You know that I love to travel. There are so many beautiful places I yet want to discover and so many countries I want to visit. I recently traveled to Mexico and was really happy to meet new people, eat exciting foods and see more of the country. In preparation for my trip, I didn’t only pack my suitcase, I also read up on sustainable tourism.
If you’re trying to live a sustainable life, those aims shouldn’t end when you’re on holiday. Take care of the country you’re visiting and the people living there. It’s natural, in my opinion: If I try to buy fairly produced items that don’t exploit others or harm the environment while I’m at home, why would I travel in a way that does exactly that?
Of course, when it comes to sustainable tourism, the power for big change lies with travel businesses and hoteliers. Still, we as travelers can achieve more than we think. If we guide our decisions by the people whose country we’re visiting and their needs, we can take a big step towards a better tourism industry. As with all big topics, it starts with small beginnings. These are the basic steps, everyone should follow on their trips.
The other day, I read a really interesting article (in German) on trying to fly less regularly. To me, it illustrated once more how bad flying is for the environment and that we should probably stop flying. To be honest, I struggle with that. I know that you can live as sustainably as you want to – flying kind of cancels all of that out. I already take the train whenever possible, but I also love to explore the world and seeing countries like Mexico and Uganda.
So for next year, I will try to take less trips to faraway places and more local train journeys. Germany is beautiful, after all. If I do go on a plane journey, I will stay for at least a couple of weeks, so it was truly worth it. Brot für die Welt set a great rule of thumb I will try to follow: If you’re flying less than 2.000 kilometres away, stay for about 8 days. If it’s farther, try to stay at least 14 days. Don’t fly on any shorter trips (take the train instead).
This might seem like a hassle sometimes, but it’s so important. Before you go to a new country, especially a developing country, try to find out as much about it as possible. What are the local traditions, what’s the culture like? Who might be suffering from tourism, who might benefit? This way, it’s much easier to make informed decisions about where to travel and what to do there.
If you’re German, you can use the really great online platform “Fair unterwegs”. They have put together lots of information about sustainable tourism in each country – and there’s even a section with books and movies to watch to get in the right spirit for your trip!
If you’re traveling abroad, try to stay away from huge all-inclusive hotels. They take up so many resources, water, energy, etc. that are crucial in developing countries. One example: A luxury hotel in Zanzibar (Tansania) uses almost 3.200 litres of waters per room – daily! The average household in Zanzibar only gets 93 (3.200 vs 93!). Instead, go to local b&b’s, Airbnb or an eco-friendly hotel. It’s a double-win: You don’t only do something for the environment, but you will get to know the people and the country much better if you’re not shielded off in a big luxury hotel.
Go slow on your holiday. Take in everything that’s new, sit around at the local market or at a coffee shop, keep your to do list as short as possible. This way, you will learn much more about the country than if you’re rushing from A to B. Your brain will slow down and your trip will truly feel like a holiday.
How is that sustainable? Well, if you’re slowing down, you’re most likely traveling slowly as well – by foot or bike instead of plane or care. You won’t need as many exciting holidays, because you’re making the most of the one you’re on. And you will get a better understanding for local customs, therefore you will be more respectful in the future.
What do I mean by that? Well, for some reason, some people tend to act very differently, just because they are on holiday. They start littering, go on shopping sprees, don’t treat others around them fairly etc. I don’t suppose you act like that, but it’s still a good tip to remember: If you act by certain standards while you are at home, don’t change your behavior abroad.
If you don’t shop on the high street at home, try not going there on holiday as well. Instead, seek out local producers who create their products themselves. If you buy an item you wouldn’t get anywhere else, produced by a local, isn’t that the best kind of souvenir?
Same goes for food: Go to local restaurants or diners instead of big chains (that you possibly have at home as well). Be curious and adventurous! This way, you will have some truly special memories and you will support the local people.
You won’t have a great holiday, just because you bought a lot of stuff. Instead, check out local museums, take tons of pictures, have fun with your friends or the locals you meet. If you want to buy a souvenir, think about what you might need before going on holiday. This way, you won’t end up with excess baggage and a house full of stuff.
With sustainable tourism, as with all aspects of green living, there are so many things to think about. Is my journey eco-friendly, how am I treating the people, am I allowed to buy this? All of these aspects are important, but you should still remember: It’s about every little step you take, not about being perfect. If you only feel it’s a true holiday if you’re in an all-inclusive hotel – okay! Maybe you can find one that you can reach by train or a certified green hotel? Don’t beat yourself up if you think you did something ‘wrong’. The fact that you’re even thinking about sustainable tourism, is already a great beginning.