photo: Nattrass/iStock

Six Steps Toward Eco-Conscious Travel

By Britney Hope

While our love for globetrotting grows, concerns such as overtourism, carbon emissions and single-use plastics mean that our travel may not always be good for the planet. But there are simple ways travellers can lessen the negative effects of tourism. “Travellers hold the power,” says Shannon Guihan, director of TreadRight, a non-profit foundation that supports sustainable tourism projects. “Your purchasing decisions can influence travel companies and their practices.” Here are a few ways you can work toward more eco-conscious travel.

Choose hotels that work with organizations such as Green Key or Rainforest Alliance, which encourage energy conservation and waste reduction via the use of solar power, composting and grey-water reuse, whereby “gently used” water from showers, baths and sinks is treated and recycled for non-potable uses, like toilet flushing and sometimes irrigation. You should also consider hotels that bolster surrounding economies by sourcing locally grown food rather than imported ingredients.

Avoid single-use plastic bottles, straws, baggies and cutlery. Aluminum water bottles, cotton shopping bags and collapsible, silicon coffee cups are excellent alternatives. To take things a step further, save your airport liquids bag to reuse it next time you fly, and pack a homemade meal for short-haul flights to avoid one-use wrappings used for in-flight foods. You can also look for tour companies that have policies against single-use plastics.

Hire tour operators that work with local small businesses, and work with guides who offer wildlife encounters rather than captive-animal experiences. G Adventures is one such company: They’re well known for prioritizing animal welfare and giving back to the communities they visit. They even publicizes a “ripple score” for each of trip, so you can see how much money is staying in the local community. Smaller group tours of 16 people or less tend to create less waste and require fewer community resources.

Visiting sultry Sri Lanka on a small-group tour

There are a number of small packing steps you can take to help make a difference. Bringing toiletries from home saves on those tiny hotel shampoos. If you’re visiting a sun destination, look for a “reef safe” sunscreen that does not contain oxybenzone and octinoxate—two chemicals that can be harmful to aquatic life. Need special gear for your trip? Instead of buying new clothes and sporting goods you may only use once, borrow from friends and family.

If you can, book direct flights to reduce unnecessary takeoffs and landings (which produce more emissions), and fly with airlines that use biofuels and/or participate in a carbon-offset program. At your destination, opt for public transit, cycling or walking to get to local attractions, restaurants and the like. Skip gas-guzzling yachts or speed boats on the water and spend the day kayaking or sailing instead.

In a world where nearly everyone travels at least once a year, the little things tourists do can really add up. Turn off hotel room lights, recycle disposables, and leave wild flora and fauna where you find it. Purchase souvenirs made by local artisans, and visit national parks and conservancies. And wherever your travel takes you, do your homework: Research eco-friendly practices and regulations to help minimize your carbon footprint, and respect the places you visit and enjoy.

Contact an expert AMA Travel counsellor to start planning your eco-friendly getaway