French novelist Marcel Proust may have written the world’s longest novel, À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time), but it’s a brief excerpt from its seven volumes that is the perfect mantra for the modern traveller looking to minimize their environmental impact: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new sights, but in looking with new eyes.”
To change the way you look at travel, try to seek out designations such as the Green Destination Standard, which sets environmental, cultural and business criteria to measure, monitor and improve the sustainability of destinations and regions. Travellers should also be aware of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GTSC), a comprehensive resource for learning about tourism businesses and destinations that strive to protect and sustain the world’s natural and cultural resources.
Offering a wealth of advice on making informed travel choices, the GSTC grants voluntary, third-party certification for destinations, tour operators and hotels that want to make sustainability integral to their business plans. The GSTC also suggests a 30-minute online web class for travellers who want to know more about making the right choices when planning a vacation, which was created by G Adventures and Sustainable Travel International.
Sustainable tourism association Bee + Hive is another resource, offering a curated list of hotels and local experiences focused on wildlife conservation, environment preservation and on sharing cultural traditions, while also providing economic benefits for communities. Bee + Hive launched a booking platform this year to make it easier for travellers to find and book experiences with accredited members.
You can make a difference when planning your next trip with informed and sustainable decisions:
Choosing local transportation, hotel, restaurant or tour guide helps tourism dollars benefit the community you’re visiting. For example, renting a bike can seem like a simple act, but it allows one to explore slowly beyond the confines of a bus, is less polluting and puts money into the pocket of a local business.
Use a guide book or official website to research a city, region or country to understand customs, traditions and history before travelling. Become aware of what to wear when exploring, whether it’s a religious site or a local market. Ask a hotel concierge or tour guide for advice on what to pay for local services, such as a ride in a tuk tuk, or a handcrafted object, and avoid buying items that could be considered a biological treasure (such as a rare plant or exotic pet), an antique that may be archaeologically significant, or a banned item such as ivory or a tortoise shell.
Reduce, reuse, recycle definitely applies to travel. But go beyond avoiding plastic straws and reusing a towel by bringing your own biodegradable toiletries in refillable containers, using a reusable tote bag or backpack to replace any plastic bag you may be offered, choose locally sourced and created cuisine and locally made souvenirs. Pack a refillable water bottle; in areas where bottled water is the only option, consider buying larger bottles to share to reduce plastic waste.
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