Is It Bad for the Environment to Travel?
Almost everyone enjoys traveling. It’s a way to get away from your usual routine, see new natural (and manmade sights), and engage with and learn about an entirely new culture. But travel and tourism, in general, aren’t environmentally friendly; in addition to the massive fuel demands of most types of transportation, visiting natural areas could expose them to negative forms of interference, including wildlife disturbances, damage, and litter.
So just how bad for the environment is traveling, and what are the alternatives?
It’s hard to say precisely how much impact your travel could have, but these are the most prominent categories to worry about:
- Fuel: Traveling consumes a massive amount of fuel, with flying being one of the most fuel-intensive forms of travel. You can calculate the carbon footprint of your flight to get a feel for how impactful it really is. Buses and trains consume less fuel but are still impactful.
- Waste: Many travelers rely on disposable goods and non-local food when traveling, and don’t always have good recycling options. Over time, and with enough incoming tourists, this can accumulate to have a significant effect on the environment.
- Direct impact: If you’re traveling to a nature reserve, or are hoping to visit a forest, lake, or other types of natural scenery, you have the potential to damage it. Environmental destruction could take the form of destroying the landscape, littering, or compromising the health of the ecosystem.
Toward Sustainable Travel
Fortunately, there has been a plethora of new initiatives emerging to mitigate the environmental effects of travel and tourism.
- National parks and reserves: Most governmentally protected parks and reserves charge some kind of fee for use, covering the expenses of maintaining the park and protecting it from damage. If you’re visiting a park that doesn’t charge for admission, consider making a donation; or at the very least, do what you can to leave the reserve in better shape than you found it.
- Carbon offset packages: Many modern airlines offer a “carbon offset” service. By paying a little extra per ticket (based on the mileage of the flight), you’ll fund carbon reduction efforts in an amount proportional to your personal level of impact. In other words, you can wash out the environmental impact you leave by flying.
- Hotel accommodations: Hotels are starting to become more sustainable as well, with some of the world’s most environmentally friendly hotels offering recycled goods, locally sourced food, and renewable energy. Other hotels with more basic offerings are encouraging their guests to use fewer towels, are offering in-room recycling bins, and are taking other measures to offset their emissions.
- Travel arrangements: Once you’re at your destination, you’ll have a wide variety of travel options to get from city to city (or from attraction to attraction). Many locations are offering more public transit options, and rented bicycles, so you can travel in a reasonable timeframe without the need to pay for a gas-guzzling rental car.
- Food sourcing: Again, depending on your destination, you’ll likely see more initiatives for locally sourced foods—especially at the local markets. Buying local reduces fuel consumption needed for travel, and helps support the local economy at the same time.
By choosing environmentally friendly options, you can produce just 20 percent of the carbon emissions you would by pursuing more traditional options. Fortunately, the rising interest in sustainable initiatives is making sustainable travel not only more available but more frequently pursued by travelers. Think carefully about the impact you’re making on your journey, and take whatever steps you can to reduce it.