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Responsible Tourism

9 Tips for Sustainable Travel

Posted on Tuesday, September 21st, 2021

Story by: Ken Lovering | Travel Writer


How can you travel more sustainably? We’re tackling the question here from two perspectives: Which travel styles to embrace and what choices you can make about your trip day to day.

9 Tips for Sustainable Travel

If you love the place where you’re traveling (and the locals who call it home), it’s natural to want to preserve it for generations—and travelers—to come. Most cyclists would hate to think that their vacation might have a negative impact on the people, communities, and natural world that make it so spectacular. Fortunately, there are things that all travelers can do to ensure that their trip not only avoids harming their destination, it actually helps make it better.

“We want to develop and offer ways that a traveler’s presence can actually have a net benefit,” says Adrienne Lee, a director at the nonprofit Tourism Cares. Her organization, dedicated to making travel more sustainable, is currently working with VBT on creating sustainability goals for the next decade and beyond. She speaks passionately about travel’s potential. “We want people and their communities to actually be enriched by visitors. Economically, socially, and environmentally.”

While a lot of the work of making travel more sustainable falls to companies like ours, Lee would also like each individual traveler to think about what they can do to help. “How can you minimize your environmental impact?” she asks. “How can you help preserve historic sites while you’re enjoying them? How can you support local economies?”

Her organization concerns itself with how travelers can benefit the communities, culture, and natural world of their destination. And it goes way beyond that old adage that asks travelers to “leave only footprints and take only memories.”

So how can you travel more sustainably?

We’re tackling the question here from two perspectives: Which travel styles to embrace and what choices you can make about your trip day to day.

Sustainable Travel Styles

  1. Pick bike-friendly destinations. You won’t be surprised that we wholeheartedly embrace biking as a sustainable travel option. But any active adventure will do—from walking to kayaking to horseback riding. Self-powered travel (or humanely animal-powered) gets you from place to place with zero impact—and helps cut back on the global emissions that are warming our planet.
  2. Visit in the Off or Shoulder Season. If you must see the world’s iconic landmarks, plan your trip outside the busy season so you don’t contribute to overcrowding. Smaller groups leave lighter footprints, and your money will support local businesses that might ordinarily struggle outside the peak travel time.
  3. Combine your trips. If you’re traveling internationally, flying is non-negotiable. But you can decrease your environmental impact. When you cobble together several trips into one larger one, you’ll fly less. And you’ll leave a smaller carbon footprint in your wake. VBT can work with you to plan back-to-back Bicycling Vacations, whether you’re dreaming of a grand tour of Italy or a multi-country adventure.
  4. Travel closer to home. Driving or taking the train to your destination lessens your carbon output even more. And you’ll find that the discoveries in your own backyard are just as inspiring and breathtaking as any you can make overseas. Fortunately, VBT has many Bicycling Vacations in North America that could be just a road trip away.

Sustainable Choices While You’re Traveling

  1. Avoid historic sites and landmarks during peak times. Before the pandemic, the world’s most visited sites were buckling under the weight of overtourism. Then, in the blink of an eye, crowds disappeared. And many places are better for it: Façades of ancient and historic buildings are less marred by vehicle exhaust, footpaths are less worn by hundreds of daily visitors, and natural treasures are more…well, natural. Avoiding the most popular sites when they’re at their busiest will help preserve their authenticity. (See Tip #2)
  2. Explore Undiscovered Gems. Take your social distancing strategy on the road and choose less-traveled destinations. You’ll not only have a more relaxing and less-crowded experience. You’ll also lessen your impact. VBT’s Lithuania & Latvia itinerary, for instance, introduces you to two fascinating seldom-visited nations. What’s more, on every Bicycling Vacation, we cycle out-of-the-way routes and venture off the beaten path to small villages.
  3. Stay at Locally Owned Hotels. Let’s face it: Big chain hotels don’t need your help. It’s the small, family-owned inns and lodges that could use some economic bolstering. When you stay at a local hotel, your money goes much farther than you think. Sure, it helps the innkeepers. But you’re also helping to support the families of waitstaff, housekeepers, and even the local food suppliers like farmers and bakers. VBT strives to use small, local hotels wherever possible, from the Beaufort Inn in South Carolina to the Hotel Gastronomico Echaurren in Spain’s Rioja wine region.
  4. Tread Lightly at an Eco Friendly Lodge. What’s good for the planet is good for your peace of mind. Eco-conscious accommodations leave little or no carbon footprint. Harnessing energy from the sun, cultivating their own ingredients for mealtimes, and eliminating plastic waste are just a few ways they minimize their impact. If you’re heading to New Zealand, VBT guests stay at the Lake Moeraki Wilderness Lodge, which is owned by ecologists. And in our native state of Vermont, the Basin Harbor is a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.
  5. Choose Activities that Give Back. It’s no secret that locals provide the most insight and the warmest welcome. As you plan your days, be sure to seek out activities that support them. It might be a cooking class taught by a Vietnamese couple. Or a family-owned winery that offers tours and tastings. By spending an hour or two with them—and learning about their culture—you can be sure your money is supporting their communities.

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