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What is sustainable travel?

You’ve probably heard a lot (or not) about sustainable travel, and also about eco-travel, responsible tourism, sustainable tourism, ethical tourism, conscious tourism or green travel.

What do they have in common?

They all refer to a way of exploring the world with a minimal negative impact on the environment and local people, with the greatest benefits for everyone.

There is a crossover in definition between these terms. They encompass the idea of being more conscious of how we travel. They seek to minimize negative impacts on the environment and aim to have a positive impact on local communities and economies.

sustainable travel
Photo: KarlaNomade ©Karla Maragno

Sustainable travel should be the only way we travel. That is, this way the world finds itself, with excessive air travel causing harmful CO2 emissions, as well as resorts built-in natural areas, and mass tourism is far from sustainable.

Our world has finite resources. There are so many beautiful, natural and untouched places on our planet and mass tourism threatens their existence. Nature, culture and history should be preserved, not commodified.

Unfortunately, many travellers and tourism industry operators continue to deny how limited our planet’s resources are and how tourism is negatively affecting the environment, local cultures and communities.

That’s where Sustainable Travel comes in.

Sustainable travel means finding a way to sustain tourism in the long term without harming natural and cultural environments. Sustainable travel should minimize the negative impacts of tourism and ideally be beneficial to the area in which it takes place.

Environmental Issues in Tourism

Tourism relies on burning fossil fuels, which contributes to climate change. It’s predicted that 40% of the world’s carbon emissions will be generated by tourism by 2050. To break this down, right now 72% of tourism’s CO2 emissions come from transportation, a further 24% from accommodation, and 4% from tourism activities. The environmental issues caused by tourism cannot be overlooked.

The problem is that although our environmental conscience tells us that we should moderate the frequency and distance we fly, we rarely do. We fly much more often than necessary, just because we can. Only the pandemic caused by the coronavirus has put the brakes on such excessive travel. 

Whenever I take an air trip, I wonder if it can really be sustainable. Even though I am a responsible traveler.  Even with every possible way to mitigate the negative impacts of air travel.  

I must also remember that we need to choose travel destinations well, because many destinations do not have regulations or strategies in place to deal with the rapid development and overcapacity that is caused by increased tourism. Often, foreign investors arrive, build, and leave chaos that locals have to clean up – including issues with waste, carbon, and water.

sustainable travel - aircraft
Photo: KarlaNomade ©Karla Maragno

The Three Pillars of Sustainability

The concept of sustainability has three key principles, which are known as the Three Pillars of Sustainability.

The Environmental Pillar – The environmental pillar focuses on reducing negative impacts on the environment and wildlife from travelling. This includes minimising our carbon footprint, especially from air travel, water usage, packaging and plastic waste, and not disturbing wildlife. As sustainable travellers, we can have a simple positive effect by carrying our own reusables. We can look for hotels and restaurants which recycle and are built from sustainable materials. We can research wildlife tourism to seek out responsible tour operators.

The Social Pillar – The social pillar is about our impact on local people and communities. This includes supporting businesses that are run by, employ and support local people, as well as community tourism projects, NGOs, social enterprises and charities. Responsible travellers can look for opportunities to be involved in these types of projects and be aware of who businesses employ, whether they’re fairly paid and whether their work environment is safe.

The Economic Pillar – Traditionally, the economic pillar refers to businesses being profitable in order to be sustainable. However, when it comes to sustainable travel, we can apply the economic pillar to using our money to positively contribute to the local economy. As tourists, we can give our tourist pound to locally-run hotels, restaurants and tour guides to support the local economy.

Travel brings us closer to some of the most impressive natural wonders of our planet and connects us with cultures around the world.

It also has the power to change places and the lives of the people who live where you visit

for the better or for the worse.

viagem sustentável
Photo: KarlaNomade ©Karla Maragno

How the World Tourism Organization defines sustainable travel

The World Tourism Organization defines sustainable tourism as “development [which] meets the needs of present tourists and host regions while protecting and enhancing opportunity for the future. It is envisaged as leading to management of all resources in such a way that economic, social, and aesthetic needs can be fulfilled while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, biological diversity, and life support system.”

Sustainable travel is about valuing the environment and taking care of our natural resources. Travellers need to be more aware of the pollution levels caused by travel and how this affects the environment and local wildlife. They also need to be aware of how tourism affects local people, businesses and native cultures.

viagem sustentável

We can protect and preserve our planet!

Commit to better travel!

With the help of everyone who loves to travel and loves our land, we will end the transformative negative impacts of tourism, and contribute to a future where travel is beneficial to people and places all over the world.

My beloved nomadic soul tribe! Let’s strive to travel responsibly while respecting the places we visit!

Transform your impact! Make ethical and sustainable choices when you travel.
Increase your sustainability as a traveler! 

Travel has the power to be not only a transformative experience for you but also for the communities and destinations you visit. By making ethical choices, seeking meaningful experiences, and minimizing your footprint, you can be part of this global force for good.

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