We cannot talk about travel without talking about its impact on the environments and communities we visit. But what is socially conscious travel — both environmentally and socially — and how do we minimize our footprints? As travelers, there are things we can do before, throughout and even after we return home from a trip. As you check this list and reframe how you travel, consider this a journey, not a destination. We encourage you to try one new thing and build from there. It is not meant to serve as a guilt trip, but a reminder that we all have potential in us for change. Finding ways to apply this to your travels will take time, and changing your habits will too. But if you can start with just one idea, you are already improving your footprint. Those small changes will add up.
In this article, we offer a number of strategies you can take before you even leave home. Stay tuned for follow-up articles on what you can also do while on the ground, and when you return home.
“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.” ~ Edward Everett Hale
As you are planning your trip, be mindful during each step of the planning process. Where possible, take a moment to reflect on the impact of each decision from your transportation, to lodging, tours, and more. Follow your dollars (or local currency) to ensure they land in a spot you can morally support.
If you don’t know where to start, the internet is full of sustainable, green, local choices. Numerous niche apps exist to help make your travel more responsible such as Alternative Airlines to find local flights and smaller airlines, Wayaj or Eco Hotels to locate sustainable properties, and Book Different for greener travel planning services.
If this still seems too overwhelming, many of the apps you are already using have built-in options you may not have noticed. Skyscanner has a filter for green flights, and will show emission levels among your search results. When searching for a rental property on VRBO or Airbnb, you can read about your hosts and ensure you are booking with a local host.
As you are starting to gather what you will take with you on your trip, go through your packing list or suitcase and eliminate any single-use items that will ultimately be tossed on your trip or once you get home. Your toiletries are probably the number one culprit here, but an easy fix. You can make a small investment in a reusable travel toiletry set and fill up with products you have at home. You will only need to buy this once and think about all those one-ounce bottles saved!
Beyond that, envision what you will use in a location that will ultimately contribute to a foreign landfill (if that is even a public facility where you are traveling). What can you bring with you to minimize waste where you are traveling? Water bottles are another easy option to plan for. You can bring your own water bottle (with a filter or sterilizer if you can’t drink the tap water there) so you don’t need to buy water bottles while there. Think about how much water you might consume over your entire trip multiplied across the number of people in your family or group. More plastic is reduced! Another easy item to pack are reusable grocery bags. They come in lots of sizes and colors, and are often made of recycled materials themselves. You can pack these for any shopping you might do while there, and as a bonus, they double as day or beach bags. Packing items that serve multiple purposes is smart all around.
Beyond thinking about the planet and the environment you are visiting, the people are equally important in becoming a more conscious traveler. Start by doing your research on cultural and religious differences. What are the customs you should embrace, and others that might not be appropriate while visiting? Consider dress, gestures, and slang as a start. Learning at least a few words in the local language will also go a long way. Don’t assume or force anyone to learn English. Learning hello, please, thank you, and goodbye will help you connect with the people you meet.
As you are planning, expand your travel searches from “Best Things To Do in [Place]” and “Top 5 Things to Do” to dig deeper into both the history and present community. Are the articles written in the voice, and only that, of those in power? Do they gloss over or omit Indigenous communities, and/or other marginalized communities who made past and present contributions to the fabric of the area? Does their omission from the story mean they miss out on opportunities to shape the travel experience of visitors they host and the local economy as well?
Finally, discuss your ideas around socially conscious travel and global citizenship with your children. They are never too young to have these conversations and start building this lens. They will also better understand these practices and be more willing to participate when it comes time to travel.
If you have other ideas for our like-minded community, please share in the comments section below.
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