Sustainable Tourism: Still Just A Dream? Service- and Education-Based Trips Best Bet for the Planet

The statistics about carbon emissions of travel can leave you feeling guilty for buying that ticket to Chile for your first international trip — especially when you take into consideration that one flight from New York to Los Angeles, California is equivalent to the emissions dispersed by your passenger vehicle in an entire year. With the rise in population and a circular economy, it is important to recognize the stress that we put on our resources and the amount of pollution that we emit in our travels. However, tourism and leisure travel are important to the education of the traveler, to help them better understand diversity and different cultures, as well as being beneficial to the global market economy. So, how do we balance the two?

Sustainable Tourism
A service-oriented conservation trip to Zanzibar’s Mnemba Atoll is sure to include some diving in pristine off-shore waters teeming with marine biodiversity. Credit: Matt Kieffer, FlickrCC

You can offset some of your emissions by only flying with airlines that have options to do so (such as paying an extra fee towards donating to plant a tree or investing in wind power) or by purchasing a low-emission vehicle for your big road trip. More helpful, however, is what you do once you arrive to your destination that helps to convert tourism into a more sustainable industry. By focusing on making your touring adventures more service and education-based, rather than consumer driven, you can help to convert tourism into an impactful and meaningful journey for yourself and others.

Acts of Service

Volunteering, in your home country or internationally, is a valuable way to make your travels more sustainable. Many countries have begun to focus on eco-tourism and conservation efforts to change the way that visitors experience their parks and wildlife. This allows for many different opportunities to volunteer to work with rare or endangered animals, working on conservation practices and getting to work in remote places, like the Mnemba Atoll in Zanzibar. Additionally, sustainable farming has been a heavy focus in the recent years. If you are traveling on a budget, most farms across the globe will offer you room and board in exchange for an agreed upon number of hours of work in a given week. Most volunteer positions do not require any previous experience or knowledge in order to qualify as a volunteer.

Teaching Abroad

Traveling to developing countries to aid in English instruction, provide engineering solutions to local issues, or educating about public health and safety can be directly impactful to those lives that you touch. Countries, like China, need native English speakers to help to correct their pronunciation after being taught English by non-native speakers. Engineering students can help to design ways to filter clean water in an area stricken with drought or ways to protect their community against climate change if they live in an area that is susceptible to rising sea levels. Public health and safety education is needed in rural communities across the globe. In remote areas in Africa, it is not recognized that building latrines near water sources pollutes the only access to fresh water that they have within miles of their community. You can sustainably visit new and interesting places by offering education and knowledge to those that may be in need around the world.

International tourism has increased from 25 million globally in 1950 to 1.32 billion in 2017 and it is projected to reach 1.8 billion by 2030. It can only be imagined if more travels took the added effort to give back and serve the communities that they are wanting to travel to and experience.

Sustainability is about adapting to change to allow for prolonged health of the environment and the economy. When planning your next adventure, do your part to contribute to the change that you want to see.