If you’ve already read my recent blog post about the changes happening at Wanderlust for Life, then you’ll know that starting this year my content is going to focus more than ever on the topic of sustainability. That wasn’t the only interesting news, however, so if you haven’t read about it yet you might want to click here and take a look!
So, for the first month of 2022, the year when travel is finally going to REALLY get going again (I hope; pretty, pretty please, with chocolate sauce and a cherry on top!), my destination isn’t a place but an ideal, a goal if you like.
The experience of the past few years, with the double whammy of global pandemic and increasingly severe climate change, has made me rethink my priorities, truly appreciate travel for the privilege it is, and want to travel “better”. I’m guessing that I’m not alone!
This post will no doubt appeal to travelers who want to leave a lighter ecological footprint and who aspire to connect with and positively impact the communities they visit.
On this topic, last year I wrote two blog posts addressing what sustainable tourism is, as well as some reasons why to make the effort to travel more sustainably. I’ll try not to rehash too much of what I already addressed then. Instead, I’ll offer a few “Exhibits” to illustrate how we can incorporate a little more sustainability into our travels, regardless of our preferences or budget.
So, get ready to embark towards destination: Sustainability!
Exhibit A: Slow Travel
Okay, this one is maybe a slight rehash of a topic I’ve addressed before. But embracing the idea of slowing down when traveling is just such a great way to make your trip more sustainable, so I had to mention it.
If you’re one who usually likes to move on to a new destination every day or two, then you might think that slow = boring. But I would challenge you to try it out, and I think you’ll find that the opposite is true! Find an area that looks interesting, and plan a longer stay instead of moving on as quickly as you generally would.
If you’re used to group tours, I’d point you towards Intrepid Travel and their Retreats. It’s a new concept they launched during the pandemic, small group trips where you explore a smaller area, often unpacking only once. They tend to be shorter trips of a week or less, so you could incorporate one of these tours as a break to your usual travel pattern. To top it all off, Intrepid is a fantastic company with sustainability as a core principle, evidenced by their qualification as a B Corp in 2018, and recent requalification. I’ll maybe need to blog about the B Corp concept one day, but for now you can read their statement on it here.
Exhibit B: Think and Act Local
Spending your travel funds at locally-owned businesses is a great way to benefit the community you visit, and it has the added advantage of facilitating a more authentic travel experience for you as a traveler.
I tend to take this approach: when arriving in a destination I pretend for a moment that I’m actually contemplating a move to that location. And what do we do when thinking about moving to an unfamiliar place? We try and get to know it, right? We talk to people, look at places besides just the top tourists stops, and try to get to know its local culture, cuisine, and natural environment.
This can be a great approach for getting to get to know anyplace you visit. Try it sometime!
Exhibit C: Seek out the Great Unknown
I’ve gotta say, this one is fun, for me as a self-acknowledged travel geek, at least. 😉
Here’s the gist: for your next trip, see if you can find a destination that looks appealing (otherwise, why bother?), but isn’t so familiar to you and has the highest likelihood to make your friends and family give you a quizzical look and say “WHERE?” when you tell them about it.
If you like maps, pull one out/up and just have a look around. See what jumps out at you as unfamiliar, but in a location where you’d guess it might be interesting. This is exactly what I did with my July 2021 Destination of the Month: North Sulawesi. Of course, it’s important to make sure the infrastructure, safety and other considerations are acceptable, so you don’t have any nasty surprises. But try it out, and see what you can find!
If maps aren’t your thing, a simple search engine query can open up a host of possibilities. Just type a country or thing (beaches, European cities, whatever) that appeals to you followed by “lesser known”, “off the beaten track” or a similar phrase, and see where the rabbit hole leads you.
You’re welcome! 😀
Exhibit D: Get Active
If your physical capabilities allow, incorporating walks, hikes, bicycle rides, paddles and whatever else you can imagine into your vacation is a fantastic way to not only make your trip more sustainable, but also healthier and oftentimes more fun!
An example: many cities have been making huge efforts to make bicycling friendlier, from adding bike lanes to even closing lanes of vehicle traffic or entire streets for bicycles and pedestrians, as well as introducing simple-to-book and inexpensive short-term bicycle or e-bike rentals. If you’re often one to hail a taxi from your hotel to a restaurant or museum, maybe think instead about using one of these convenient alternatives.
Exhibit E: Take Fewer Trips, but Make Them Count!
More (meaning more frequent) is NOT better when we’re talking about sustainable travel. Fewer, but longer and more immersive trips is without a doubt the way to go.
I realize this can present a challenge, if for example your employer frowns upon taking longer vacations…as they often do, especially in the USA. I do sincerely hope that this attitude is changing, but if you sense an opening for dialogue you might try approaching your supervisor well ahead of time, being as flexible as you can be with timing, and doing your best to address whatever concerns they may have.
And, for those more frequent desires to simply change your scenery and get a change of pace, explore your possibilities for doing so nearby. It’s rare to find an individual who has truly, fully explored all the leisure possibilities around them, so I would challenge you (as I have myself, with the Bayern Local Series on my blog) to take a few weekend breaks and discover the hidden gems near where you live.
My Personal Conclusions
Sustainability is a complicated concept; it’s multifaceted and requires balancing sometimes competing interests – economic, social and environmental priorities. I don’t have all the answers, but I try to think of the idea behind it all, and work towards that.
Incremental changes in how we as individuals choose to travel is of course not enough to “save the world” in itself, but it can begin a process of shifting our thinking. If you take the first steps towards traveling more sustainably, you might be surprised at how much more fulfilling your travel becomes as a result. You’ll then talk to your friends about it, who will maybe do the same and then tell their friends about it. And so on.
This is how fundamental changes begin. We’ve gotta start somewhere, and I am challenging myself to do just that in 2022, and share it with all of you!