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5 Tips for Achieving Sustainable Tourism

The tour guide shows tourists in a canoe the beauty of the nature at a river in the Tortugero National Park, Costa Rica
Written by Chris Osburn

This blog post was updated on July 10, 2019.

Sustainable travel is a term bandied about willy-nilly these day without nearly as much effort put into what’s actually behind the concept and how everyday people can put it into practice when planning trips.

In many cases, you might not need to alter how you travel too much to achieve sustainability when going somewhere. A lot of what should be done when booking last minute flights or dreaming about your next big vacation is as much about shifting perception as it is about taking action. Moreover, the sorts of changes you may need to take to be more sustainability-aware when you travel are all life affirming and should result in more meaningful and memorable adventures and getaways.

So before we start, what is sustainable tourism?

Although “going green” is an extremely important aspect of sustainable tourism, there are actually four key elements: human, social, economic, and environmental. UNESCO defines sustainable tourism as “tourism that respects both local people and the traveler, cultural heritage and the environment” while seeking to “provide people with an exciting and educational holiday that is also of benefit to the people of the host country.” 
Now that we know what we’re talking about, how can we make it happen? Here are five principles to keep in mind to make sure you travel more sustainably while still sustaining a fun itinerary.

Plan Responsibly

african american man on laptop planning trip

Make sustainability one of your goals from the onset. At each step of the planning and booking process consider how your decisions affect local people, their community and economy, and the environment at and along the route to your destination. Are you having your morning coffee at a locally owned cafe when strolling the streets of Paris? Is your Machu Picchu tour guide from the indigenous community? Could you rent a hybrid or electric car for your California road trip or rely on public transportation when you take on Manhattan? 

The old adage “think local, act global” definitely applies when you travel. Such an approach can also mean you get to know a destination more profoundly than you would have otherwise.

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Spend Your Money Where it Makes a Difference

When you plan a trip, do you think about where your money goes once you’ve spent it? It can be hard to tell sometimes, but whenever it’s possible, try to keep your travel dollars in the same place as where you’re visiting. Supporting local businesses, staying in independent hotels, and eating in family-run restaurants help real working people and support a healthy hospitality industry that cherishes its home while ensuring a destination retains the distinct qualities that make it special.

Seek Authentic Experiences

Burmese woman weaving clothe from lotus silk.

Who wants a vacant vacation or humdrum holiday? We travel to be inspired by the ideas of other people in other places. So why not adopt the way of life practiced where you are when you’re there? What’s the point of eating a burger in Naples, Italy, when in the ancestral home of the pizza? And if you do crave a burger when you’re in Connecticut, why go to an outlet of a fast food chain when you can go to Louis’ Lunch in New Haven, which claims to be the first restaurant ever to serve hamburgers? Same goes for fashionistas; can you shop more thoughtfully and glamorously by hitting the indie boutiques and buying up-and-coming cult designer labels rather than going with the big brands?

Go Green

We’re all familiar with the three Rs mantra of “reduce, reuse, and recycle” but maybe there’s another R to add: remember. Sometimes we disconnect from our day-to-day responsibilities when we travel and think someone else can clean up behind us or that our careless actions won’t have much consequence. Not true! Remember to minimize your mess and your impact — even when you go away — and realize that places of extreme natural beauty, such as the Grand Canyon or the Himalayas, will only stay picturesque if we all care for them and tread lightly on them.

Be Mindful of What it is You Love about a Place

Tourist and llama sitting in front of Machu Picchu, Peru

The wonder of Venice is that it appears to be an ancient city floating on the water. Sustaining that look and uniquely Venetian atmosphere for centuries has taken plenty of forethought and effort. Wouldn’t you love to know if such an amazing place will be there for future generations to visit? Be mindful of why you wanted to see a place while you’re there. Do your best to help maintain whatever it is you love about it.

So before you frantically fly off on last minute flights to one of your bucket-list destinations, make sure you change your attitude and become a traveler who embraces sustainable tourism — it’s just as easy as changing your mindset!

We would love to hear your thoughts on sustainable tourism? What tips do you have to share to travel more sustainably?

About the author

Chris Osburn

Chris Osburn is a freelance writer, photographer, consultant, and curator and the driving force behind the long running and award winning blog, Originally from the American Deep South, Chris has lived and worked all over the world and has called London home since 2001.

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