I never noticed just how much damage we as tourists sometimes cause to the places we visit, until I saw the horrific effects of tourism during a trip to Bali. That journey changed me for the better and gave me a heightened awareness of sustainable travel.
What is sustainable travel exactly? To put it simply—it’s tourism that shows respect to the environment, local culture, and wildlife of the places we visit. Contrary to what some assume, living a sustainable travel lifestyle is not that hard. It just takes awareness and practice.
Here are 10 habits I’ve developed to help me travel responsibly, ethically, and sustainably—some of which were inspired by my travel buddy Jannae, who drilled into me the horrors of plastic and other pollutants tourists are guilty of carelessly using abroad.
Watch the Video and Continue Reading Below:
1. Recycle and Refrain from Littering
When you think of Bali, glossy images of exotic, pristine beaches probably flood your senses, right? Sadly, perception harshly collides with reality once you arrive. Tourism has played a role in litter destroying the public beaches of Bali, partly due to super cheap flight deals and cheap booze that attract large crowds of Australians and even Indonesians from other cities looking to party on their holidays.
Respect the country you’re visiting and do not litter, EVER. Go a step further and recycle what you can, when you can. Ask your hotel about their recycling program—in Bali, every hotel we stayed in offered to recycle any bottles we had.
2. Pack a Reusable Bottle
Help prevent the ocean from becoming your garbage can. Plastic bottles often end up polluting the land and sea, so bring your own water bottle and refill it when travelling.
Just The Flight put together this handy infographic that shows you the countries where you can safely drink tap water and where it’s dangerous. If you’re headed to a destination with unsafe tap water, here are a few options.
Option 1: Standard water bottle – Shop for large jugs of water at a local grocery store, keep them in your hotel room, and use them to refill your personal bottle everyday. Ask your hotel if they can recycle the jugs once they’re empty.
Option 2: Filtration water bottle – Bypass having to buy any plastic water bottles at all when you purchase a special water bottle that can filtrate tap water. Roar Loud posted this great review of the LifeStraw Go Bottle. You can fill this bottle up with water from a faucet, river, stream, or even a puddle and it will filtrate it for you!
3. Put Purchases in Reusable Shopping Bags
Another way to prevent evil plastics from wreaking havoc is by reducing your use of them when shopping. Plastic bags end up in waterways and landfills where they don’t break down for years, so pack a reusable shopping bag. It can come in handy in a variety of travel situations. Buying groceries at an outdoor market in Barcelona? Planning a picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris? Determined to put your haggling skills to the test at a bazaar in Istanbul? Bring a reusable bag.
According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), benefits of using reusable bags include energy conservation, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and reduction of marine debris by preventing pollution at its source.
BAGGU Compact Reusable Shopping Bag: After searching online, I found a stylish reusable bag I liked and bought one. I chose BAGGU for a few reasons; the compact bags I saw were all under $10, they came in a wide array of fun and vibrant prints, and they had 5 freaking stars on Amazon! I love sailor stripes, so I ordered this one:
4. Alternatives to Driving
There are plenty, depending on where you are:
- Public transit: busses, trains, trams etc.
- Walking Tours
- Bike Tours
- Share Uber with Someone.
- If you do rent a car, consider hybrid or electric if available.
5. Support the Locals, Not Corporations
This is especially important when visiting developing countries. Wouldn’t you prefer to help the local economy thrive, rather than contribute to a big corporation’s piggy bank? Support the locals! Buy locally made souvenirs, dine at local restaurants, use local tour operators, and stay in locally owned hotels.
6. Shop Direct from the Source
If you’re going to support the local economy, try going straight to the source to make your purchases. That way you know your souvenirs are ethically sourced vs. sweatshop produced. In Bali, we visited craftspeople in their studios—we visited batik painters, wood carvers, and jewelry makers.
7. Book Unique Cultural Experiences
Ask your travel agent to include unique cultural experiences in your itinerary. Cultural tourism can help you better understand the lifestyle of the people in the regions you are visiting—their history, art, architecture, religion, and any other cultural aspects that shape their way of life. Learn to be aware of your destination and how to help it sustain its unique character.
8. Conserve Water and Save Energy
These are pretty simple. Reduce your time in the shower. I know it’s tempting to stay longer because you’re not paying the water bill, but think about the bigger picture. Also, turn off the lights in your hotel room and unplug electronics you aren’t using. Utilize natural light when you can.
9. Stop Supporting Cruel Animal Tourist Attractions
Ripping a wild animal out of its habitat for the sole purpose of entertaining humans is NOT OK. When you participate in an animal tourist attraction, that’s exactly what you’re supporting, and extreme animal abuse is often happening behind-the-scenes.
Here are the 10 cruelest animal tourist traps to avoid, based on a study conducted by Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU):
1. Riding Elephants
2. Taking Tiger Selfies
3. Walking with Lions
4. Visiting Bear Parks
5. Holding Sea Turtles
6. Performing Dolphins
7. Dancing Monkeys
8. Touring Civet Cat Coffee Plantations
9. Charming Snakes and Kissing Cobras
10. Farming Crocodiles
To view the list and details about why each attraction is considered cruel, view this PDF created by World Animal Protection.
10. Keep the Momentum Going
When you get back home, keep the momentum going! Turn these sustainable travel habits into an everyday eco-friendly lifestyle. I recently started looking into ethically made clothing and discovered several green fashion brands. I reached out to Mayamiko, a collection of clothing and accessories ethically made in Malawi that fuses contemporary design with traditional African techniques. They sent me their Sweetie Bralet top with matching Sweetie A-line skirt, which I absolutely adore. Just in time for spring too!