According to a study published in Nature Climate Change, tourism accounts for about 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, quantifying the environmental impact of everything from cheap souvenirs to transatlantic flights.
While staying home is arguably the best thing to do from an environmental perspective, that’s not realistic – many of us simply couldn’t imagine not seeing other parts of the world, experiencing new cultures and meeting new people. While we don’t have to stop traveling, we should at least make an effort to reduce the impact of doing so by practicing sustainability.
Consider Destinations That Don’t Require Flying
Where you go has a significant effect on the environmental footprint you leave. Ideally, choose a destination that isn’t so far you have to fly or somewhere that once you arrive you won’t need a car to get around.
Support the Local Economy
Instead of buying cheap “Made in China” souvenirs while you’re in Dublin or anywhere other than China, look for items that are locally made. Not only do they make for a much better souvenir of your experience, but by purchasing them you’ll be making a contribution to the economy that has a direct, positive impact.
Avoid Overcrowded Destinations
Avoid choosing destinations that are overcrowded with tourists so that you don’t further contribute to any degradation, such as Machu Picchu, Barcelona and Venice. “Over-tourism” occurs when there are simply too many visitors coming to a place – while that may be subjective, there’s a problem when wildlife is scared away, tourists can’t even see landmarks because there are too many people, rent prices are driven up pushing out local tenants to make room for higher-priced vacation rentals and fragile environments become damaged. If you do your research, you can find places that are just as alluring while getting a better insight into daily life.
Pick Accommodations Wisely
Forget about the massive beachfront developments, mega resorts and huge cruise ships too – you’ll enjoy a more authentic experience by staying in places hosted by locals like bed-and-breakfasts or couch surfing. If you do choose a hotel, be sure that it holds itself to high environmental standards, something that’s certified by a third party like the Global Sustainable Tourism Council. Ideally, choose a hotel that’s owned by a local, as opposed to some big foreign corporation so that the profits will stay in the community.
When you pack, be sure to toss in reusables, like a reusable water bottle, cloth shopping bags, a travel mug and perhaps a container for leftovers so you don’t have to take anything away in a Styrofoam box.
Always Say ‘No’ to Wildlife Products
Wildlife crime is the largest direct threat to the future of many of the most threatened animal species in the world, such as the poaching of tigers for their skins and elephants for ivory. While you might think that hand-stitched hat made with plush wolf fur would be perfect to bring back to your home to keep your warm on a cold winter day, you’ll be inadvertently supporting a growing marketplace for trafficking endangered, rare wildlife products as souvenirs.