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A passport to ethical travel?

In a world where travel, in particular flying, is becoming increasingly affordable and accessible, why wouldn’t we take advantage of it? However, rarely do we think of the consequences our wanderlust has on the environment, or ways in which we can reduce our negative impact in both global and local settings when travelling.

We are living in ‘generation easyjet’, where travel is easily accessible and we are flying more than ever before. However, do the 8 million daily air passengers realize the impact their journey is having on the wider environment?  One return flight between New York and California generates 20% of the greenhouse gases a person’s car would over an entire year. The world of aviation is a fossil fuel industry, one that produces 5m barrels of oil every day. With 20,000 planes in use around the world, and with this number estimated to double over the next 20 years, it seems like this issue will not be contained anytime soon. Unlike other sectors where there are greener alternatives available, there is no environmentally friendly way to transport these millions of people without the burning of kerosene, an extremely harmful substance to the environment. Although aircrafts are becoming more fuel-efficient, the transition is not happening quick enough to outweigh the ever-growing demand for travel. The use of electric planes remains years away, as batteries simply cannot deliver as much power per kilo as jet fuel.

As well as having a huge effect on the global environment, travelling also affects the environment on a local level. The communities which are becoming popular tourist destinations often suffer due to the increase of travelers passing through, in ways such as the building of hotels and resorts on local land and the increase in shopping chains and restaurants taking away from local businesses. As we sip our piña colada by the hotel pool we never think of how it could be damaging to the surrounding community, as we neglect exploring the culture and supporting the local economy. Travelling is all about experiencing things through a new lens and embracing a new way of life, which does not include eating at a Spanish McDonalds. Being an ethically responsible traveler not only requires you to think about your carbon footprint, but also requires you to respect the communities and environments you are visiting once you’re there, this being the difference between ‘tourists’ and ‘travelers’.

Although we can accept that travelling does have negative environmental implications, that doesn’t mean that we can’t explore the world around us. There are a number of ways in which we can reduce our harmful impact and become more responsible travelers. Why not try to explore your own country before jetting off to somewhere far away? We often disregard our homeland as a holiday destination, when in fact there are numerous travel opportunities right on our doorstep. By staying on home soil, we can choose more eco-friendly modes of transport such as buses, trains, cycling or even walking. Websites such as CouchSufing or Airb&b allow those who may not have the means for international travel to make new experiences and friendships in their own country, gaining much more from their trip than a sun tan and some selfies. You can gain a deeper appreciation of what you have close by, whilst learning more about your countries’ heritage and history and making memories.

Living like a local is the best way to ensure that you are supporting the community you are visiting. By eating at local restaurants and buying souvenirs from local vendors you know that your money will be going towards the local economy rather than a corporate chain. Trusting local knowledge and recommendations is the best way to guarantee good prices, good food and a taste for local flavours. This way, you won’t be eating a pizza in France and your souvenirs will not have been made in china, providing a much more authentic experience. Boosting the economy of the place you are visiting will positively impact both the community and your travel.

Ecotourism, “responsible travel to natural destinations with minimal effects on the environment and people there”, is a fast-growing sector of the tourism industry. As climate change continues to rage and more destinations are being affected, people want to see these places before they disappear without making a negative impact themselves. This compels people to choose to travel to eco-friendly destinations with sustainable initiatives such as Sydney, Botswana and the Galápagos Islands. Researching ethical destinations could help you to decide to holiday in more environmentally friendly places, reducing your negative impact and helping you to support local businesses and economies as a way of giving back.

The affordability of travel today has allowed for more of us to explore and experience a wide variety of what our world has to offer. With so many places to go and so much to see, it is unrealistic to expect travelers to cut off their worldwide explorations completely. Being a responsible traveler is about respecting and acknowledging the communities you are visiting, and reducing your negative environmental impact as much as you can along the way. Whether you’re exploring your own country or on the other side of the world, responsible travel will offer you connections and experiences which will be much more rewarding, to both yourself and the communities, than following the typical tourist path.

Sophie Gorman

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