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December 7, 2016

Six Ways to Practice Sustainable Travel.

It will come as no surprise that someone writing about travel loves to travel.

I was bitten by the travel bug in 2006, and its hold on me shows no sign of letting up.

I know I’m not the only one.

Sustainability is becoming more and more of a buzzword these days, and rightly so.

Defined by the UN World Tourism Organisation, Sustainable Travel is:

“Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities… Sustainable tourism should also maintain a high level of tourist satisfaction and ensure a meaningful experience to the tourists, raising their awareness about sustainability issues and promoting sustainable tourism practices amongst them.”

Sustainable travel is not just about limiting environmental damage; it’s also about supporting local communities in all parts of the world in nurturing and protecting their heritage and culture—as opposed to destroying it.

Sustainable travel is about bringing economic benefits to those who need them the most. It’s about bringing tourism revenue to those who need it as opposed to corporate fat cats.

There are some critics who would say that sustainable travel simply isn’t possible. That it doesn’t exist. The reasoning behind that argument focuses on the fact that air transport forms such a large part of travel today.

As I see it, we have a choice. We can adapt the way we travel, or we can choose not to. It doesn’t mean we have to be perfect. But the fact is, if we don’t make changes, we have to ask ourselves what travel will look like for our children. Here’s why.

We have a problem.

Travel is now one of the world’s largest global economies. According to the World Trade & Tourism Council, travel currently accounts for 9.8 percent of global GDP.

One in 11 people around the world currently rely on tourism for their income.

The number of international arrivals in 2015 was 1.2 billion. In the next decade that is expected to increase to 1.8 billion people. Every day, there will be five million people crossing borders for business and pleasure.

And the world is already starting to feel the pressure.

Venice residents are leaving in droves as the local population shrinks to levels below what they were 500 years ago; people no longer want to be surrounded by a throng of selfie sticks 24/7.

Barcelona hotel openings are put on hold while locals write, “why call it tourist season if we can’t shoot them?” on walls and shop windows.

Islands are closed in Thailand due to what is feared to be irreparable damage done to coral reefs caused by littering, pollution and the impact of simply too many visitors.

The list goes on.

Add 40 percent more visitors each year to the mix, and the future of travel begins to look even less rosy.

More travelers will bring more revenue to different parts of the world, but the question is: at what cost?

There is still hope, however. The good news is that we can still make a difference.

From where I sit, it seems that people are more aware of the need to travel sustainably than ever before, and are taking active steps to do so.

New companies are emerging that make it easier for travelers to be more aware of our impact when we travel. New platforms for sustainable or responsible travel experiences now exist. New blogs are being written about how to travel sustainably.

World Travel Market in London just celebrated the 10th annual World Responsible Tourism Day. While everyone involved acknowledged that there is much more that needs to be done, it was inspiring to see many examples of people making tourism sustainable for their destinations and their communities, creating a positive impact.

And as for us “mere” travelers, who have the power to change the world one experience at a time, here are some things we can do to play our part:

1. If you don’t have to fly, don’t.

Can you take the train instead? Flying accounts for approximately 80 percent of carbon emissions produced by the travel industry.

2. If you do need to fly, offset your carbon.

Most airlines offer carbon offsetting schemes, and while these are not perfect and do not compensate for the damage caused by flying, they do contribute something positive back to the environment.

3. Support small and local.

This goes for hotels, restaurants, and tour companies. The smaller the better, as the economic benefit is likely to go directly to the people who need it (particularly in developing countries) rather than to the corporate offices of hotel or restaurant chains.

Paying for things locally on the ground rather than in advance by credit card also helps people in the destination you are going to.

4. Avoid plastic bottled water.

We all know about the amount of water it takes to produce a plastic bottle and the menace of plastic in our rivers, oceans and landfills.

Take a refillable glass or metal water bottle with you. Even in places where you can’t drink the tap water it is usually possible to get your bottle refilled with safe filtered drinking water from restaurants and guesthouses, or ask for boiled water.

5. Venture off the beaten path.

If there seems to be a “standard tour” (the route that everyone does) for a place you’re going to—try and get off it. That’s when the magic happens, and you often start to see a deeper side of a place.

6. Stay at hotels and accommodations that talk openly about what they do to be sustainable.

Ones that don’t just have “Eco” in their name but talk on their website or can tell you what they do that is “eco,” belong to rating systems or are small and locally owned.

As someone who travels for a living, I know I’m not perfect. But I believe that, taken collectively, small steps can make the world of difference.

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Author: Ellie Cleary

Image: SoulTravelBlog on Instagram

Apprentice Editor: Brandie Smith; Editor: Toby Israel

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Ellie Cleary