The Guide to Sustainable Globetrotting – Leave Only Footprints Behind

“Small acts have big effects.”

This evocative line is from a movie called “The Giant.” Why are we quoting it, you ask? It’ll be clear to you in a minute.

The Republic of Palau is a tiny paradise hidden away in Oceania. Made up of 340 islands, the country is replete with all the beauty the Pacific has to offer. Mountains and sandy beaches on its east coast, and ancient basalt monoliths lying amongst grassy fields make Palau a haven for tourists. “The Giant” is a compulsory in-flight feature film when you’re visiting Palau.

A Compulsory In-Flight Movie? But Why?

At first glance, “The Giant” seems like a silly kids’ movie. But the underlying message of this short film is far more poignant than you might first think.

The movie’s protagonist is a well-intentioned giant that has arrived in Palau. He trudges around the island merrily, but the story soon takes a sinister turn as you hear the children of Palau narrate it. The giant stomped on their reefs, stuffed his pocket with turtle shells, and ate their animals.

The children move on to narrate how they later understood that the giant didn’t mean to destroy their island, but was just unaware of his own strength. They then explain to him how he couldn’t keep trashing, eating, and snatching everything he loves about their home; otherwise, everything they loved about their home would be gone. The giant reflects on his actions and corrects his behavior, living in harmony with the children of Palau. The movie ends with a child saying, “From that time, every footstep he made, washed gently away with the tide.”

If it isn’t clear to you by now what, or rather who, the giant in this movie signifies, you have much reflecting to do as a traveler.

This short live-action film sets the precedent for a big move taken by Palau. It became the first nation in the world to change its immigration laws for environmental protection. Upon entering the island nation, visitors need to sign a passport pledge called the “Palau Pledge,” to be sustainable tourists who act in a culturally and ecologically conscious way for the sake of Palau’s children. 

Now that story time is over, you must realize how important sustainability is, even as a traveler.

What Is Sustainable Tourism?

Sustainable tourism refers to tourism that takes responsibility for its current and future economic, social, and environmental impact. In layman’s terms, you are held accountable for your actions as a tourist in the place you’re visiting. This urges tourists to act in a not-so-callous manner towards their hosts and destination.

Ecotourism vs Sustainable Tourism: The Same, or Different?

The two terms are often confused.

Ecotourism is a form of tourism where tourists experience the natural environment, flora, and fauna of a destination without creating any ecological disturbance.

Sustainable tourism, on the other hand, is more of an aspiration of responsible traveling that is encouraged. It encompasses the social, economic, and environmental aspects of tourism 

Hence, it can be said that sustainable tourism is an umbrella term, under which ecotourism is a more niche form.

Why Should You Care?

The ever-looming danger of a world plagued by the consequences of the climate crisis is something we’re all familiar with. Apart from the obvious ecological aspect of sustainable tourism, there is also the socioeconomic angle to it that deserves your attention. Just like the Giant of Palau, becoming a responsible tourist means you don’t just contribute to environmental protection, but also to the economy and cultural heritage of the place you visit.

International bodies such as the United Nations World Tourism Organization and the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) have been long-time stakeholders of the sustainable tourism movement. The former declared 2017 as the international year of sustainable tourism for development, while the latter launched the GSTC Criteria for sustainability certification. Along with local governments, NGOs, and communities, they have been striving to bring this issue to the forefront.

Tips For Sustainable Globetrotting

With all of that information, you must be wondering how you as a tourist can travel sustainably. So, without further ado, here are our tips for you.

Where To Go?

Your choice of a vacation spot matters. Let us help you make conscious, sustainable choices for that dream vacation.

A staycation can be an excellent choice. You don’t have to travel seven seas away to relax or have fun. Ever thought about booking a local resort and relaxing there? You should try it sometime; it’s fun!

Of course, part of travel is going somewhere new. But if you are going to get away, avoid famous destinations. They have an influx of tourists and hence, suffer the most damage from irresponsible tourism. Choose offbeat destinations instead. They won’t be as crowded, and can make for more memorable experiences.

Also, try to travel slower. Instead of hopping from one capital city to another, explore everything a place has to offer. Often, it’s the countryside that harbors the hidden gems rather than the bustling city.

Sustainable Pre-Travel Arrangements

Once you’re done choosing a sustainable destination, it’s time to extend the same philosophy to your travel arrangements. Look for options such as a sustainable travel agent, a travel insurance company that is certified to be sustainable, and an eco-friendly website for making your bookings. But do beware of “greenwashing.” Check for legitimate verifications and certifications when businesses call themselves sustainable.

You can also make sure to have a sustainable itinerary. While planning activities, keep in mind that not everything popular or advertised is always sustainable.

Pack Smart and Sustainably

Once you’re done with bookings, you’re now faced with the task of packing. Can you pack sustainably too? Absolutely, here’s how:

  • Try packing a capsule wardrobe. Keep that one tank top that doubles as a bikini halter. And that DIY trick you learned to make your drab skirt a sarong wrap? This is the time to use it. Less is more when packing.
  • Avoid plastic. Reduce, reuse, and recycle. Take an insulated water bottle instead of buying a plastic one each time. Switch to reusable metallic straws. Keep a bunch of old shopping bags or a tote bag with you so you don’t need plastic bags for storing and shopping while traveling.
  • Consider biodegradable options. Your sanitary products, toiletries, and even your sunscreen can all harm the environment. Look for biodegradable options of these products that you can switch to long-term.

Choose Sustainable Transport and Lodging

Flying and the aviation industry are some of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gases. Hit the rails or the road if you can. When flying is a must, try to choose flights over shorter distances, as these are more efficient.

For lodging, look for local bed-and-breakfasts instead of chain hotels. If you can couch-surf, even better. When choosing local accommodations, research what efforts the hotel is taking to be sustainable. Businesses often partner with local governments to provide eco-friendly lodging.

Support Local Businesses

This one is a must on the sustainability checklist. For dining, seek out local experiences instead of indulging in grandiose western-style dining and fast-food chains that are indulgent and wasteful. If you can, treat your palette to vegetarian and vegan fare made from local produce. Make it a point to choose local breweries and beverages, even if it means going out of your way to do so.

When shopping, stray clear of fast fashion. It is recommended to even avoid large marketplaces near famous tourist spots. Instead, do a little research and find boutiques that support local craftspeople and makers. Beware of the fabrics you choose, as it is always a bad idea to go for animal skin and fur fabrics, tourist or not.

Carbon Offset Your Vacation

What is carbon offsetting you ask? It is the act of reducing your greenhouse gas emissions to compensate for emissions made elsewhere.

You can offset with your airline by paying an extra fee that goes towards a sustainability project. Or you can even directly offset by funding a project of your choice. Gold Standard is a Swedish nonprofit that is recommended to directly offset.

Above all else, remember that sustainability isn’t a one-time activity. Don’t just limit it to your globetrotting activities. You need to make a conscious effort to lead a sustainable lifestyle every day.

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