“The tourism industry is a massive sector that can have great impacts,” says Céline Cousteau, a renowned environmentalist, filmmaker, and sustainability ambassador to the TreadRight Foundation. “If the environment and people aren’t healthy, tourism is going to suffer. So it’s to the benefit of all to [ensure] that places that people want to visit are healthy.”
She’s also the granddaughter of legendary oceanographer Jacques Cousteau and has ventured on countless expeditions – from the Peruvian Amazon to swimming with sharks in the South Pacific. And according to Cousteau, there is plenty that travelers can do to “greenify” their travels, as well as positively impact the communities visited. Instead of stomping around your destination like a bull in a china shop, here are some easy ways to lighten your carbon footprint and go green the next time you travel.
Pick an Ethical Destination
Is tourism a benefit or a burden for local communities? Is your destination LGBT-friendly? What’s the country’s track record on environmental conservation? A little research into a destination beforehand can reveal any political, social, or environmental issues that could make or break a potential trip.
“I work with Indigenous tribes,” says Cousteau. “Make sure that they are actually welcoming the tourists into their village – and that it’s on their terms. If you go into communities, be thoughtful about how you behave.”
A handy resource is Ethical Traveler, a non-profit organization founded to “empower travelers to change the world” by making responsible choices. Every year, the organization releases their best ethical tourism destinations, ranked by their record of protecting environmental standards, social welfare, human rights, and animal welfare. Each place also offers “unspoiled natural beauty, great outdoor activities, and the opportunity to interact with local peoples and cultures in a meaningful and mutually enriching way.”
Did you know that the average meal travels 1200km from the farm to plate? If you want to lighten your footprint, drink and eat local food and products. Aside from the meal tasting fresher, it’s a simple way to support local farmers and purveyors, as well as cut down the carbon footprint associated with transporting food items. Plus, it can lead to a more genuine travel experience.
“Trafalgar takes you to local peoples’ homes for dinner, which I find phenomenal,” says Cousteau. “You get behind the scenes and support the smaller initiatives that are authentic, real, and at home, as opposed to big chain restaurants. Just remember that the local economy really needs tourism.”
Reduce Your Wasteful Consumption
Often, waste disposal systems in many countries aren’t equipped to handle the demand from tourism, but a few simple changes to your travel routine can make a big difference. For instance, start by reducing your own consumption of disposable products while on the road.
“Think about your own consuming,” says Cousteau. “I bring refillable water and shampoo bottles. I don’t use the hotel stuff – then I’m not using the little plastic bottles.”
The bottom line: be mindful of your impact on the destination and follow the principle of “leave nothing but your footprints behind” as much as possible.
Exercise Your Buying Power
As a traveller, you wield enormous influence through your economic choices. Be conscious of where your money is going, and try to patronize tour companies, restaurants, attractions, and shops that prioritize green principles.
“It starts with what you choose to do,” says Cousteau. “Where you choose to eat and what you choose to purchase. Where you choose to sleep, what tour operator you choose. The companies that you travel with are going to be able to support you; and if they’re not, you should demand it.”
When considering a tour operator, ask questions about their environmental policies and practices before booking. How are they protecting and contributing to the economic, environmental, and social development of the people, cultures, and destinations they visit?
“Are they giving back to local communities? Are they trying to eliminate plastics from their tour?” says Cousteau. “It’s the simple things like recycling. Choose the companies that are thoughtful about how they do things.”
Stay at a Green Hotel
Another way to “go green” is to stay at hotels or eco-lodges that strive to minimize resource consumption and maximize environmental sustainability. For instance, look for accommodations that are LEED Certified, which means they are resource efficient – built to use less water and energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. You can also pick smaller inns that employ local people or choose a resort that supports community empowerment projects.
Cousteau says that Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve and Wellness Retreat in South Africa is a good example: a project supported by Treadright, the resort makes enormous efforts to preserve the area’s unique environment and ecology, including the 130 ancient rock art sites in the reserve.
“By mere virtue of buying a trip with them, you’re contributing,” says Cousteau. “Know that the power of putting your money into a trip can actually have good outcomes.”
Remember: it’s not about perfection
There’s no such thing as a purist. As a traveller, the goal is to start small and focus on small (or big!) ways that you can make a positive difference. You’ll be earning stamps in your green passport before you know it.
“It’s not about perfection,” says Cousteau. “We can very easily throw rocks in a glass house.”
For more ideas and inspiration, check out everything that Trafalgar has to offer. Whether it’s going on safari or exploring cultural wonders or volunteering abroad, Trafalgar can help design the green adventure of your dreams.
Ready to go green with your travel plans? Use our search engine now to find the cheapest airfare to your next destination