Travelling is important. It gives us unique experiences, opens our mind, reduces everyday challenges, gets us out of our comfort zone, pushes our limits, brings new ideas, and many, many more benefits. But, as we are 7 billion people, travelling can be harmful for the local destination and the environment.
I once booked an all-in holiday in Turkey. It included a stay at a luxurious hotel resort with several swimming pools, a private beach, an all-you-can-eat restaurant and entertainment shows in the evening. Looking back at that experience, I told myself: "What a waste of time and money. This, never again." What a waste of my time and money. I didn't see anything of Turkey. I didn't meet any locals. As expected, I spent more money on day-trips (which were all commercial and touristy). I didn't learn anything new.
The impact of these big international hotels and resorts, and mass tourism in general, is not to be underestimated. Local dining places and markets disappear, the natural habitat of animals and plants shrink, local foods and water become scarce, beaches become private property of hotels, and local culture is sold as a exotic "show". This led some popular holiday destinations to start closing off from tourists, like the Thai island Koh Khai Nok, Koh Khai Nui and Koh Khai Naiin, due to coral bleaching and damages to the marine ecosystem. Beaches that can host 70 people have been swarming with as many as 1.000 tourists a day. Tour boats, sun chairs, food stalls, boat anchors, snorkelers have overcrowded the islands. As much as 80 percent of the area’s reefs is destroyed.
Still, it's possible to have the best holidays without damaging the planet. That's what "green travel" is about. It's really just a matter of caring and paying attention to our activities. A green traveller will seek to reduce her/his footprint through reducing, reusing, and recycling. This kind of traveller will also take heed to respect locals and their culture, and support local economy. Travelling green is actually similar to our green habits at home.
Our holiday trip as green traveller would look like this:
When finding our destination, we shouldn't be afraid to explore new horizons. Avoiding mass tourism will almost guarantee that we (and the locals) will have a better time
We try to do some research on tour operators and book with those that work to lower environmental footprint
We consider passing up that five stars hotel for a local, family-owned hotel or an Airbnb accomodation with a friendly local. Why not even go camping?
We use local public transportation. It results in less traffic congestion and carbon emissions
We carry around reusable water bottles and keep it filled up. We won't have to worry about finding a next convenience store and these small savings will add up
We pay attention where we throw our litter, ideally we search for recycling bins. The local city hall will save money and invest it back in their local community instead of cleaning up after us. The costs can go up to 80 million euros a year!
We eat in restaurants that cook with fresh local foods bought in the market. Personally, I believe that one of the best ways to experience a culture is trying out local foods
We buy souvenirs from local craft stores or local green businesses. These souvenirs are so much more meaningful than the cheap, mass produced ones that we can find everywhere
Last but not least, we talk with the locals. We get to know them, and ask for their recommendations on where to eat or what to visit. They know best! This is how I got to know the best restaurant in Madrid. ;)
In this "Green Travel" section of the blog, I'd love to share my travel destinations and green tips on where to eat/visit/sleep. I'd also love to hear about yours! Please leave a comment about your amazing green travel experiences.