Start learning about more sustainable travel tips when planning your next vacation. After a year or more of staying at home and wondering what will happen next, many travelers are looking to travel better. Instead of accepting the mass travel standard that pushed us along for years, it is time to change the system for the better.
Sustainability itself is fairly broad, covering numerous subjects that aim to create a world where humans and nature exist in a way to fulfill social, economic and requirements of current and future generations (Source: EPA). In the travel world, sustainability can be as simple as spending money locally, by eating at local restaurants, staying at local hotels, or booking tours with locals. Notice the theme here? Local. While that may seem hard to do in an economy that might displace locals, all is not lost. Here are 5 sustainable travel tips for your next vacation:
1. Prioritize Local Accommodations
First, choose where you are going to stay and prioritize local accommodations. If you are staying for a while, your tourism dollars will support host communities more by staying at a local hotel. For many locations, this means you will end up staying at smaller hotels or bed & breakfasts, but there are high-end options available.
Newer travelers may be worried about planning their vacation away from their franchised hotel of choice, but it can create your new favorite go-to spot to relax. When you cannot find availability locally, you might be surprised at who owns a hotel (for example, Best Western’s model is locally owned and operated). Keep in mind that there are different levels to hotel ownership (franchise, private owned/operated, leased and managed). So there is a chance that your favorite chain is owned and operated by a local! It is not so black and white as you may think.
When you do stay at your favorite hotel, ask them how they are supporting local economies (are locals in management positions? Do they prioritize local products?). Try to avoid the all-inclusive travel packages that prevent you from supporting locals directly. Finding locally owned hotels can be as easy as reading a website – they usually tell you! In the United States, you can search on websites such as Mom and Pop Motels, the local tourism website, or your favorite guidebook. The fastest way may be to search by property type in TripAdvisor.
2. Eat at Local Restaurants When You Travel
Next, leave the hotel and grab dinner at a local restaurant. Eating local is one of the easiest sustainable travel tips you can use instantly. By spending money at local restaurants and grocery stores, your money is more likely to stay in the local economy. Local restaurants are also more likely to sell what the locals eat, instead of importing foods for tourists.
Of course, you can make your meals even more sustainable by packing reusable containers for your leftovers and sharing meals. Other sustainable tips include ordering food that is more likely to be locally sourced. This can be as simple as ordering seafood near the ocean vs a landlocked destination. You can even stop at the local farmers’ market, or purchase local honey. When in doubt, support the local restaurant. However, if you are traveling with someone who only eats food they know and gets angry at servers, stop. Get out of your comfort zone and be nice. You may find a new favorite dish you would have never thought to try.
3. Book Tours with Local Businesses
Use a local guide when touring a destination. Finding these guides may take more research and planning but will also keep money in the local community. Start by looking on travel websites such as TripAdvisor to find tours and look at the company’s website to see if they hire locals. Be mindful to hire a guide that is licensed. In Italy, tour guides are required to pass exams and have proper ID to show this. The last thing you want to have is your tour guide run away when the police appear! Check the country’s tourism website for more info on this.
Hiring a local is also a great way to meet new people when traveling. You may be on a hop-on hop-off bus tour, but that does not mean that you cannot talk to the guide. This person may have great information o pass on. If you are not touring that day, take some advice from Rick Steeves and sit on a bench. You may talk to a local and learn something new or meet a new friend to have dinner with.
4. Reduce Your Local Water and Energy Use
Your use of electricity and water impacts the local area when on vacation. 30% of water use in hotels is domestic/restroom (Source: EPA), which suggests that guests need to do their part to travel sustainably. Some tips include: Turn off the lights when you leave, take shorter showers, and re-use your hotel towels and bed linens.
Why turn off the lights? Well, water is used to cool power plants that generate the electricity we use, with 3,000 gallons of water used to power one light bulb for 12 hours (Source: EPA). Some hotels in Europe turn off lights automatically when you take your room key out of the wall. Not all hotels in the world have upgraded their buildings with high-efficiency equipment. So, save water and energy by turning off the lights when you leave your hotel room.
In Hawaii, Maui residents were placed under a water conservation alert during their drought. At the same time, 7,692 thousand tourists arrive to Maui daily (Source: Hawaii News Now). Locals began to feel frustrated as water use on the island increases with the arrival of each tourist and new hotel. While it is unrealistic to expect tourism to change overnight, there are simple travel tips you can start to implement on your vacations.
If this is the first time you have read about the dark side of tourism, read Overbooked by Elizabeth Becker.
Another option is to consider purchasing an “offset” to offset your carbon footprint. A flight in economy for one person from SLC to Maui is about 2,935 miles (4724 kilometers). To offset this, it would cost about $9 to offset through Sustainable Travel International. Or you can research your destination and see who local government works with to support “voluntours.” The easiest? You can leave the location the same way you found it, rather than worse. This means taking your trash with you. Place your trash in a trash can instead of throwing it on the ground. Are trash cans full? Keep your trash with you until you find a can that has room. If you are still unsure about how to offset travel, watch this video from Impact Travel Alliance.
5. Support Local Culture
While your style of travel may dictate what’s available on your vacation, you should consider whether your dollars are supporting local culture or not. First, purchase a simple phrasebook in the local language and practice basic phrases. Using Hello, Good Morning, and Thank You respectfully can go a long way when traveling.
The easiest way to support local culture is with your money. Purchase authentic local souvenirs from authorized vendors and try to avoid the mass-produced tourist trinkets. Over-commercialization of cultural products includes retailers who violate trademarks. This gives buyers the impression that works are authentic when in reality, these retailers steal from local artists. When you do purchase a local souvenir, take the time to learn who made it and where they are from. Avoid generalizations such as “Indigenous artist” and be specific. Learn where the artist is from.
Strong tourism can cause locals to lose cultural authenticity as they conform to meet average tourist’s desires. Supporting the locals and their decisions helps you create a tourism industry people want to support. By supporting the locals, you are supporting and preserving their culture. Because if every tourist destination is just like the United States, then why are you bothering to leave home? Conscious sustainable travel may take a little more effort at first, but is worth it for future generations.
This list just scratches the surface of sustainable travel tips for your next vacation. Your tourist dollars go a long way and show the tourism industry what is important. Supporting locally owned and operating accommodations, eating at local restaurants, and hiring local guides is going to support the local economy. Not all locations will have the accessibility and options that many Americans in urban areas enjoy. So as traveling goes, prepare for changes and always be flexible. Your first round of sustainable travel will not be perfect. With these sustainable travel tips, you will be one step closer to supporting a tourism industry that supports local economies and celebrates the diversity of this world.
Additionally, when you travel to another location, you are the ethnic one. Instead of boasting about the “ethnic food/culture” online as you share photos, take a step back. You are the different one. You are the tourist who left their hometown. Learn about the history of the local culture and be a more respectful tourist in person. Signs posting a trail as “closed” could be for safety, maintenance, or even cultural significance. Follow the rules.
Visiting Utah this winter on your ski vacation? Consider sending in a donation to the Ute Last Trust, which aims to reconnect the people of the Ute Indian Tribe to their ancestral lands in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona.