Be Kind to Our Planet When Traveling: Is It Too Much to Ask?

Sustainable travel Little Corn Island beach
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I've written before about sustainable tourism and why we should care about traveling more responsibly. But I realize that it's one thing to read about why something is important, and another entirely to actually take action and do something about it.

But it's time that we DO start to think seriously about how we are affecting the planet when traveling. Polar ice is melting. The Great Barrier Reef is bleached and dying. Species are going extinct as their habitats disappear. And let's not even start to talk about man-made attractions that are now feeling the strain of too many tourists visiting.

The internet and social media have indeed opened the world up like never before – but this also means that more people are traveling than ever before.

And with more travelers comes more waste, more pollution, and more strain on local resources and economies. It's more important than ever right now for us to start thinking more seriously about sustainable travel.

Gásadalur on a cloudy day

Mainstreaming sustainable travel

The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) is on a mission to make sustainable and responsible practices more “mainstream” in the tourism industry.

It shouldn’t be called ‘sustainable tourism' as a niche, but rather just ‘tourism.'

But in order to make sustainable travel the norm, we have to start changing how we approach travel. We have to become more committed to being kind to our planet, and taking responsibility for its health and wellbeing.

Is It Too Much To Ask?

The WTTC has recently launched a new campaign to encourage people to demand sustainability within the travel industry (because, remember, the industry caters to what we as travelers want). The campaign is called “Is It Too Much To Ask?” and asks people to make small pledges related to their travels that really aren't too much to ask.

The theory is that if people commit to even one or two of these pledges and make small lifestyle changes in order to maintain them, collectively we can make a big impact on the planet.

Lupins at Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

The pledges are as follows:

Pledge 1

I pledge to demand to see the environmental and social policies of the companies with which I book my travels.

My rule of thumb when considering a tour company is to spend time on their website reading their mission statement, and looking for mentions of their sustainable tourism practices. Companies that are dedicated to leaving positive impacts are proud of this and will certainly mention it somewhere.

Pledge 2

I pledge to read up on and understand the local culture in the destination I am traveling to, and promise to respect my hosts, their way of life, and their way of dress by packing appropriately.

Istanbul, Turkey

This pledge is something that should just happen naturally – do your homework before you travel and make yourself aware of cultural norms that might be different from your own. And then remember that YOU are the guest and the visitor. It might be uncomfortable to wear long pants and a scarf in conservative destinations, but respecting the local culture will not only make you a good ambassador for your country, but will also make your trip more enjoyable since you'll be less likely to receive negative attention. (And can we just stop with the naked selfies altogether? That's really not respectful anywhere.)

Pledge 3

I pledge to limit myself to a 3 minute shower per day in areas where water is scarce.

When you live in a place that has easy and ample access to water, it's easy to forget that this isn't the case everywhere in the world. When traveling in places where water is scarce, take shorter showers, or consider “showering” with a biodegradable Epic Wipe instead.

Pledge 4

I pledge to minimize my use of plastic and to dispose of it appropriately. Never on the street and never in the ocean.

Amanda at Badlands National Park

Travel with a reusable water bottle!

Plastics are one of the biggest pollutants in the world, and are especially impacting our oceans. Plastic bottles litter the ocean floor, sea creatures eat plastic bags thinking they're jelly fish, and even plastic drinking straws can injure animals. Reducing plastic use and recycling the plastic that you do use is perhaps one of the most impactful pledges you can make.

When you travel, travel with a reusable plastic water bottle (try a GRAYL if you're going somewhere with questionable tap water), and skip the straws (or buy reusable metal ones!).

Pledge 5

I pledge to buy local – including food, experiences, and guides.

Sustainable tourism isn't just about the environment – travel also has to be economically beneficial to the locals in order to be sustainable. The more money that stays within a local community, the more positive of an impact it leaves (and the more likely locals will be to want to welcome tourists). Opt for family-run hotels and restaurants instead of large chains, buy local handicrafts when possible, and give your money to tour companies that employ local guides instead of foreign ones.

Pledge 6

I pledge to never take part in activities that will cause harm to animals.

Elephants at Elephant Nature Park

For example, don't ride elephants.

Wildlife tourism is always a tricky subject. Most people love animals, but many aren't aware that some wildlife attractions are actually harmful to the animals. Don't ride elephants or visit tiger temples or participate in dolphin encounters that take place in captivity. Essentially, look for experiences that only have you observing animals in the natural habitats instead of supporting ventures that “train” (i.e. force) animals to perform or entertain you in a way that they never would in the wild.

Pledge 7

I pledge to never visit sites of religious and cultural importance to local people if they do not wish it. If I am allowed to visit these places, I am committed to showing my respect and behaving appropriately. 

A good example of this is Uluru in Australia. You technically can still climb to the top of it, but it's a sacred site to the local Aboriginal owners and they ask that people not climb it. Out of respect, you should abide by these wishes – even if it does mean you miss out on an epic Instagram photo. Respecting local wishes is far more important than a cool selfie.

Pledge 8

I pledge to offset the CO2 impact of my holiday.

Amanda in Solitaire, Namibia

Travel is inherently harsh on the environment; planes, trains, and automobiles release a lot of CO2 into our atmosphere. And while you can sometimes opt for more eco-friendly transport options, there are some cases where there's just no way around taking a flight or driving somewhere. In these cases, there are ways to help offset your CO2 impact. Sites like Terrapass and Carbonfund can help you calculate and offset your carbon footprint, and some tour companies (like Intrepid Travel) automatically carbon offset their trips as part of their pledge to sustainability at a very minimal extra cost to travelers.

Pledge 9

I pledge to educate myself, my family, and my friends based on my experiences and my knowledge of responsible travel, and to talk to other experienced travelers in an effort to learn more about the world and sustainable best practice.

I do this through posts like this on my blog, but you as a traveler can help, too, by simply telling people you know about what you've learned on your travels. Education is the best way to help make sustainable travel more mainstream.

Pledge 10

I pledge to give feedback to travel providers, to establish demand for sustainable practices and responsible travel, and ask for more sustainable travel options in my recommendations. If a travel provider is not providing me with sustainable options, I will demand to know why and endeavor to make a change.

You may read this and say, “Oh but I'll never really make a difference.” But that's not true! Enough people have spoken up about things like elephant riding that tour companies have removed it from their itineraries. More recently, even big booking sites like Expedia and TripAdvisor have pledged to remove certain exploitative animal encounters from their sites. And they're doing this because people are speaking up and demanding it.

Moraine Lake in the morning

My travel pledges

This campaign doesn't just exist to educate people about sustainable tourism, though. The whole point is for people like you and I to actually take action and change the way we travel.

Make your pledges here!

I'm making three pledges over the next three months, and will be illustrating the things you can do to stick to these pledges on your travels.

The pledges I'll be addressing are:

I'll be doing many of the things I listed above in relation to these pledges, and will be talking about my progress on my social media channels.

Marblehead Lighthouse on Lake Erie

One way of “buying local” is to support local tourism right where you live!

How YOU can get involved

And you can get involved, too!

Getting involved is easy: simply head over to the Is It Too Much to Ask? website, read through the pledges, and choose the ones that you want to commit to.

Once you've hit the “Yes – I Pledge” button on the pledges you feel most passionate about, click the “See my pledges” button in the upper right of your screen. Then enter your email address so the WTTC can send you tips and encouragement about your pledges. (And don't forget to confirm your pledges via the first email you'll receive!)

No money is required to make a pledge – this is 100% free. Pledging through the site will just (hopefully) help you be more accountable on your travels.

You can also submit ideas for additional pledges.

Sunset at Camps Bay

But let's not stop there! I want to see and hear about your pledges, too!

At the end of my three months of pledging and traveling more sustainably, I want to write a follow-up post about some of the things I did to be kinder to the planet. And I want to feature YOU and your pledges, too.

Over the next three months, send me your photos illustrating how you're sticking to one of your pledges. I'll share as many as I can in my post!

You can send me photos via email – adangerousbusiness[at]gmail[dot]com – or through messaging me on my Facebook page. Please include your name, where you're from, and a description of your pledge and what you've done to stick to it.

Happy pledging!

So, is it too much to ask to pledge to travel more sustainably? I hope not! Tell me which pledge(s) you'll be committing to in the comments!

 

How to travel more sustainably

 

Note: This post is brought to you in collaboration with the World Travel and Tourism Council.

 

41 Comments

  • Brian says:

    Thanks for sharing this, it’s definitely a hugely important issue! We saw firsthand some of the effects that humans are having when we visited the glaciers in Canada last year. Sad to see how far they have receded over even just the last 50 years. Not to mention the trash and destruction of the lands we have seen in places like our National Parks.

    I pledge to minimize my plastic use, protect animals, and educate myself, my friends and my family based on my experiences. Let’s all do our part to protect the only planet we’ve got.

    • Amanda says:

      Yup, we can’t get another planet if we ruin this one, so these issues are ones I’m getting more and more interested in as I travel. Your pledges sound great – would love to have you contribute to my second post if you’d like!

  • Jodie Smith says:

    Great post! I am a tour operator and so many times I see the word ‘eco’ thrown up on a trip or activity and I wonder after reading it what is ‘eco’ about it, pretty much nothing. This is especially true with the elephant camps in Thailand.

    Responsible Travel is a booking sight that is geared towards booking sustainable tours.

    Sometimes though knowing if you are helping or hindering is a big grey area. I wrote a blog along time ago ( I am not a blogger but work as a tour operator so not sure if I can post this on comment section) about the Karen long neck village and in the end I actually though it better to go.

    http://globe-drifters.com/ethical-issues-karen-long-neck-village/

    I have seen a lot of hotels move to glass water bottles in Thailand which is great! Another great thing to do is on beaches for people who get bored easily I go snorkeling or walking on the beach to ‘catch’ trash. It gives you something to do and you will be surprised how many people join in!

    • Amanda says:

      Oh yes, “greenwashing” (slapping the word “eco” on everything) is a huge problem in the travel industry – which is a big reason why I’d like to help educate people about actual sustainable tourism!

      Doing an impromptu beach cleanup is always a great way to spend some time – love that idea!

  • Matt says:

    Great post, I always try to keep all these things in mind no matter where I am. Americans in particular are used to abundance, and forget that our resources are shared and limited. Great post!
    Matt recently posted..How to Speed Up PUBG Startup [Quick Tip!]

    • Amanda says:

      This is one of the main reasons I think it’s really important that people travel to places that are very different to where they’re from – we take so much for granted in our everyday lives!

  • Ally says:

    Great and really extensive list. Love seeing more travellers starting to be more aware. Great to see you pledging to protect animals and speaking out against elephant riding too! As you’re pledging to protect animals, are you also pledging not to eat them during this time? The livestock industry is the single most harmful industry for the planet – 1 hamburger uses the equivalent of 26 showers worth of water. Just a thought! 🙂

    • Amanda says:

      I am definitely aware that cows are actually one of the biggest producers of greenhouse gases! But no, I won’t be going vegetarian for this, and wouldn’t ask anyone else to, either. Giving up meat is a big decision and not one that I’m personally ready to make. (I like chicken way too much!)

      • Aryane says:

        I couldn’t agree more with Ally! I already do all of these pledges, which I think are so obvious. But sadly they’re not for so many people. It always saddens me to see people riding elephants, leaving trash everywhere, or even just carving their names into historic sites 🙁
        Without going fully vegetarian, I think it’s important that everyone looks up all the easily available information that shows how damaging the livestock industry is and try to avoid meat and dairy whenever possible. We all liked something too much before going veggie (chicken, cheese, you name it!) And after a short while you just don’t miss it at all 🙂
        We’re all in this together and we have a much bigger impact than we may think.
        Cheers!

  • Angie says:

    This is a very meaningful post. As a traveler, I also support sustainable travel. I mean, we travel to explore the wonderful gifts of nature and it is just right if we pay back by being a responsible traveler.

  • Ijana Loss says:

    This is a great idea! These are all little things you can implement one at a time so you don’t feel overwhelmed. I’m gonna take a look at the upcoming months and see which one of these pledges I want to start with

    • Amanda says:

      Yes, these are just little changes that most people should be able to make. Baby steps – but ones that can take us far if everyone were to give it a try!

  • I’m glad to read posts like yours. Many of these things are very easy to implement. You can save CO2 by walking or using public transport, and you can discover places you didn’t expect. You can buy in little markets, help the local economy, talk with people, meet their culture, and find you can communicate even if you don’t speak the local language, or discover that some food is not as bad as you believed. Then, being a more responsible traveler means you can get a deeper travel experience.

  • Renuka says:

    Great pledges! I’m happy that I follow them already. I also try to reduce my usage of plastic. I try to refill my water bottle instead of buying new bottles every now and then.
    Renuka recently posted..My Solo Adventure In South Australia (Part One)

    • Amanda says:

      Using reusable water bottles is such an easy change to make for most of us! I hope you’ll go over to the WTTC site and formally make that pledge! (It’s free – you just sign up for emails from them. 🙂 )

  • Arti Shah says:

    Wonderful tips but what I really appreciate is the idea behind these pledges. I already do my best at all times during my travels to be responsible towards the environment and cultural sentiments. A must for the times we are living in, for our planet that we so love, needs our support and co-operation more than ever before.
    Arti Shah recently posted..Soulie Saturday #17: A Dip in Mother River Gomti, Dwarka.

    • Amanda says:

      I love this campaign. Since I’ve “formally” made some of these pledges, I notice myself thinking a lot more consciously about some of these things as I travel!

  • Roxanna says:

    Matt said it before me, but as an American, we are so used to having everything at our whim, and disposable at that. We recycle at home, a little, in the realm of things. On our recent trip to Germany we stayed in the home of friends, and had to learn how to properly sort the waste for recycling. It was truly a lesson for us. We were amazed at the sorting bins in public locations throughout the cities, and that citizens used them. My son and I discussed how difficult it would be to get people at home to perform such a simple task to better the environment.
    I think one of our biggest lessons on the impact of tourism though, was close to home, at the Mark Twain caves, in Hannibal, MO. The caves are covered throughout with the carved and written messages of tourists, which was actually promoted for decades. We all think I am one person, and my impact is small, whether negative, or positive. But multiplied by a million individuals, and it becomes huge.
    I have been to the Is it Too Much to Ask website, and made my pledges!

    • Amanda says:

      “We all think I am one person, and my impact is small, whether negative, or positive. But multiplied by a million individuals, and it becomes huge.” THIS! So much this!

      Good luck with your pledges! I’d love to hear updates about how you’re doing with them over the next couple of months!

  • Everyone should follow these tips and take these pledges, not only while traveling but in the home side also. Thanks for sharing this post and i appreciate your concern about the planet.

  • Kara says:

    Amanda, I’m so glad you’re on board with this. I will have to send you my pledges. I’m with you on the naked selfie thing!

  • Pilot Mark says:

    Perfect – we need to spread the message! It´s a horrible feeling travelling to places only because it might be the last time they are as they are. After travelling in the Bahamas recently I have become aware of the fragility of the ecosystems in the ocean and how we must dispose of our litter responsibly – amongst so many other issues!
    Pilot Mark recently posted..15 Unmissable things to do in the Bahamas

  • I’ve been vegetarian for years, but as I’ve learned more about sustainability over the past few years, I’ve been making an effort to embrace a zero-waste vegan lifestyle (when I’m traveling as well as at home). I’m trying not to purchase anything that comes in disposable packaging, and even though I’ve always loved cheese, it’s just so much better for the environment to not consume animal products.

    So many of these pledges seem like common sense things, and I really hope that more people start to naturally do them without having to be reminded by posts like this one!
    Elizabeth Shultz recently posted..Bugs and Bourbon Street: 24 Hours in New Orleans

    • Amanda says:

      It’s crazy, though, how often these things just *aren’t* common sense for some people! It’s great that you’re moving towards a zero-waste lifestyle, but for those who aren’t quite there yet, some of these easy pledges would be a great place to start!

  • So many of these points are right on – I think one of the most important things to keep in mind is slow travel. Traveling overland and at a slow pace cuts down on some of resort to resort type of travel, forces you to interact more locally, and it’s better for the environment.

    • Amanda says:

      Very true – though it’s often not possible for all travelers to travel so slowly. Many people (and especially Americans) have very limited vacation time, and slow travel just isn’t really ideal for them. In that case, many of these small changes can still make a big difference!

  • TheGreenPick says:

    Love your article and happy to see concious travel ideas shared and spread widely.Those are not easy pledges to follow through daily but this is what it takes to follow ones convinctions and always looking to do the best. Thanks!
    TheGreenPick recently posted..Vegan travel, what a headache!

  • Dough says:

    I kept thinking that the more people travel, the more people will realize how precious of our nature is. But then i saw someone playing bottle skipping at the beach and never reclaim those things they throw away. People will now live long enough to see the consequences they made.

    • Amanda says:

      Yes I’ve definitely seen things like that, too. But that means that those of us who do already realize how precious our earth is need to work even harder to make everyone else see it too!

  • Greg Dean says:

    I must admit, I have been so confused about the offsetting of my “Co2 footprint”. to me, it was just another way for corporations to make money. Even on the research I have read, it still makes little sense regarding paying that extra amount when I book a flight. I am probably not the only one confused by it.

    That said, your other points are very clear.
    I am an avid scuba diver. In January this year I was scuba diving off Ko Tao with my girlfriend. While under water i could see little fish eating little pieces of plastic. As I made my way back to the boat, something it me in the face that was gooey and hard. Then I realised it was an empty back of chips. Then another hot my face and another. So I stopped and reached out to grab handfuls of plastic that I stored in my BCD. Now, we were about 1km out from Ko Tao and there were so many tourists on the island. To me, they just did not care! It disgusted me.

    We all must do so much more.

    Thanks for writing the article.

    • Amanda says:

      If you’re going to offset your carbon footprint, there are ways to go about it that do actually help! You just sometimes need to do some research to ensure that your money is actually going somewhere where it will be helpful. (Many of the best CO2 offset programs donate to sustainability programs around the world, and all their projects are listed on their websites – those are my favorite to donate to.)

  • Käyhmänkarstaaja says:

    I have travelled in about 50 countries and I have a principle
    “Take nothing but photographs, leave only footprints”

    – Best traveller is the one who does not leave any signs of her/his visit. By making sure not to litter one can really make the difference. And absolutely the worst material to leave behind is glass because it will remain in the nature until the next ice age will decimate it.

  • Izy Berry says:

    I completely support this movement! I just made my pledges!

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