Be a More Sustainable Traveler

14 January, 2020 / Articles

When thinking about how to reduce our individual carbon footprints, one of the simplest ways to cut back on emissions is to fly less often. But for those who want to see the world, there are ways to make trips more sustainable, including where you go, what you pack and how you decide to get there. 

Where to Go

As a general rule, the shorter the distance from home you travel, the lower your carbon footprint. But if you want to go farther, some destinations are more sustainable than others. 

Staying Close to Home

Finding local adventures, such as walking in unexplored corners of your neighborhood or visiting museums in your city, is among the greenest forms of travel. If you want to venture just a little farther, consider driving a few hours to a beach or forest. Even a small adventure can feel a world away.

The Most Sustainable Destinations

According to a list compiled by a dozen sustainability organizations, cities and towns in Slovenia, including Ljubljana, as well as locations in Spain were among the best places to visit and leave a light footprint in 2019. In a separate competition, experts also nominated Palau — where visitors must pledge to protect the natural and cultural heritage before entering — as a pioneer in sustainability.

Each of the 100 destinations was selected based on certain criteria: that they had a governing body to manage sustainability; showed commitment to protecting natural resources, people and heritage; and reduced energy consumption, among other factors. The aim of the list is to raise the bar on sustainability issues for all cities, said Claire Ellis, the chair of Ecotourism Australia, one of the organizations that helped determine the list. 

Slovenia, Dr. Ellis added, was among the first countries to develop sustainability tools and certification programs at the national level. In 2016 its capital, Ljubljana, was voted Europe’s greenest city by the European Union, thanks to its public transport, pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, and commitment to protecting green areas and saving waste water. 

Increasingly, Ljubljana and other sustainable cities are becoming aware of the “over tourism” occuring in cities such as Barcelona and Venice, Dr. Ellis and other experts said. In Venice, for example, locals have become increasingly concerned about the cruise ships that cause environmental damage, dominate the skyline and often cause overcrowding of the city. Similar issues plague Barcelona, which is experiencing soaring numbers of visitors.

If You Want to Visit More Popular Tourist Destinations

If you do choose to visit crowded and popular cities, consider doing so outside peak summer months, say experts. Stay longer, choose accredited accommodation (using a site such as bookdifferent.com, which ensures claims to sustainability are checked by third parties), and find local activities that give back to residents, instead of the most popular activities, which can also often be tourist traps. When you are a visitor to a new place, consider that you are voting with your “money and feet and wallet,” Dr. Ellis said. 

Visit Places That Need Your Support

Another way to spend your hard-earned dollars is to travel to destinations rebuilding after disaster. Puerto Rico, for example, has developed a robust tourism sector since weathering a devastating hurricane in 2017. The island, which also faces sea level rise, was picked as The Times’ No. 1 destination in 2019, in part because it represents many fragile places around the world. 

Travelers can help further by volunteering in environmental and social projects helping to rebuild devastated communities, said Laurie Myers, the project lead for the Global Travel and Tourism Resilience Council, which helps the industry to focus on sustainable outcomes for disaster-affected communities. “Travel and tourism is probably the fastest way to recovery,” Mr. Myers said. 

If You’re Visiting a Coast

And if you’re planning a trip to any coastal destination, choosing one with a Marine Protected Area is another way to ensure the involvement of local communities in protecting landscapes and aquatic life. “Once the local population is engaged,” Mr. Myers said, it can help them to rebuild after crisis and welcome visitors to their natural environment in a way that is sustainable. 

Once You’ve Chosen Your Destination:

  • Use an eco-friendly booking site for accommodation. Sites like bookdifferent.com calculate your carbon footprint per night based on your selection and include eco-friendly ratings. Choose accommodation that injects money back into the local economy. 
  • Consider using a sustainable travel agent. Companies like lokal can take out some of the legwork by organizing trips and activities for you that take environmental and social impact into consideration. 
  • Look for a system of verification. This will help you determine if a business is simply greenwashing, or has met standards set by sustainability councils.
  • Seek out local experiences. Homestays, local guides and programs that give back to communities are also good ways to ensure your money is injected back into the local economy. 

Keep in mind that “not every destination has eco-certified accommodations which is why it is also up to travellers to pay close attention,” Lonneke de Kort, the chief executive of bookdifferent.com, wrote by email. 

“Many small scale accommodations can be green solutions as well,” she added. “For instance, think of a farm which uses solar power, serves fresh organic produce for breakfast and employs locals.” 

Getting There and Around

Transport is one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases and other harmful pollutants. Considering how you get to your destination and around it can help you leave a lighter footprint. Often, when traveling long distances, flying may be the only reasonable option to get to your destination, but the aviation industry is also responsible for emitting harmful emissions into the atmosphere. (According to one 2016 study, every metric ton of carbon dioxide or its equivalent shrinks the ice cover in the Arctic by three square meters, or 32 square feet.)

If You Need to Fly

Planes expend a significant amount of fuel just reaching altitude and descending, so the shorter the distance you fly, the less efficient, said Bryan Comer, a senior researcher with the International Council on Clean Transportation. This is worth considering when traveling shorter distances, you could reach by other means. 

Are Boats Better?

Cruise ships may seem like a good alternative, but they can be even more polluting, say experts. According to one 2017 study, even the most efficient cruise ships emit between three to four times more carbon dioxide per passenger per kilometer than commercial flights. Ships also usually burn the lowest-quality and most polluting kind of fuel, which can affect the passengers, crew, and the environment and populations of the destinations being visited, Dr. Comer said.

There are other reasons to avoid cruise ships — for example, when visiting sensitive destinations like Venice, where the boats can dominate the skyline, crowd the city and even cause large waves that some say have contributed to the erosion of the islands. “There are aesthetic reasons to be concerned about traveling to places where your arrival makes such an obvious impact,” Dr. Comer added. 

By Train

By most accounts, trains as a form of travel emit the lowest levels of greenhouse gases and other harmful pollutants, whether they are electric or diesel-powered. They also offer an opportunity for slow travel: Take in the landscape, read a book, and arrive at your destination refreshed and ready to explore. 

Make Your Cars More Efficient

When it comes to cars, remember that the greater the number of passengers, the lower the carbon footprint per mile for each person (and their luggage and animals). When driving long distances, sites like blablacar.com, or carpoolworld.com can help you find people to share the ride — and the driving.

Offset Your Journey

Whatever your means of transport, you can choose to offset your journey by buying credits that go toward a project that either avoids the emissions of greenhouse gases, or helps sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Keep in mind, however, that offsets tend to be unregulated and can vary substantially in quality. 

“Someone can create a project in their backyard, call it an offset and try and sell it,” said Peter Miller, the director of the western region’s climate program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. There are a number of offset registries that check and rate programs, such as the Climate Action Reserve, where Mr. Miller is a board member. 

Local Travel

Once you’re on the ground, think about whether there’s a more environmentally friendly way to enjoy the city: 

  • Consider bike or walking tours.
  • If you’re on the water, sail instead of taking a power-engined boat.
  • Renting a car? Consider electric, or at least the smallest vehicle that suits your family’s needs.
  • Take public transit where possible. This isalso a great way to meet local people.
  • Try carsharing, which can save money and emissions.
  • Consider activities that combine experience with environmental benefits, such as beach clean-ups.

The science man and innovator, Fernando Fischmann, founder of Crystal Lagoons, recommends this article.

To read full article, go to NYTIMES

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