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How to See the World Without Destroying It

Marisa Megan

8670 Aljezur, Portugal

Traveling is a beautiful thing. You get to see the world, interact with new cultures, broaden your horizons and hopefully, learn about yourself and the world you live in.

According to Statista, “the travel and tourism industry is one of the world’s largest industries with a global economic contribution (direct, indirect and induced) of over 7.6 trillion U.S. dollars in 2016.” That makes global tourism unwieldy enough to run the gambit – from positive impact travel to destructive.

So how can you learn to see the world without destroying it? The simplest answer, is to put your money where your mouth is.

Choose to support sustainable businesses

The best way to make an impact on the direction that tourism grows sustainably, is to support businesses with a conscious. That doesn’t just mean that you should stay at hotels who have put up solar panels. Sustainable tourism has five prongs – the most important of which is the impact a business has on the local community.

Tourism is meant to support the area it’s promoting. Ideally, all businesses receiving tourists would be run by natives or full-time residents of the area, contribute to the wellbeing of the local community and provide income and services to the residents of that area. A tiny restaurant in the front of a concrete, family home is equally, if not more sustainable than an ecologically built boutique hotel owned by non-residents.

While that boutique hotel might be completely sustainable – it could be providing jobs and job training for local residents, donating to the local schools and even teaching people about irrigation or organic gardening – it’s still not a locally owned business. On the other hand, you can be sure that every single dollar you spend at that tiny family restaurant is supporting local families, encouraging entrepreneurism and motivating local residents to expand their horizons.

Locally owned and operated businesses are still the soul of sustainable travel. (Yes, locals can be non-natives, as long as they live somewhere year-round and integrate into the community.) Look twice at businesses for what they have to offer the residents of a place, not just what they offer tourists, and spend your money accordingly. If you really love a place, you’ll want to support it growing from the inside out, not the other way around.

Stop Supporting Businesses that Exploit Others

Putting your money where your mouth is has a flip side – It’s just as important who you don’t give your money to as who you do. There are a few businesses that seem well meaning from the outside, who are actually exploiting vulnerable communities.

Do your research, and you’ll spot the difference. Some experiences that are really cool for you are actually hurting those that your visiting. Volunteering at an orphanage for a week, for example, isn’t actually great for the development of little humans, who need the stability of having the same caretakers for long stretches of time to grow up happy. In the worst cases, non-orphans will get taken from their families so they can be profited off of. If you love elephants, go see them at an elephant sanctuary or rescue, don’t ride them. Elephant rides are almost always exploiting these wonderful animals for profit, and very rarely are the elephants allowed to be, well, elephants.

Then there’s that understandable attraction to traditional societies. We can learn a lot from people whose way of life hasn’t changed in hundreds of years, but it’s high time we stop treating them like zoo animals. If you’re interested in touring an indigenous community, favela or township, make sure that the tour you’re going on is run by and profits the residents of said community, and is doing its best to create cultural understanding between both parties.

Offsetting your Footprint  

There is one, massive elephant in the travel industry room. When you’re working an industry that promotes jet setting across the world, it’s impossible not to have a huge carbon footprint on your conscious. It’s up to both responsible businesses and responsible travelers to start to counteract it.

Go to the carbon calculator and figure out what amount of carbon you’re emitting from your travels, so you can set an offset goal. Then, decide how you’re going to work towards it. There are a hoard of options for offsetting your carbon footprint. You can support renewable energy projects that actually reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the world. If you’re looking for cool projects, the WWF endorses the Gold Standard for carbon offsets in the energy sector. “Gold Standard projects are high-quality initiatives that make investments in clean energy or efficient production and also contribute to the sustainable development of the countries in which they are hosted.” You can see a list of projects on their website.

Or, support the research and work of companies like Carbfix, a group of scientists who have figured out how to bury carbon gasses into the earth and turn them into basalt rock. Alternatively, you can always head outside and plant a few trees – just be sure to take care of them as they grow.

Do travel. Just remember when you do, that how you spend your money will shape the world around you, so do some research. Then, make choices that you believe will create a better future for the places that you love.

Now that you know how to see the world without destroying it, go off and enjoy its beauty.