here.

12. Avoid Single-Use Plastics

Did you know every year, 8 million metric tons of plastic ends up in our oceans? 

This is equivalent to one garbage truck full of plastic being dumped into the ocean every single minute of every single day! 

The truth is tourism is a major trash generator for local communities and one of the most common plastic items used by travellers is single-use beverage bottles. 

There’s no excuse when there’s such a simple, cheap solution: Bring your own reusable water bottle on your trip! Or one for each member of the group. 

13. Make It Count

In order to justify travel with the challenges our world now faces, we need to make it count. 

The good news is that when you book with Rock my World Travel you’ll be supporting our Climate Hero’s project, which works with nature to lock-up carbon and restore lost ecosystems. Find out more here. 

Whether partying in London, exploring a rainforest in the Amazon, or lying back on a beach in Bali, there are so many exciting ways to be a better traveller. 

Our partners over at Kiwano help make choosing an eco-hotel easy, you can explore them here.

Rather than decimanting landscapes for short-term gain, the right kind of tourism can incentivise people to protect them long-term. Rather than pushing out the locals, travel can involve uplifting communities. 

The future of travel is in our hands. 

Written by Rebecca Woolford

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