Since the pandemic started two years ago, many of us found our lives at a standstill. Now two years on, we're learning to live in this new normal, which means many of us are traveling again.
You may not have thought about your vacation's impact on the environment. What and how you pack, the carbon emitted to get to your holiday destination, and the sustainability of the places you choose to visit and stay. Likely, your vacation is unintentionally contributing to climate change in some way.
Today's article will highlight how vacationing impacts the environment, why tourism is important, and show you nine ways to travel more responsibly in 2022.
Travel Impacts on the Environment
Before the pandemic, tourism was booming. From 1990 to 2018, travelers more than tripled, reaching 1.442 billion (4). The pandemic slowed things down exponentially, but in 2022 the tourism statistics are expected to exceed pre-pandemic rates, with an expected growth of 28.4% (1).
While it may not seem like it, the tourism industry is responsible for environmental damage on a significant scale, from the depletion of natural resources to pollution and waste problems. What can often occur in popular vacation spots is that natural resources are over-consumed, putting strains on local land use, leading to soil erosion, habitat loss, and further risk to endangered species. It also leads to increased pollution, destroying environmental resources on which tourism depends (4).
Another precious resource that gets over-used in vacation spots is water. For example, an average golf course in a tropical country uses as much water as 60,000 rural villagers and over 3300lbs of chemical fertilizers and herbicides annually (4). Fertilizers and herbicides are incredibly damaging to our environment, the local community's health, and the surrounding wildlife.
At the pandemic's peak in 2020, we saw carbon emissions drop to pre-1990 levels, and areas that were once inundated with humans were left vacant. The absence of humanity meant animals that usually kept a low profile started to emerge more frequently, such as the elusive leatherback turtles who were able to nest on the beaches of Phuket for the first time in years. The pandemic has been a testament to animals' resilience and ability to adapt quickly.
For the world to reach The Paris Agreement's climate goal, greenhouse gases would need to drop 7.6 percent every year from now until 2030 (3). Yet the peak of the pandemic saw a global drop of 7 percent. If you can recall what life was like 18 months ago, it wasn't a sustainable way of life for most of us.
"Everybody stopped flying; everybody stopped commuting," author of The End of Nature, Bill McKibben says. "Everybody just stayed at home. And emissions did go down, but they didn't go down that much, maybe 10 percent, with that incredible shift in our lifestyles. It means that most of the damage is located in the guts of our systems, and we need to reach in and rip out the coal and gas and oil and stick in the efficiency, conservation, and sun, and wind."
Why Tourism Matters
With everything we've observed, some believe the answer is not to travel as much—or even at all. But with forecasts for travel booming next year, it's an unlikely scenario. And the truth of the matter is, we need tourism.
Tourism is vital for several reasons. It:
- Generates employment.
- Stimulates the economy.
- Helps build city infrastructures.
- Helps with conservation and preservation of natural resources and heritage sites.
- Builds and shares a cultural appreciation.
Even if you're not much of a traveler, tourism is futile to just about every community and nation. Take Bali, Indonesia, for example. 60% of Bali's GDP comes from tourism. They welcomed 6.2 million travelers just in 2019 alone. But due to strict COVID-19 regulations and border closures, from January to October 2021, only 45 international visitors entered the Indonesian province. Thousands of locals lost their jobs and were unable to make ends meet at the peak of the border closures.
This example shows how tourism is vital to the survival and growth of developing countries. Thankfully, Bali's borders recently reopened to vaccinated travelers in Bali, and they expect to welcome thousands of tourists over the coming months.
Developing countries also saw an uptick in poaching. With the absence of tourists and reduction in safaris, enforcement budgets were reduced to nothing, leaving parts of Asia and Africa open to poachers and illegal hunting and fishing by desperate villagers hungry to feed their families (11).
The pandemic gave us a unique insight into a world without tourism. The answer to our tourism-environmental problems is not as simple as humanity "traveling less," as all it does is create a chain reaction of other issues.
8 Ways to Travel More Sustainably
Instead of cutting back on traveling, there are many ways you can become more responsible instead. First thing you could do before you plan your next trip is to estimate your carbon footprint using a free carbon calculator. Knowing your carbon footprint will give you an idea of how much carbon you contribute to the atmosphere and help you be more mindful when planning your trip.
Now, here are nine ways you can travel more responsibly in 2022.
Considering your transportation
Camping or glamping
Leave Only Footprints
Planning ahead means you can plan to be more responsible. From purchasing your luggage (try a backpack from the sustainable travel brand Patagonia) to packing your suitcase, and even the transport and experiences you'd like to try on your trip. Planning ahead means eliminating rushed decisions that may not be sustainable.
Do you need to fly to get to your destination? Flying, although more time-efficient, uses a lot of resources and emits a considerable amount of carbon into the atmosphere. Consider taking the train, especially if it's electric, taking a bus, or driving an eco-car.
Camping or Glamping
Camping is a family favorite for vacations, as it's often more affordable and can be a more accessible destination to get to. It's also great to stay local to help generate revenue in your city or country. However, camping isn't something everyone has done before and can take some getting used to. If you're interested in camping, check out Set to Camp for tips on setting yourself up for seamless camping and tips on how to be a responsible camper. However, if you're not much of a "pitch-a-tent-and-camp-in-the-wilderness" type, consider renting an RV, staying in a stationary campervan or tiny home, or even going glamping. There are many off-grid vacation spots where you can have a more sustainable vacation without sacrificing comfort.
Don't forget to tip your server and show your appreciation. In the last 18 months, many businesses have been struggling to retain their staff, putting a strain on the workers that have stayed. Show your appreciation for their work, especially if they've gone above and beyond.
Most of the time, when we think about taking a vacation, we look to destinations overseas or in other States. But have you considered exploring your city or State? Staying local means you can support your local community and keep your transportation impacts to a minimum.
Look into accommodation and experiences with eco-conscious and sustainable companies. Rent electric or hybrid vehicles. Ride a bike instead of driving. There are more and more sustainable tourism companies popping up in recent years. Check out Earth Changers, Regenerative Travel, and Beyond Green if you're looking for sustainable vacation options.
This one might be a little trickier when on vacation. But think about the waste you go through on your trip. Instead of disposable plastic bottles, are you using refillable toiletry bottles for your toiletries? Try being a skinimalist on your trip by only taking a soap bar, serum bar, and lotion bar for your face and body. Try UpCircle Beauty's Cinnamon and Ginger Chai Soap Bar, Dew Mighty's Bloom Jelly Serum Bar, and Nopalera's Moisturizing Botanical Bar. Consider every meal. Can you cook at your hotel or dine at restaurants instead of ordering take-out to avoid unnecessary packaging?
Even if you're staying in a hotel with all expenses paid, you can limit your water usage and turn off lights and electronics when you're not there. Reuse towels and say no to housekeeping during your stay. You can also stay in hotels and accommodation that take water and energy conservation seriously to extend your environmental efforts.
Leaving Only Footprints
When you visit places, take your trash with you. Respect the environment and local communities. Tourists can be known to leave behind a mass of destruction for locals to clean up. Leave only footprints behind wherever you go.
It's a great time to be traveling again, as we're seeing more awareness and accessibility around sustainable travel. As tourists, there are ways you can travel more responsibly in 2022 and help keep the economy moving forward while simultaneously enjoying the wonders sustainable tourism companies and our stunning planet have to offer.
Emma Jade has been a trained esthetician for over 15 years. She is a sustainable skincare writer, educating and building awareness around proper skin health that doesn't cost the Earth.
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