Being able to travel is a privilege. The fact that we can book a flight in only a few minutes and be on that plane the next day is incredible, but the ease of travel has caused us to spend less time thinking about the effects that our actions whilst travelling have.
With more and more people travelling — around 1.4 billion people took an international trip in 2019 before the pandemic — the negative impact that we’re having on the world is getting bigger.
According to the UN World Tourism Organization, the travel and tourism industry produces about 5% of all global emissions. But it's not just the carbon that's released whilst flying that's causing all the problems.
When you arrive at your destination, everything you do has a positive or negative impact on that place. And that’s where conscious travel comes in.
What is conscious travel?
Conscious travel is about travelling mindfully. Our intention when travelling should be to make a positive long-term impact on the environment and the local communities.
It’s about having a heightened awareness of what the consequences of everything we do are — eating at a restaurant, getting from A to B, interacting with a local. Every single thing leaves a mark. We want these marks to be positive, and that happens more when you’re a conscious traveller.
Travelling consciously doesn’t just benefit the people and the place that you’re visiting, it can be better for you. Shopping, eating, and staying locally can all result in a cheaper trip for you. Not to mention that having local interactions, immersing yourself in the culture and learning about the people is a much more enriching and rewarding experience.
Essentially, being a conscious traveller is a win-win for everyone involved!
Now you know what being a conscious traveller is, let’s explore things that you can do to be an awesome conscious traveller:
How can you be a conscious traveller?
Chances are you’re probably already doing some things that help you to be a more conscious traveller, but there is always space to improve.
Here are some of the best ways to be a conscious traveller:
Avoid contributing to overtourism
Overtourism happens when too many people visit the same destination, often leaving a negative impact on the environment and local communities. Some examples of places experiencing overtourism right now include Barcelona, Bali, Rome, and the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. The list keeps on going, which isn’t what we want as conscious travellers.
You’ve probably seen the videos on Instagram of the hordes of people all fighting to witness the same iconic site or get the perfect sunset picture. This normally isn’t a pleasant experience for anyone involved. Wouldn’t you much prefer to be exploring off-the-beaten-track destinations, and relishing unforgettable moments without elbows constantly prodding you?
So instead of heading to where everyone else is going, do your research and find just as beautiful places that haven’t been discovered by tourists yet.
Do your research on the country before booking any flights or accommodation. Check out whether that country is focusing on ecotourism, learn some words in that language and educate yourself on the customs.
Places like Iceland, Bhutan and Kenya are all investing heavily in ecotourism to make sure that their beautiful countries aren’t ruined by tourism. Why not visit somewhere that’s consciously making an effort to reduce the impacts of tourism?
Travelling slowly has so many benefits, but is often tossed aside by travellers who want to tick off as many places as possible. Whilst this is tempting, you end up only touching the surface of that country, missing out on truly learning about the culture and people of that place.
When I travel slowly, my connections with places and people are so much deeper and more memorable. Try it, and I’m sure you’ll prefer it to being in a new place every few days, which is also super tiring!
Taking your time will also save you money. You can often negotiate better deals on accommodation if you’re staying for longer. You’re not constantly splashing the cash on transportation and you’ll probably cook more rather than eat out.
It’s also better for the environment. Instead of hopping on a flight every two weeks, you’ll be in the same place for longer.
If I haven’t fully convinced you on how great slow travel is, continue reading about it here.
Respect the environment
I live by the principle that you should always leave a place cleaner than when you arrived. If you’re going for a hike, take a bag with you and pick up some of the rubbish along your way.
Those visiting a beach destination, try to get involved in beach clean-ups. If there aren't any already organized, grab a rubbish bag and do it by yourself. It may feel like a huge task, but every little help is welcome! You never know, someone might see you doing it and may want to help too.
If you’re camping or chilling on the beach, make sure to leave no rubbish behind! Try to avoid the use of single-use plastics whilst you’re travelling too.
Stay, eat, and buy local
Make the conscious decision to stay in local homestays, eat at local restaurants, and buy from shops that are run by people in the community.
Sometimes it might be easier to eat at a chain restaurant or stay at a well-known hotel, but this often means that the local economy isn’t benefiting from your money as much. Instead, it’s making rich people richer, and the money is often leaving that country.
Engaging with the local community is better for the local economy, but it is also likely to be better for you. If you’re visiting a foreign country, it’s likely that you want to immerse yourself in the local culture as much as possible. Staying, eating, and buying local is often the best way to do this. Plus, the local restaurants are more often than not the best places to eat!
By eating locally, you're not just contributing to the restaurant where you're eating it. It's likely that the ingredients used to make your delicious dish came from a local farmer just down the road. Being a conscious traveller often has a domino effect.
My rule of thumb is that plastic chairs in a restaurant often equal great local food.
Take local tours
Taking a local tour means that your money will be staying in the local economy rather than funding a large tourism agency.
I love to do free walking tours in almost every city that I visit. It's a great way to explore the place, get local recommendations and support a local. At the end of the walking tour, you tip the local guide what you think the tour was worth. A small proportion of the money goes to the free walking tour agency, with the guide getting to keep most of the money.
Volunteer and have a positive impact
Volunteering can be a great way to be a conscious traveller. It allows you to stay longer in a place, getting to know the local community and what daily life is like. The culture immersion through volunteering is likely to be insightful and unforgettable.
Worldpackers have hosts in over 140 countries and have ensured that the volunteer opportunities leave a positive impact on that place. There are so many ways for you to positively contribute your skills and knowledge to a local community, such as teaching, farming or sustainable construction.
Now, people have realized that animals are often mistreated and it’s simply something you don’t have to do.
If you’re engaging in activities that involve animals, it’s important to make sure that those animals are well looked after and you’re giving money to an ethical organization. If you’re not 100% sure, then avoid it!
Try to reduce the number of flights that you take wherever possible. When you’re travelling, try to stick to one area where you can enter new countries by bus instead of having to fly.
Whilst buses might be the longer option, they’re often cheaper and so much better for the environment than a flight. You also get to see more of the country this way! There’s nothing better than putting in your headphones and watching the world flash by outside the window.
If you can’t avoid taking a flight, then offset your carbon footprint using websites like Gold Standard.
The first sustainable swap that everyone should be making is to reef-safe suncream. These suncreams don't contain chemicals that harm the coral and reef when you go swimming in the sea. Hawaiian tropics have a great reef-safe suncream that I highly recommend.
Another easy action is to travel with a reusable water bottle. In some countries you'll be able to drink the tap water and can directly fill up your water bottle, avoiding having to buy bottles of water.
In countries where you can't drink tap water, some accommodations offer filtered water that you can use to fill up your water bottles too.
Talk to other travellers about conscious travel
Now that you’ve read this article about how to be a conscious traveller, it’s your responsibility to spread the wordandteach others how to be a conscious traveller too.
Challenge the way that people are travelling, and spark conversations that get people thinking mindfully about how they travel. It’s crazy how big a ripple effect one conversation can have.
If you love travelling, then it’s likely that you also love the planet that we call home. No one wants the thing they love doing to destroy the thing that they love. That’s where being a conscious traveller can help to positively benefit the world, rather than harming it.
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