Sustainable Travel Field Guide
AUTHOR: Nina Karnikowski
Travelling closer to home is one of the best ways to lighten our travel footprint, which is good news for those of us currently stuck in our home countries. Proust’s famous words, “the real voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes”, are a potent reminder that travel is a state of mind, and that we can explore nearby neighbourhoods and landscapes with the same wide-eyed curiosity as we might have once reserved for Morocco, Italy or Nepal. ‘Microcations’ - taking the train or car to the beach or bush for a few days – also give a powerful reset, without burning masses of carbon.
Think about the things that bring the greatest joy to your life, and travel is likely to be right up there. It inspires and connects us, it helps us shake the dust off our lives, it teaches tolerance and expands our worldviews. But if we also want to reduce our impact on the planet, reshaping how we travel is one of the most seismic changes we can make, since the travel industry is responsible for an estimated eight percent of the world’s carbon emissions – an especially shocking figure when you consider that only six percent of the world’s population has ever set foot on a plane. The good news is that we can use that privilege and start rebuilding the way we travel right now, making our journeys as nourishing for the places and people we visit as they are for us.
Putting nature at the centre of our journeys is also key. We protect what we love, so by surrounding ourselves with nature during our travels we’ll be more likely to fight for it when we get home. Whether it’s a multi-day hiking or biking trip, a camping adventure or a sailing journey, nature-based travel has the added benefit of making us happier and healthier humans. Studies in Italy and Japan have shown that being immersed in nature increases our attention span and creativity, and even lowers blood pressure, heart rate and levels of the stress hormone cortisol. A double win, and exactly what’s needed at this tumultuous time.
The word ‘leakage’ is used to describe how our travel dollars leak out of host countries and into the pockets of multinational corporations. According to the UN’s World Tourism Organisation, just five percent of money spent by tourists stays in the communities they visit. One of the best ways to plug these leaks is to support small, locally-owned businesses and put money directly into the hands of locals, whether you’re one hour’s drive away from home, or across the other side of the world. Prioritising, for instance, small locally-owned eateries and hotels or homestays, native guides and tour operators, and hand-crafted goods made by Indigenous artisans.
Slowing things down is the key to more sustainable practices in almost every area, including travel. This means taking fewer but longer trips, and leaving time and space for lingering in cafes and people-watching, for long walks in nature and conversations with strangers - just living like a local, really. This extends to leaving the places you visit just as you found them, doing things like picking up rubbish on the beaches, streets and hiking trails you come across. It’s also about respecting traditional landowners, taking the time to research the places you’re visiting and getting informed about their ecological issues or Indigenous beliefs.
Ultimately, being a better traveller comes down to thinking of the generations ahead who will inherit the world we are creating now, through every one of our daily and yearly actions. The conservationist and filmmaker Céline Cousteau tells a story in Go Lightly about a chief in an Amazonian village who pointed to a tree he planted and said, ‘Someday that tree will make a great canoe. Not for me, not for my son, not for my grandson – maybe my grandson’s son or his grandson.’ “Let’s go back to that thinking,” said Cousteau. “That matters.” And it does.