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THE MASTER ROADMAP: 8 Steps to Sustainable Travels

Welcome conscious traveler!

Thanks for taking an important step in caring about sustainable travel. It starts with this: minimize harm and maximize your positive impact on the people and places you visit. We’re glad you’re here, because amidst the threats of climate change and overtourism to our best-loved destinations, your actions are more important than ever. 

What is Sustainable Travel?

It’s not as out there as it may sound. Sustainable means anything having an environmental, social and economic benefit. OK, we get it… still a little hard to wrap your head around. Let’s break it down for travel: 

  • First, GO: have the time of your life really exploring a destination and making local connections. 
  • Second, PLAN: be conscious of minimizing your footprint on our planet while you’re doing it. 
  • Third, DO: try to maximize your positive impact on the people and places you visit.

Not so bad, right?

Oh, and one other important note on sustainability: it’s impossible to do perfectly. It’s best done one step at a time, and if we all get that far we’ve made great progress already. And while we’re still uncovering what is truly best for the planet, rest assured doing something is always better than nothing. 

My passport’s ready! Remind me why this is such a big deal? 

Tourism supports 1 in 10 jobs worldwide (10.4% of global GDP)1 and, before this crazy time of Covid, there were 1.4 billion2—yes, with a B—of us traveling and growing. Compare that to 25 million in the 1950’s3 and you can understand the buzz about the problem of “overtourism.” We’re trampling our favorite places.

Some other not-fun facts: Not only are we pouring one dump truck of plastic into the ocean every minute4 we’re also each ingesting a credit card’s worth of microplastics a week! And we’re the biggest factor in wiping out 60% of mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles since 1970.5 All this means your actions as a traveler adds up to a big impact as we increasingly threaten natural and cultural treasures. To slow this and have a chance to reverse the damage, we must act now. 

OK, I’m following you, now what?

Welcome to the smart traveler club. Here are the ways you can take action into your own hands to travel responsibly. (Rinse and repeat: remember, best tackled a few steps at a time!)

1. BE A ZERO WASTE TRAVELER

WHY: About 40% the world’s plastic is made for single-use, yet less than 23% recycled.4

  1. Say no to single use. Pack your own reusables. Our Zero To Go kit is a traveler favorite, with collapsible water bottle and coffee cup, bamboo utensil set and unpaper towel cotton napkins. Pack this super-handy collapsible bag, made from recycled plastic, for extra shopping and thesewater-resistant reusable zip-top bags for food and toiletries on the go alike.
  2. Refuse unnecessary extras like straws and lids where you can. (If you know you’ll want a straw, carry your own, like this one!)
  3. Don’t create extra waste with those travel-size brand items, skip buying them or using the hotel’s.
    • Bring your own toiletries in quality, eco-friendly containers, like our Toiletry Sets with lightweight aluminum and recycled plastic bottles.
    • Breeze through security with liquid-free options like shampoo bars and toothpaste tabs with travel tins, lotion sticks and plus multi-purpose products, like these wallet-size paper soaps, to keep it simple.
  4. When in doubt, don’t throw it out. Ensure your recyclables end up in the right place or even take things like your empty bottles back home for proper disposal.
  5. Go digital. Where you can, use apps instead of hotel plastic keys and paper airline tickets and request eDocuments.

2. MINIMIZE YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT

WHY: Tourism creates 8% of rising emissions causing global warming.

  1. Fly less (that’s hard, we hear you!) or book direct flights where possible as landing and take off create the highest emissions.
    • Where it makes sense for you, fly economy class air and all-economy airlines – your share of the plane’s carbon footprint increases in business class. (PS. protect your passport, protect the planet buy buying upcycled gear, like the recycled tire passport holder.)
  2. Choose airlines with carbon offsetting programs (that means, putting their money towards green initiatives, like planting trees, renewable energies, or other eco-projects that help reduce future emissions to ‘cancel out’ their carbon usage), and/or consider carbon offsets yourself.
  3. Getting around locally, use public transportation or locally-owned services like taxis, tuk-tuks, and rickshaws that support the local economy.
  4. Otherwise, grab some fresh air! Walk and bike wherever you can. (Need some bike accessories? Shop here!)
  5. In general, motorcoaches and trains have the lowest impact. A couple boarding a coach cuts their carbon in half versus private transport.7
  6. Road trip? Not that you need another reason to avoid rush hour, but it can double your vehicles consumption rate. Rent a more fuel-efficient car for those long hauls. Avoid idling your car. (Don’t forget to pack our Zero to Go kit and some cute reusable snack bags.) 
  7. At the hotel, skip washing sheets and towels every day (a note or do not disturb is easy), turn off lights and air, close shades in the heat and unplug electronics (as they still use power plugged in).
  8. Skip doing laundry or hand wash and dry. Avoid the hotel laundry which will likely run your clothes separately. Carry our plastic-free wallet-size laundry paper-soaps or a few dissolvable laundry Dropps and this stain stick.
  9. Pack gear like solar chargers (we love this powerbank with recycled-ocean-plastic backpack and inflatable solar light with smartphone charger!) and your own quick-dry towels (found here!) for energy efficiency. 
  10. Eat mindfully to help reduce food waste, which majorly depletes our natural resources.
  11. Water and power shortages are a reality in many places. Watch your usage in these areas especially and consider how your usage affects others. For example, choose your golf vacation where water isn’t scarce.

3. SHOP, EAT & EXPERIENCE LOCAL

WHY: Often, as little as $5 out of every $100 spent by a visitor stays in the country’s economy.8

  1. Buy from local artisans to sustain their crafts and the cultural heritage you’ve come to experience. These businesses often especially support local employment for women. (This is why Artisan Made is one of our eco attributes, like these scrunchies, travel wallet pouches and face masks.)
  2. Have fun haggling where appropriate, but don’t overdo it—a small amount to you could mean a lot to someone else. (Don’t forget to pack our handy recycled-plastic collapsible sling bag or flat-pack backpack for these outings.)
  3. Skip the mass-produced, imported souvenirs that come with bigger carbon footprints and do little for local economies. Instead give yourself the true gift of local treasures you know gave back to the community.
  4. Support locally-owned restaurants and buy locally-produced food.
  5. Share the love! Try different places every day and travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations.
  6. Seek experiences and travel companies that engage local guides, families and other entrepreneurial businesses working with local staff.
  7. Choose to travel in the off season to help communities fighting overtourism. Who doesn’t like lower prices and fewer crowds?  

4. R.E.S.P.E.C.T. THE CULTURE

WHY? Socio-cultural impacts are why travel is a proven factor for peace. Do unto others…

  • Research ahead of time. Learn what’s culturally appropriate as well as a few phrases of the language, a little effort goes a long way.
  • Dress respectfully in consideration of religious and cultural norms as well as any dress codes. A scarf is a great versatile item to bring for all occasions (take your pick of unique artisan-made scarves here that give back to causes worldwide).
  • Always ask before taking anyone’s photograph.
  • Make a point to try the culture and participate.
  • Pay attention to signs and use your best judgment for how to behave at important monuments, temples, etc. (e.g. please, no yoga selfies at war memorials).

5. SAFEGUARD NATURE & WILDLIFE

WHY? Knowingly or not, 60% of the millions of annual wildlife tourists actually do harm to the animals or environment we visit.9

  1. Use organic products like reef-safe sunscreen and all-natural bug repellant that are better for you and the Earth.
  2. Stick to the trails and take care not to upset the natural ecosystem or otherwise do any damage.
  3. Don’t buy items made from animal parts—you could inadvertently be supporting trafficking or other unethical practices.
  4. Pass up paying to have your picture with any wild animals as they could have been taken from the wild, drugged, harshly trained or have had teeth removed to ‘behave’ around visitors.
  5. Say no to these animal tourism activities World Animal Protection has deemed the 10 cruelest: Riding elephants; taking tiger selfies; walking with lions; visiting bear parks; holding sea turtles; watching performing dolphins; watching dancing monkeys; touring civet coffee (Kopi Luwak) plantations; charming snakes and kissing cobras; and visiting crocodile farms.10
  6. Watch out for food delicacies from threatened species or plants at risk of unsustainable harvesting.

6. GIVE THE RIGHT WAY

WHY? Some “doing good” actually promotes child labor or takes local jobs.

  1. Consider the long-run impact of gifts and donations versus the simple power of your spending to support local businesses and economies.
  2. If you want to bring items to give, organize it in advance through a local organization to ensure you’re not undercutting locally-made products or causing other inequities.
  3. Carefully assess volunteer opportunities, vetting organizations and their demonstrated commitment to the community. Ensure you can lend support that isn’t actually putting locals out of work. 
  4. Seek out reputable social programs, organizations or local businesses that address the root causes of any issues you may observe, like youth or vocational training, or empower disadvantaged members of society.
  5. Consider nature conservation programs, cultural preservation or restoration projects, and infrastructure development projects.
  6. Take extra care about volunteering at orphanages, as UNICEF says, “Children are not tourist attractions.” In some cases, this encourages the institutionalization of children, creating a profitable business out of it.
  7. It can be very hard to see, but know giving to beggars, even children or mothers, is often part of a larger scheme and typically will only perpetuate harm and not help those individuals.
  8. Always report instances of abuse and illegal sex tourism and trafficking to your trip managers and local authorities.

7. SPREAD THE WORD

WHY? Because the world is changed by examples, not opinions.

  1. Teach others about traveling responsibly and share your practices and resources. Now here’s a great use for all that social media. 
  2. Write reviews and posts for travel companies and local businesses and organizations you experienced positively impacting communities so others learn from your experience.
  3. Share feedback for improvement to companies and tourism authorities.
  4. Think how else you might want to support programs and organizations working to protect the incredible places you visited once you’re home.
  5. Continue to support (and show there’s more demand for!) responsible brands when you travel and buy your travel gear!

7. PACK LIGHT

WHY? 21% of us exceed luggage allowances, upping emissions and our own inconveniences.

close up young wanderlust woman hand holding shirt and manage into baggage in apartment for preparation to travel , millennial packing tips concept
  1. Take only what you need—pack for best case, not worst case because you can always pick these things up on the go.
  2. Limit your color schemes for more efficient ‘capsule’ wardrobe packing and use packing cubes (like these recycled ones!) if that helps you.
  3. Bring packing-friendly products, like these from our laundry section, to freshen or hand wash clothes. (Especially avoid the hotel laundry which will likely run your clothes separately.)
  4. Use compact, quality reusable and lightweight containers for your personal care items and use them sparingly along the way. (We’ve got you covered in the Packing section!)
  5. Make sure you remove packaging of any new items before you travel so you don’t bring or leave extra waste.
  6. Invest in a quality piece of luggage that will keep you better organized and that you won’t be tossing over time. Like these from our partner who has a repair program for you as well!
  7. Make sure to leave room and/or bring an extra small-pack bag for those amazing local mementos.

Phew, well done if you made it to here! It can be a lot to take in, but the bottom line is, do your basic research, plan ahead and don’t hesitate to ask questions. Then simply do your best to put people, planet, and prosperity for all first. As the Zero Waste Chef Anne-Marie Bonneau puts it, “We don’t need a few people doing zero waste perfectly, we need a million people doing it imperfectly.”

Responsible travelers, let the adventure begin!

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Sources:

  1. https://www.wttc.org/about/ 
  2. https://skift.com/2019/01/21/global-tourism-growth-slowed-in-2018-but-arrivals-still-hit-1-4-billion/
  3. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/features/overtourism-how-to-make-global-tourism-sustainable/
  4. https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2018/05/plastics-facts-infographics-ocean-pollution/
  5. https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/living-planet-report-2018
  6. https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2019/1/11/18177118/airlines-climate-change-emissions-travel
  7. https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/legacy/assets/documents/clean_vehicles/greentravel_report.pdf
  8. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/13/travel/sustainable-travel.html
  9. https://www.wildcru.org/news/wtm-responsible-wildlife-tourism/
  10. https://www.discoverwildlife.com/uncategorized/the-worlds-most-cruel-animal-attractions/  
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