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Keeping Your Travel Abroad Sustainable

April 03, 2020
by Asha Swann

Traveling abroad is great: you can experience a whole new way of life and meet incredible people. But it isn’t always the most sustainable. As people become more aware of how climate change affects different countries, we need to consider the way we travel. By thinking about a few ways to keep travel sustainable, we can each do our part to keep the Earth clean.

Check the Emissions of Your Airline

When thinking about environmental sustainability, it’s no wonder fuel emissions come to mind. Airlines can be huge gas-guzzlers. And it’s often unavoidable if your destination is across an ocean. But consider a flight with eco-friendly options. Are they recycling cans and bottles? What is their stance on single-use plastics? Some airlines are becoming more transparent about their emission rate because of consumer advocacy. Just like any business, a company needs loyal customers to succeed. If enough consumers demand honesty about emissions, the airline will take notice! Alaska Airlines is an excellent example. The company has recently started a ‘Greener Skies’ initiative: this means composting coffee grounds, going strawless and being transparent about all CO2 emissions. Small changes across thousands of flights can make a huge difference! The Port of Seattle airport has also committed to switching all flights leaving Seattle-Tacoma International Airport with sustainable biofuel. When just one flight can produce thousands of pounds of CO2, even changing one major airport can revolutionize the way people travel! Remember: this all happened because regular people asked for it!

Stay Somewhere with Eco-Friendly Options

As the demand for sustainable options grows, tourism groups are starting to take notice. If you look carefully, you’ll notice that all over the world, hotels are striving to be as eco-friendly as possible. If your hotel doesn’t have any of their green options on their website: don’t be afraid to ask! What is their composting policy? Are they using energy-saving lights in the suites? Are there recycling bins anywhere? Does the restaurant have local food? Does the cleaning crew use chemicals that can damage nearby rivers? The Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Las Vegas (now a Waldorf-Astoria property) is a gorgeous luxury hotel that combines elegance with sustainability. They have committed to using environmentally friendly cleaning products, eco-friendly lighting, and mouth-watering organic foods in the restaurant. Recently, the hotel became Gold Certified by the LEED association, proving themselves to be a leader for eco-friendly tourism. Some hotels are even going further, like the Marataba Trails Lodge in Marakele National Park, South Africa. The building is totally off-the-grid and completely powered by solar panels. This is a must for any nature-lover looking to disconnect while on vacation.

Use Local Transit

A great way to get to know a city is through local transit. Trains, streetcars and subways all produce fewer carbon emissions than cars when full. If sixty people choose the train, then that means there are sixty fewer cars on the road emitting carbon dioxide, smog and air pollutants. But it goes deeper than that: in different parts of the world, local governments are investing more money into making their public transit greener. Take Rzesòw, Poland, for example. In 2018, the city committed to adding nearly 150 new bus shelters with rooftop solar panels. These will protect riders from the elements and all solar power will be used to maintain the shelters’ temperature. This means air-conditioning in the summer and heat in the winter. On top of that, the city will be powering the buses through electricity rather than gasoline. If public transit isn’t for you, consider renting a bike. Copenhagen is the cycling capital of the world for good reason! Bikes there are safe and reliable. There are tons of bike routes to choose from, and they even have separate lanes for cars so cyclists stay safe.

Eat Local and BYO

Eating local is a simple way to reduce your carbon footprint. Just in terms of sheer numbers, importing and exporting foods creates more greenhouse gases. This is because the vast majority of the time, these items are shipped halfway across the world on a boat powered by fossil fuels while leaking oil into the ocean. Locally grown food doesn’t have so far to go; less shipping means fewer emissions are created. Grabbing fruit from a farmer’s market is also a great way to help the local economy! It can help a small family farm while creating a great connection between a tourist and a resident. Many restaurants will be happy to say that their produce is grown and harvested locally. Another simple step to reducing your carbon footprint abroad is bringing your own supplies. Paris is a great example of a place that prides itself on safe drinking water. You can bring an empty bottle and refill it and one of the many water fountains all across the city. If you’re ordering takeout somewhere, consider bringing your cutlery or chopsticks. That way, you can easily wash and reuse your silverware. But remember, this isn’t possible everywhere; always make sure your destination has safe water for drinking and washing.

Understand How Your Destination is Affected

Lastly, the best way to care for the environment while you’re travelling is to know how your destination is affected by climate change. The reality of the world right now is that the increasing temperature of the Earth is changing biodiversity. Sea levels are rising, leaving small islands vulnerable to any changes in the local freshwater supply. Independent farmers are losing land because of drought and heatwaves. Extreme weather shifts can affect not only residents but natural wildlife as well. It is essential to consider this when planning a trip abroad. While you’ll be visiting for a short time, others will call it their lifelong homes. Was a rainforest cut down to build a resort? Does the group offering you a wildlife tour also practice poaching? Is your boat tour going to risk leaking oil into the water? Does your sunscreen contain oxybenzone - a toxic ingredient killing marine life? Does your resort deplete freshwater streams, generally used by a small Indigenous group? Will diving/snorkeling change the way marine life lives in the area? Have residents been protesting the sustainability of a resort? It’s crucial to consider the long-term effects of time abroad. Of course, it would be unrealistic to force yourself to consider every single possibility or emit zero carbon dioxide. But the most important thing to remember is that each person making teeny changes adds up fast! When each person makes their travel abroad a little bit more sustainable, we can make sure your great vacation spot stays beautiful for generations to come - not only for other visitors, but for the animals and residents that call it home.

Find out more about studying abroad.

Asha Swann is the Spring 2020 CEA MOJO Blogger in Paris, France, and is currently studying at Sheridan College.
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