As someone who cares deeply about our planet, I have always been conflicted on the topic of travel. I love to travel. I feel like I grow the most as a human being when I am emerged in a new culture. Even though travel allows me to personally grow, I also know that it has extremely negative effects on the environment. And thus I am left to feel conflicted. Let’s talk more about both sides of this issue.
So, should we all just stop traveling? Will that save the planet? We all know that flying in particular has a very large carbon footprint. Therefore, we are told to stop traveling to help save the planet. However, I don’t think that it is quite that simple. I say this because tourism is the main economic industry for many countries. Tourism directly helps to support conservation efforts in many areas world wide. Without tourism locals must turn to other industries to earn a wage. More often than not this ends up being the oil industry. Meaning, instead of working to conserve nature they turn to helping destroy it by working for large oil companies. And that is the conundrum. We are left to choose which is worse, traveling or not traveling?
My Firsthand Experience
I recently traveled to Ecuador. During my trip I spent time in the Galapagos Islands, Andes Mountains, and the Amazon Rainforest. While I was there I got to learn more about the conservation efforts within this country and the economy from locals. I heard from numerous people that 2020 had devastating effects on their ability to conserve. In fact, one local guide in the Galapagos Islands stated that 90%+ of conservation efforts were stopped due to lack of tourism dollars coming in. The guide also made it very clear that in order to keep protecting the environment that they need tourists. Without it, they must turn to other industries to make a living. Which like I mentioned above is the oil industry in many cases.
This was a common theme throughout my travels. While in the Amazon Rainforest a local stated that they have three options for employment; 1- farming, 2- tourism, and 3-oil. Without tourism you can see how that cuts their options significantly. Increasing the odds of working in the oil industry to help destroy the rainforest rather than preserve it.
Ecuador is just one of many examples throughout the world. I have heard the same is true for many African countries that are working to protect animals for the sake of tourism. Without tourism and travel I would argue that we would see even more devastating impacts to our planet.
Traveling Smart to Save the Planet
By now you probably understand where I am going with this article. My opinion is to travel, but travel smarter. Ensuring you are making a positive impact to help offset your carbon impact you are making by traveling. Here are some simple tips to travel to support conservation efforts:
- Choose a destination that focuses heavily on conservation – like Ecuador. This involves doing your homework first and understanding how that country prioritizes saving the environment and overall conservation efforts.
- When abroad do your best to reduce, recycle, and reuse. This means taking a reusable water bottle to avoid using disposable bottles of water, reusing everything you can and always looking to recycle when possible.
- Support conservation efforts. When abroad seek to make a difference by volunteering and/or financially donating to organizations that focus on saving the planet. There are many of these organizations out there and I would highly recommend finding small local nonprofits in the areas where you are traveling. Again, this might require a little homework, but it’s worth it!
Take home message is I am an advocate for traveling. Experiencing new cultures is one of the best ways to grow as a person. However, if you are going to travel homework is required to ensure that your carbon footprint may be offset by thinking about the planet and conservation when choosing your destination. Safe smart travels friends!