Is Eco Tourism Really Eco-Friendly? 5 Ways To Travel Green This Year


Author: Courtney Kruk




A lot of travel plans were put on hold in the last three years.

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Documented By: Doyle Shin

A lot of travel plans were put on hold in the last three years.

It was hard for those of us who love travelling, but undeniably good for the environment.

In 2020, the aviation industry’s global CO2 emissions fell 48 per cent from their 2019 total and many over-touristed cities scored a break from the swarms of visitors straining resources. These facts made many of us rethink our travel habits and face up to the impact of our annual escapes.

Author, travel writer and sustainability advocate Nina Karnikowski was already reevaluating the impact of her travel lifestyle before the events of 2020. Nina had spent almost a decade travelling the world on assignments and once-in-a-lifetime trips. Then (probably quite unexpectedly for her editorial team) she decided to take a step back.   

“It was a rumbling inside for quite a long time,” Nina explains. “I had started to notice that if I took a trip that felt like it didn’t have some sort of ‘give back’ element, I would feel quite ill at ease about going.” An excursion to the Canadian Arctic in 2019 cemented this feeling: she saw firsthand what was happening not only to the environment, but to climate change's poster child, the polar bear.

“I was very clearly confronted with the impact of some of my actions on this trip,” she says. “Because of the melting of the ice caps, the polar bears’ feeding season is shorter and they are not breeding as well, so their populations are dwindling. I realised that these bears have no way of protecting themselves against this...only we can. And of course, the polar bear was just one symbol for how all life on Earth was suffering.  

I came home from that trip and calculated my annual carbon footprint and it was something like six times what the average person would create because of the number of overseas flights I was taking every year.

– Nina Karnikowski

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Documented By: Ray Rui

That trip encouraged Nina to travel differently and served as the inspiration for her book, Go Lightly: How to travel without hurting the planet.

The book has a simple premise: travel in a way that is less impactful on the environment. It's filled with practical tips, helpful resources and Nina's own observations from her many travels.

Go Lightly demonstrates something that is easy to forget when we think of travelling more consciously. Travelling this way doesn't mean abandoning all the things we love about taking a holiday. It's about an attitude shift, embracing mindfulness and working within our means to minimise the negative impacts of tourism.

To help you imagine what your own “lighter” travel future could look like, here are five tips we took from reading Go Lightly

Travel with purpose and try something new

“One of the first things to realise is that to travel this way, you don’t have to give anything up, and that this is all about making your travels richer, deeper and more meaningful,” Nina says. So while there’s nothing wrong with holidaying to switch off and relax, it’s worth asking: do we need to waste countless emissions to sit by a hotel pool? If you’re going to fly to the other side of the world, make sure it’s for a unique and enriching experience you’ll never forget. 

You could plan a hiking holiday to explore a destination in depth (GAIA GPS is great for detailed trail maps), or try something like WWOOFING, a cultural exchange movement allowing you to live, work and learn alongside locals on organic farms. If possible, avoid mini breaks. Save up (money and annual leave) to take longer trips less often. This will cut emissions and give you an opportunity to really immerse yourself in local communities. 

Consider under-travelled places

Nina lists a trip to Guatemala to learn ancient weaving techniques and a hiking trip to Georgia in Eastern Europe as two of her favourite “green” trips. Plus her decision to swap bucket-list Machu Picchu for the lesser-visited Rainbow Mountain in South America. In all these places, cultural immersion and choosing destinations off the beaten track led to an unforgettable experience.

Go Lightly is packed with alternative ideas when planning your next trip, as well as ways to connect positively with people and the places you visit including engaging a local guide, volunteering or upskilling. The National Geographic also lists a number of hidden gems so you can discover an alternative destination that’s often even more beautiful than the mainstream hotspot. 

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Documented By: Ronald Cuyan

Explore alternative modes of transport

Taking a train (which uses up to 50 per cent less fuel than planes) or bus is a great way to see more of the country you’re visiting. It also dramatically cuts costs and carbon emissions. Apps like Rome2rio show thousands of multi-modal routes around the globe and easily compares the price of different transport options. If you are driving, Google Maps now has a function that defaults to the route with the lowest carbon footprint, as well as comparing relative CO2 impacts between routes.

Discover destinations closer to home

We are drawn to far-away destinations and new cultures, but don’t overlook your own backyard when planning an escape. Often travelling even 1000 kilometres from home can deliver a totally new experience. If you’re stuck for inspiration or need help planning, try a well-written guidebook or state tourism websites for travel information and destination details. Searching hashtags and geo locations on Instagram is another great way to find ideas and activities. Or, ask a local for advice. It can be as simple as finding a store or cafe you love and asking the staff to write down their favourite places to eat, drink, shop and adventure. This tactic will become your ticket to discovering hidden gems when travelling.

Take your values with you

At home, we spend a lot of time thinking about where our money is going and the impact of our habits. Don’t give up that mindset when holidaying. Whether you’re booking accommodation, heading out to eat or buying souvenirs, consider where your money is going. Is it contributing to the local economy? Is it supporting artisans and workers? Could your spending contribute to environmental conservation projects or green businesses? A great website that measures how much money is remaining within the local economy is G Adventures. They use a concept called a Ripple Score so you can follow the money and choose the tour with the highest score. 

When packing, think about what you can bring to help minimise waste along the way. Instead of burning through tiny plastic hotel toiletries and single-use plastic water bottles, pack a bar soap and shampoo (they last months) and a refillable water bottle. It might take a little extra planning and packing, but it will make a big impact on reducing waste while travelling. 

Want to find out more tips? Purchase your copy of Go Lightly: How to Travel Without Hurting the Planet online here or at your favourite local bookstore. 


Documented By: Doyle Shin, Marten Bjork, Ray Rui, Ronald Cuyan


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