6 Easy Steps to Travel More Sustainably

posted in: Other Stuff | 2

While I was walking through the streets of the Mexican city San José del Cabo and watching the people, I noticed one thing: you hardly see any Mexicans there. And if you do, then chances are good that they are just working in the bars, restaurants and hotels there. This is also where you can find the majority of the biggest group of people that seems to inhabit the city: tourists. Mostly gringos, how Mexicans call the US-Ameicans. I was staying with a couchsurfer who was born in the Mexican state of Michoacán and has been living in San José for a year by then. She always wanted to live by the ocean and this way she made her dream come true. I can definitely understand why she wants to live by the sea and I have to admit that San José does have some really pretty beaches that are easy to reach. However, if I would have to choose, I would have chosen a place that seems less like a plastic world. The shops try to seduce you by offering „authentic Mexican kitchen“ or the „typical drink“. But for the prices they take there, you could easily have a meal three times bigger than this for way less money in local Mexican markets. Or you can prepare your Micheladas (a drink consisting of beer, chili sauce and lime) at home. This would have two adventages: A it’ll be way better quality and B a lot cheaper.

A couple of days later I already continued my trip and landed in La Paz which is in the state of Baja California Sur, just like San José. I got a totally different feeling there. The area is quiet, the buses are a little shabby and you finally here more Spanish than English in the streets. I discover a temporary exhibition in the Cultural Centre of the city where I learn more about the story of Baja California Sur. Apparently all the cities and villages on the peninsula used to have a high agricultural value or were small fishing towns and nowadays these characteristics get replaced by the tourism industry. This makes me sad and concerned. Sure, I’m also moaning about all the gringos everywhere but actually I am a tourist as well. What a double standard. Or is it not? That made me think. On the one hand I also want to explore, wander through untouched nature, see whales in the sea and experience things in different parts of the world. But on the other hand I also want everything to stay as it is and not to harm nature with it.

This is why the wonderful term of „Sustainable Tourism“. Wikipedia describes this as „[…] the concept of visiting a place as a tourist and trying to make only a positive impact on the environment, society and economy.” In other words this means to fully dive into the adventure of travelling but in a way that afterwards everything looks like as if you’ve never been there. Sounds pretty complicated. But with a few easy tips, everyone can simply reduce their ecological footprint while travelling and hence not only provide a positive effect for nature and the culture of your travel destinations but also for yourself!

1. Don’t take anything away from nature

This is a lesson that I myself learned in a moment in La Paz. There’s a beach called Balandra. It’s located directly at a lagoon and the only way to reach the other side of the lagoon is to cross the lagoon swimming. This is exactly why nature here is practically untouched and without people. It is incredibly fascinating to actually here the silence of nature and to experience everything with sharper senses. But when I was collecting some shells in my hands, I suddenly noticed that this was wrong. Why should I take something away from this beautiful, completely intact nature? Just to have some souvenirs? E.g. out of selfishness? I decided against it, put the shells back onto the beach and swam back. Carrying with me the best souvenir you can have – an experience.

2. Animal protection on travels

Yes, animals are great but after all their the happiest in the wild. Touristic activities like swimming with doplhins or riding elephants is against their nature and do not reflect at all their actual and natural behaviour in the wild. However, this doesn’t mean that you have to stay away from all the animals. It is awesome and important to get to know the local fauna when travelling. Just maybe try to swap those activities for some alternatives that are more animal friendly next time, for example whale watching or elephant encounters. On the blog Imprint my Travel the two travel adventurers Philipp and Lisa shared their thoughts about the topic and looked up some great alternatives for experiences with animals on travels. So better inform yourself in advance than to stumble directly into the tourist circus.

3. Local instead of global

When you already like to support small and local shops in your home town, then why shouldn’t you do that on your travels? ‘Cause tjere are also some great typical specialties in other countries and chances are better to find the authentic ones in local markets around the corner instead of big shopping malls. This doesn’t only count for food but also handcrafted stuff. There are so many stalls around the Maya pyramids of Chichén Itzá in Mexico claiming they sell selfmade handcrafts but one closer look tells you they’re all made in China. Instead of buying mass products in the common tourist hotspots, it is absolutely worth it to wander around a little off the beaten track and support regional shops and companies.

4. Save CO² and money at the same time

Alright, we all know that a bike trip to a camping spot nearby is a lot more sustainable than travelling around the world to Mexico. Without a doubt. This is why when travelling far away, you should always think twice if you really don’t want to replace your travel destination with one that’s nearer. Therefore you have to put into context with your travel time. Looking at the CO² emissions, spending a week in Mexico for example is way less sustainale than spending a week in Italy. Plus you can mostly get around super easy by using public transportation and in most cases it’s also a lot cheaper (in Mexico City for example you only pay around 0,24€ for a metro ticket). Riding a bike is a great option too and Porto in Portugal is the perfect opportunity for it as you can take in an amazing view when riding around the coastline.

5. Ecological and vegan food

Yeah, I guess you heard it too many times already: „Eat vegan, it saves the planet!“ Well, maybe one vegan dish won’t save the planet but at least there’s one little chick less being processed into chicken nuggets. And that’s already something. Choosing ecological food in your travel destination is also a way to support sustainable agriculture and reduces the use of genetic modification or chemicals in the food industry. You know, offer and demand and stuff like that, right? In Xalapa, Veracruz in Mexico for example I actually did notice an increase of ecological and vegan options during the seven months I’ve been living there. This was because people there got more and more conscious about the environment.

6. Learn the local language

That’s maybe a point that most people don’t have in mind when thinking about sustainable travles. Nevertheless it’s a fact that the language (or in some cases even several languageS) are a substantial part of the culture of a country. Therefore learning even the smallest bits of that language can provide a valuable inpact to conserve and spread the culture of the country. It doesn’t only open up your mind to learn new things but most of the times locals appreciate your effort and it’s easier to get in touch with them because they see that you’re interested in their way of living. So you might get extra insights into the country that you would never have gotten without speaking the language or knowing a couple of words.

If you apply some of these tips on your next travels, I promise you the earth will be a tiny bit happier. A respectful way to treat people, animals and nature is so important, not only when you’re at home. In case you would like to get some more information about sustainable tourism, check out the following links. And if you happen to have more recommendations and tips on how to travel more sustainbly, feel free to leave them in the comments.

  • GOOD Travel
    This is a travel company founded by two Berlin girls that want to make holidays and travelling more sustainable without having to restricting yourself concerning great travel experiences. You don’t only find tips and tricks on sustainable tourism but GOOD Travel also cooperates with tourism companies all around the world. Plus you can join travels that are already planned and offered on the website so you can enjoy your travel without having a bad conciousness and you profit by getting interesting insights and making great learning experiences.
  • Vegan Welcome
    Vegan Welcome is a platform that lists hotels with a big vegan offer or that are even completely vegan all around the world. From Bali over Vienna to Cape Town there’s everything and that prices are absolutely alright. For example you can stay in a Finca in Mallorca for about 61€ per night. Sure, that is definitely more expensive than a backpacker hostel but those who want to treat themselves with a nicer holiday anyway will find something special here.
  • Forum Anders Reisen (only in German)
    They describe themselves as an „association of travel agencies that dedicate themselves to sustainable tourism“. You’ll find helpful tips how to not harm nature, animals and people while travelling. You can inform yourself about ways to travel, destinations and accomodations and this way plan your trip even better. So, everyone who doesn’t give a damn about the environment and the social aspects of travelling is at the right place here!
On the left you see the contaminated sky over Mexico City, on the right the clear air above Baja California Sur.

2 Responses

  1. Really useful tips- and yes not harming animals can not be said enough! Often tourists use services where they don’t know that they hurt animals and support the companies that provide them. (riding elephants, taking pictures with Tigers, walking with Lion cubs etc.)

    I also really liked your last point in learning the local language! I always tought about it as a matter of showing respect but as you said it’s ineed also more of a sustainable travel approach- thank you for your perspective :)

    • Jess M.

      Hey Franzi,
      I am glad you liked the post! It’s such an important topic but hardly anyone seems to speak about it. You normally just see the beautiful beaches and that’s it. Great that you also care about the world! :)

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