To be a conscious traveller is to have an awareness of the impact of one's travel and adventures. To be a kind traveller is to care and to want to do something to limit those impacts.
In this post, we'll highlight some of the world's biggest social and environmental problems that travel is currently helping to exacerbate and we'll provide practical tips on how we can collectively take steps towards solving them.
How to become a kinder and more conscious traveller
We've grouped our tips and ideas together as follows;
At the end of the article, we make an important point about acknowledging that nobody is perfect. Becoming a kinder and more conscious traveller is a journey. There will always be many potholes to navigate and mistakes will happen. Provided we're all doing our best however, we can all make a collective difference.
Let's now look at our first problem/issue and take a deep dive into how we might be a part of solving it.
The Climate Crisis
According to the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate. While this may not seem very much, models project that such a change will have catastrophic and possibly irreversible effects on ecosystems, wildlife and human life.
We can battle the climate crisis by making responsible travel choices. Here are some ideas for how you can help.
Choose to visit sustainable/eco-friendly destinations
While some destinations continue to languish under a sea of pollution, there are other places that, by and large, appear to be making some effort to reduce their impact on the planet. Conscious travellers should try to support and visit sustainable and eco-friendly destinations and whilst there, engage with conservation/community projects.
The criteria by which a destination is considered 'sustainable' differs depending on who you're asking, but there are some organisations that can help us to identify potential candidates (see below in 'Further reading').
By visiting destinations that are at the forefront of the fight against the climate crisis, you're automatically showing your support for their work, plus you'll enjoy a visit to a clean and green part of the world. Vocal support for environmental projects may also encourage other cities and regions to follow suit and join the climate change challenge, which we will all collectively benefit from.
- The Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance is a collaboration of cities that are working to achieve carbon neutrality in the next 10-20 years. Member cities include Amsterdam, Melbourne, Minneapolis, Rio de Janeiro and Yokohama.
- This article from Conde Nast Traveller acknowledges the difficulty in identifying eco-friendly destinations and instead, uses it's own criteria to pick out some likely candidates.
- Wikipedia includes an article that lists a number of cities and regions around the world that are notably engaged in climate action.
- The website for the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is packed full of information on the impact of climate change, though most of the information is aimed at policy makers. The WWF website provides more accessible information, using data from the IPCC combined with its own findings.
- The 'Sustainable Development Goals' section of the UN website contains lots of information on the impact of Climate Change and what can be done to stop it.
You needn't travel too far in order to have an adventure. In fact, for many, adventure can be found just down the road from home. Something as simple as visiting a new restaurant, exploring somewhere new or even taking a different route home from work can evoke strong travel-vibes. We call these 'Everyday Mini Adventures' and we're always on the look-out for new ones.
If you're wanting a longer trip, don't discount holidaying in your own region or country. For many travellers, crossing a border is an essential part of any trip. But, a conscious traveller will always consider their own region/country first to see if it satisfies their desired criteria.
Travelling locally not only reduces your carbon emissions, but it also has the potential to reduce the risk of over-tourism (see below) in certain destinations. It'll also help you to have a greater appreciation for your home town or country, bringing you a greater quality of life.
Be a smarter flier
Air travel contributes around 2.5% of global carbon emissions each year. This might not seem very significant, but passenger numbers are expected to double in the next 20 years, so the percentage is likely to increase.
You can help to reduce the impact of your air travel by adopting the following 'smart flier' tips;
- Taking off and landing a plane uses more fuel than cruising a plane at high altitude, so try to book direct flights and avoid layover flights if you can.
- Business and first class might seem enticing, but those seats are enormous. Economy not only provides passengers with the best value, but they are also more energy efficient as more people can fit on the plane.
- Seek out airlines with green credentials. Some airlines have gone to great lengths to reduce their carbon emissions.
- Rather than going on lots of small trips throughout the year, go on fewer, but longer trips. This will reduce your time in planes.
- This article from The Independent explores the ways in which we can measure how green airlines can be.
Travel slower, travel overland
Planes get you to your destination the quickest, but is this necessarily a good thing? Is there a kinder, more conscious and more mindful way of getting to your destination that isn't quite so harmful on the planet?
Provided there isn't a huge ocean between you and your destination, overland travel should not be discounted. Train travel in particular is much less harmful on the planet and provides a swath of other benefits;
- Passengers are much less crammed in together on a train than by plane.
- The journey to your destination becomes much more exciting - who can resist sitting by a train window and watching the world race by.
- Travelling by train is much less stressful and convoluted than travelling by plane.
- You get to visit all the places between home and your destination too.
- Byway Travel are a leading 'flight free' travel operator. Take a look at their website to discover the possibilities.
- Find out more about slow travel in this article from The Independent.
Use public transport and eco transport options
In 2017, the Dutch national railway operator, Nederlandse Spoorwegen, perfectly demonstrated the wonderful possibilities that can be achieved through rail travel. They announced that their entire rail network was 100% powered by wind energy (plus they delivered on their target a year earlier than planned).
As much as possible, a conscious traveller should avoid using private cars when exploring. Instead, they should seek to explore;
- using Public Transport
- by bicycle
- on foot
Of course, there will always be circumstances where it's impossible to avoid using a car. In these circumstances, see if shared options are available/suitable or seek out smaller or hybrid/electric vehicles.
When travelling between destinations, seek out more creative ways to get there, such as kayaking perhaps. Alternatively, consider travelling collectively with tour groups.
Generally speaking, travelling collectively with other people is much more energy efficient and therefore better for the environment than travelling privately by car. An added benefit of travelling with other people is that you might get to make new friends on the way, learn something new and share essential travel tips.
Carbon offset your travel
Investing in/interacting with carbon offsetting projects can help neutralise your impact on the planet. This can be done by one-time or monthly payments to specific organisations or you can use an app to slowly offset your carbon over time.
The first place to start is to calculate what your impact is. Many of the carbon offsetting projects will help you do this, but if you're curious about your impact before choosing a project to get involved with, there are specific services that can do this for you (see below in 'Further reading').
Once you've calculated your carbon footprint, you then have a target to aim for. How you go about offsetting your carbon footprint is down to you, depending on what you can afford and/or what you're able to put time into.
Carbon offsetting is an easy way to rectify occasions where you've not been able to limit your impact on the planet. Ideally, there wouldn't need to be a requirement for carbon offsetting projects. But, human's aren't perfect and, for now, they provide an ability to offset unavoidable carbon emissions.
Many carbon offsetting projects focus on planting trees. Whilst the earth benefits from every new tree that's planted, it can take decades for new trees to start making a positive contribution to reducing carbon. When seeking to carbon offset, try to find projects that invest in clean energy technology.
- Discover your carbon footprint with WWF's Footprint Calculator. Alternatively, try the Carbon Footprint Calculator.
- Carbon offsetting can be achieved on your phone. One example is Treeapp, which allows you to plant a tree for free each day in exchange for viewing presentations from ethical advertisers.
Eat more plant-based food
In 2006, the UN's Food & Agriculture Organisation published a report that said raising animals for food is, “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale, from local to global.” Whether you look at land use, energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions or water-use, the numbers are not good.
Conscious travellers should look into altering their diets to become either a vegan, vegetarian or a flexitarian (somebody who eats a mostly plant-based diet with meat and dairy products in moderation). For most destinations around the world, this shouldn't pose too much of a problem, though in some regions, the very notion of vegetarianism of veganism may draw confusion or even criticism. A bit of research before you book your trip should allay any issues and will help you locate destinations that are particularly good for those on mostly/entirely plant-based diets.
Switching to a new diet can be tricky at first. To make things easier for you, start your journey into become a flexitarian, vegetarian or vegan at home rather than on a trip (see below in 'Further reading' for some of the resources we use to find great vegan recipes). Using the knowledge and experience that you've acquired at home, you're much more likely to continue with your new diet.
The more of us that cuts our meat consumption, the less demand there is on meat production. This will result in less deforestation and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Individuals will also benefit from a healthier diet.
- The lads at BOSH! are absolute legends in the vegan world. Their recipes are simple and super tasty.
- We've recently discovered Vegan Bowls, whose Instagram account in particular is very inspiring.
The Plastic Problem
In 2019, a plastic bag was found at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, a 10,984m (7 mile) trench in the Pacific Ocean. The human obsession with plastic has littered every corner of our planet and this poses the greatest problem in our seas and oceans. At the current rate, the plastic in our oceans is set to triple by 2040 unless we take action.
The travel industry is particularly bad when it comes to producing single-use plastic. Airlines thankfully are now starting to eradicate hundreds of tonnes of plastic from their flights, but there's still much more that can be done.
Reduce, reuse and recycle
It can be tricky keeping up with local recycling rules, especially as they differ quite drastically from one region to another. Making a special effort though to find out how you can recycle stuff while you're away can make the world of difference. If it's not immediately obvious, ask your accommodation provider.
As well as recycling, being mindful of your use of single use plastic is really important. Take a reusable water bottle with your wherever you go and find out where you can refill it with safe, drinkable water. If this is too much of a problem in your destination, stopping for a drink at local, independent cafes/bistros is better than buying drinks in single-use plastic bottles.
The benefits of reducing, reusing and recycling are obvious. The future health of our ocean ecosystems depends on us reducing our use of single-use plastic and ensuring that any plastic we do use is either reused or recycled.
Buy meaningful souvenirs
Every souvenir shop around the world is full of cheap, plastic tat that serves almost no purpose. Instead of thinking that buying rubbish souvenirs is a necessity, try to think differently.
- Don't buy any souvenirs. Instead, have amazing experiences that'll stay in your memory. As a back-up, take lots of photos. These days, everyone has a camera in their pocket. Nothing beats looking back on old photos of incredible trips. A keyring or fridge magnet probably won't rigger the same emotions.
- If you want to buy a souvenir, buy meaningful craft items that have been made locally.
Buying ethically and locally produced souvenirs or skipping souvenirs entirely helps to support local makers and helps us to reduce our reliance on plastic.
Pack eco-friendly products
The eco-friendly product market is booming, meaning it's never been easier to buy ethical, sustainable and environmentally-friendly products. Items like bamboo toothbrushes, plastic-free shower gels and shampoo and reusable toileteries are cheap and very easy to purchase.
Buying eco-friendly products can help you to pack lighter (so less fuel is required to carry your luggage) and, in certain cases, helps you to bypass packing restrictions (such as the ban on liquids in land luggage). Using reusable products also helps to reduce the trail of waste as you travel, ultimately helping you to reduce your carbon footprint even further.
The over-tourism problem
Over-tourism is a relatively new term that is used to define a perceived excess of tourists in one place at one time. This excess of people can cause significant problems for local people, making it increasingly difficult to live a normal life and often driving locals out entirely. It also creates an unpleasantly crowded experience for tourists.
The one destination that is often used to characterise over-tourism is Venice. An average of 20 million tourists visit Venice each year, an unsustainable figure that continues to drive out local residents.
Visit less explored places instead
While over-touristed destinations continue to shine in the limelight, there are many, many alternative destinations waiting in the wings that are equally as splendid. Tracking them down can be a bit tricky, but there are a couple of ways of finding them;
- Read travel blogs that are dedicated to less explored places. You've made a good start here as you're already on one! Go to our Destinations page to get started.
- Browse Google Maps. Start off at a well-known tourist destination, then start panning around to see other places nearby. You'll be surprised how easy it is to find somewhere awesome.
Visiting less explored destinations not only helps to combat over-tourism, it also makes you a much more interesting traveller. Friends and family will be dying to hear about the less heard of place you've visited.
- Our very own travel guides are almost entirely focused on less explored destinations. Head to our Destinations page to get started.
- In 2018, CNN published this article that runs through 12 places they think tourists should avoid, with suggestions underneath on alternatives.
- The Wikipedia article on Overtourism runs through many of the notable problems that have been encountered as a result of overtourism and some of the things that have been done combat it.
Visit busy destinations off-peak
Many of the destinations that are suffering with over-tourism only experience problems during peak seasons. If you're especially keen to visit an over-touristed destination, see if you can visit in the off-peak season.
Travelling off-peak has several benefits;
- Locals will be grateful for the more consistent stream of income
- Temperatures (in most cases) will likely be cooler, therefore much more comfortable for exploring
- Attractions will be much less busy
- Prices for accommodation, transport and attractions will almost certainly be much less.
- Your time in you chosen destination is likely to feel more authentic and less 'touristy'.
One thing you'll need to consider before you book is that attractions/businesses may have limited opening hours or indeed may not be open at all in off-peak seasons. With a little research however, you can mitigate this drawback.
The animal exploitation problem
According to a study carried out by World Animal Protection, 550,000 animals suffer every day through irresponsible wildlife tourism. This awful statistic is made worse by the fact that most tourists have no idea that the animals that they're interacting with are being mistreated.
Limit your interaction with animals
Animals are not on earth for our entertainment. Conscious travellers should therefore refuse to engage in activities that involve animals, unless that activity is part of a conservation project or similar.
Activities to avoid include:
- Having your photo taken with an animal (which may or may not include posing with or cuddling with the animal)
- Watching animals fight one another
- Riding an animal
- Catching an animal
- Going on animal safaris/watching trips where the animals are baited with food
Of course, there are always exceptions, so you should always consider each occurrence on merit. Generally speaking, the question you should ask yourself is, "Are these animals behaving naturally, just as they would in the wild?"
If engagement with animals is something you would like, seek out specific conservation projects or activities whose primary function is to care for animals or observe them in the wild at a distance.
Choosing to only engage with animals that are in the wild or being cared for ethically and responsibly reduces the demand for unethical practices. Species will therefore benefit from a reduction in human interference. Additionally, engagement in conservation projects helps to fund such activity.
- World Animal Protection's 2016 study into irresponsible wildlife tourism not only contains the stats on this unethical behaviour, but also contains information on how you can pledge to help bring such practices to an end.
Engage with local conservation projects
A great way to engage with animals and to do some good during your travels is to engage with conservation and animal rescue projects.
Such projects can include;
- Beach and river clean-ups
- Tree planting
- Volunteering and animal rescue centres or in rewinding projects
Sometimes, these activities will be free and at other times, you'll need to pay to get involved, with your contribution going to fund future work.
We recommend doing a bit of research before you head out to see if there any conservation or animal rescue operations in your destination. The Events section of Facebook is a good place to start. If you're still struggling to find anything, search for specific conservation groups using a search engine.
It's very easy to get bogged down in the nuance of becoming a kinder and more conscious traveller, to the point where you begin to question everything. Once you start doing this, you may notice a growing sense of dismay as you realise that there's very little you can do in life without there being some negative effect on others and the planet.
That's why it's really important that you acknowledge and accept that you're not perfect.
Heck, we aren't either! There's almost certainly something we've left off of this list or some little detail that needs further explanation or clarification. We're intending for this article to be evergreen and updated constantly as we continue to learn more. Do make sure you subscribe to get future updates so that you can learn with us.
We want you to know that we're on this journey with you. We want to be better, kinder and more conscious travellers and we want to encourage you to have similar aspirations. We're not expecting everyone to adopt/enact everything in this article. Be realistic and honest with yourself and just try your best to introduce just some of these practices to begin with. There'll be occasional slip-ups and mistakes, but so long as you're doing what you can and others are doing what they can, together, we can all make a difference.