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From Supporting Local Communities to Environmental Preservation: 10 Ways to Mindful Travel


| 8 mins read

In a world that is becoming increasingly interconnected, travel has evolved beyond mere exploration, with environmental concerns and the preservation of local communities taking center stage. Today, Europe's otherwise popular summer destinations are experiencing extreme heat waves, posing risks to ecosystems and local livelihoods. Countries like Bali and Thailand have become victims of over-tourism, with an overwhelming number of visitors putting strain on its delicate infrastructure and natural resources. Similarly, the iconic Great Barrier Reef in Australia is suffering from coral bleaching due to warmer ocean temperatures caused by climate change. 

In response to these challenges, mindful travel is no longer a choice but has rather become a necessity of the hour. Mindful travel seeks to positively impact the destinations you visit and the communities that call them home. In this blog, learn the ten impactful ways to ensure your journeys leave a lasting, beneficial footprint. 

Embrace Volunteer Tourism

Volunteer tourism, or "voluntourism," is a type of tourism that has gained immense popularity in recent times. It is an opportunity to enrich your travel experiences while positively impacting local communities by being part of local projects and engaging meaningfully with the community. For example, you could engage in wildlife conservation by participating in sea turtle conservation projects in Costa Rica, where you'll help protect nesting sites and release hatchlings into the ocean. Alternatively, you could assist in ecological restoration projects in New Zealand or support community development in Kenya by volunteering with organisations that promote education, women's empowerment, or sustainable farming practices.

Pro-tip: For a meaningful and impactful volunteering experience abroad, it is crucial to seek guidance from reputable and reliable organisations that share your interests and values. Working with a knowledgeable guide can help you navigate through different opportunities and ensure that your actions align with the needs and priorities of the local community. Remember to approach the experience with humility, respect, and a genuine willingness to learn and collaborate for the bigger cause. 

Support Local Art and Craft

The most simple way of mindful travel is to support traditional craftsmanship throughout your tour. This can be done by purchasing local artwork and handicrafts, attending cultural festivals, art fairs, or exhibitions, and sharing your experiences and discoveries with others through social media or word-of-mouth. These will directly or indirectly contribute to the livelihoods of artisans. 

In recent times, to help tourists identify the locals, the governments have also stepped in. For example, the Moroccan government encourages the growth of souks. Similarly, other countries have designated markets for the purpose of upliftment of local and traditional handicrafts and goods. Some examples are the Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok (Thailand), Dilli Haat in New Delhi (India), Mercado de Artesanías La Ciudadela in Mexico City (Mexico), and Greenmarket Square in Cape Town (South Africa).

Prioritise Low-Impact Activities 

Another way of mindful travel is to prioritise low-impact activities that minimise harm to the environment. By choosing sustainable options, you can enjoy nature's beauty while preserving it for future generations. Whether it's exploring a rainforest (hiking or bird-watching), observing marine life (snorkelling), or embarking on a guided nature walk, these activities help foster a deeper appreciation for the environment and promote its protection. The best example of the same is that national parks in the United States, Australia and Canada adhere to the 'Leave No Trace' principles, educating visitors on reducing their impact. These principles encourage responsible behaviour, including packing your trash, staying on designated trails, and respecting wildlife and their habitats.

Utilise Eco-Friendly Transportation

An obvious yet important way to contribute to sustainable travel is by opting for eco-friendly transportation, reducing air pollution and conserving energy. One excellent example of eco-friendly transportation is the use of bicycles or electric scooters. Cities like Amsterdam and Hoi An are renowned for their bike-friendly infrastructure, and tourists are encouraged to rent bicycles to navigate the city. This not only reduces the carbon footprint but also provides a unique and immersive way to experience the local culture and scenery. Additionally, cities like Singapore and Zurich are known for their efficient and extensive public transportation systems, promoting eco-friendly travel options for both locals and tourists. 

Participate in Cultural Exchange Programs

This can be something as simple as interacting with a local or joining hands with big organisations conducting cultural exchanges. By embracing cultural exchange opportunities, you can enrich your travel experiences, foster cross-cultural connections, and gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the diverse communities you encounter along your journey. Some of the easier ways to do so are to engage in conversations and learn basic phrases in the local language, participate in local activities and events, visit markets, dine at locally-owned outlets, or take part in workshops that showcase traditional arts, crafts, or music. These experiences will provide a more authentic and immersive cultural encounter while at the same time preserving stories for future generations. 

Use Biodegradable Products

Another simple and convenient way to reduce negative environmental impact is by choosing biodegradable products, such as toiletries and sunscreens, that can help reduce the harmful effects of chemicals on ecosystems and promote sustainability. One specific example is the impact of chemical sunscreens on coral reefs. Many common sunscreen ingredients, such as oxybenzone and octinoxate, have been found to be harmful to coral reefs, causing bleaching and damaging marine life. In response, destinations like Hawaii have implemented bans on these sunscreens, encouraging visitors to use biodegradable alternatives. Other examples are the no-plastic policy in India's Jim Corbett National Park and the ban on single-use plastics in the Galápagos Islands in Ecuador. 

Pro-tip: When purchasing personal care or other products, look for labels or certifications indicating that they are biodegradable, environmentally friendly, or reef-safe. This can go a long way in preserving Mother Nature.

Choose Green Travel Apps

Having issues deciding what and what not to do? Then, the green travel apps are your best companion! These travel apps are an excellent resource to help you make sustainable choices throughout your journeys. They have valuable information and tools to help reduce the environmental impact while travelling and support eco-friendly businesses. 

The best example of this is the 'GreenMe' app in Berlin, which guides visitors towards sustainable cafes, fair-trade shops, and more, promoting local, eco-friendly establishments. Other examples are the YesWeGreen app in France (which showcases organic food stores, eco-friendly boutiques, and sustainable restaurants in Paris), Gumnut in Australia (a rating system for tourism operators that are eco-certified), and the ThinkGreen app in the United States, committed to help tourists make sustainable choices.  

Opt for Eco-Friendly Tour Operators

One of the indirect ways to contribute positively is by choosing eco-friendly tour operators and excursions. These operators and experiences go beyond traditional tourism, placing a strong emphasis on protecting the environment and supporting local communities. For example, tourHQ-registered Greenbike Adventure Bali specialises in sustainable adventure tours in Bali, Indonesia. They offer a range of experiences, including eco-friendly hiking tours, sustainable cycling tours, and eco-volunteering opportunities. Other examples are Responsible Tourism Co. Ltd in Uganda and Responsible Travel Ecuador in Quito. 

Pro-tip: When selecting tour operators, look for certifications or affiliations with recognised eco-tourism organisations, as these demonstrate a commitment to sustainability. You can conduct research, read reviews, and inquire about their environmental practices to make an informed choice.

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Offset Your Carbon Footprint

One more easy and quick way to contribute is by investing in environmental projects that help offset the carbon emissions generated during journeys. Many airlines and travel companies offer carbon offset programs as part of their sustainability initiatives. For instance, Qantas Airlines has implemented the 'Fly Carbon Neutral' program, enabling passengers to offset the emissions from their flights by contributing to certified sustainable projects. These projects may include initiatives like reforestation, renewable energy generation, or energy efficiency programs. So, when planning your travels, consider researching airlines and travel companies that offer carbon offset programs. It's a simple yet effective way to minimise the carbon footprint of your travel and support the transition to a more sustainable travel industry.

Adopt the 'Slow Travel' Concept

An important yet overlooked concept is that of slow travel. The concept of slow travel encourages a shift away from rushed itineraries and emphasises the importance of immersing oneself in a destination, fostering meaningful connections, and minimising the environmental impact of travel. Nowadays, slow travel is becoming a travel style in many countries. For example, Carinthia's 'Slow Food Travel' initiative invites visitors to engage with the region's culinary heritage at a leisurely pace, and the agriturismo concept in Tuscany allows travellers to experience rural farm life at a slow pace. Another notable example is the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain (a network of ancient pilgrimage routes leading to the Cathedral of Santiago in northwestern Spain). It encourages participants to journey on foot, immersing themselves in the stunning landscapes, historic towns, and local customs of the regions they pass through. 

Travelling mindfully can transform your journey into a force for good. By incorporating these less conventional but impactful practices, you can ensure that your love for travel also nurtures the world you explore.