5 things you can do to travel more sustainably in India

Sustainability is something that we need to inculcate into our everyday lives and sustainable travel should be the only way we travel. Sustainability is not only about protecting the environment and cutting our carbon-footprint but it is also about preserving the natural heritage, culture and traditions of the places that we visit. This is because tourism has a huge power over the lives and livelihoods of the people who live in regions that receive a lot of tourists.

Many people in these areas loose essential skills like farming and construction to pursue jobs in tourism related activities. It also makes the prices of many goods and services unaffordable for the local people. This is especially an issue in Kerala and Goa where the sole income of many is the tourism industry. The movement of international tourists is not very predictable and can easily change based on economic and political factors. In many cases, it just happens that another country’s tourism board has put more money into their ad campaigns. We have seen the demographics of travelers coming to India change quite rapidly over the last few years and there is hardly a clear explanation for any of these things. These aren’t factors that we can control while choosing a travel destination but it’s something that we should be aware of - certainly a part of what sustainable, conscious travel is all about.  

Our world has finite resources and there are many places that are at risk of running out of even basic needs like drinking water over the next decade. There are only so many beautiful, natural, untouched places on our planet and mass tourism threatens their existence. There is nothing wrong with travel itself but it's the kind of travel that many people do that makes it inherently unsustainable. Nature, culture and history are things to be preserved, not commodified.

Unfortunately, many travellers and travel industry operators remain in denial  about how limited our world’s resources are and how tourism is negatively affecting the environment, local cultures and communities. What they don’t realize is that tourists only go to these places because there is something unique about them. If we homogenize the whole world to suit the needs of travellers and destroy the natural environment while doing it then there will be no reason for people to visit. Thousand of jobs would be lost just because of the greed of a few.  That’s where sustainable travel comes in.


What is Sustainable Travel?

Sustainable travel means finding a form of tourism can be maintained long-term without harming natural and cultural environments. Sustainable travel should minimise the negative impacts of tourism and ideally be beneficial to the area in which it takes place. This is much easier said than done and it’s not always that the local people/ governments in a region always have the big picture in mind. Most people are only looking out for themselves and this is why we as tourists need to be conscious of how our choices impact the world.

The World Tourism Organization defines sustainable tourism as “development [which] meets the needs of present tourists and host regions while protecting and enhancing opportunity for the future. It is envisaged as leading to management of all resources in such a way that economic, social, and aesthetic needs can be fulfilled while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, biological diversity, and life support system.”

Sustainable travel is about valuing the environment and looking after our natural resources. Travellers need to be more aware of pollution levels caused by travel and how that affects the environment and local wildlife. They also need to be aware of how tourism affects the local people, businesses and culture.

While there is some crossover in definition between sustainable travel, responsible travel and green travel, the core focus of sustainable travel is reducing the environmental impacts and the problems associated with mass tourism models.

How to Travel Sustainably

As travellers and tourists, we need to take responsibility for advocating a more sustainable way of travelling. This isn’t going to happen overnight and there isn’t a magical solution to solve the problems associated with tourism, but we can work towards better, more sustainable travel.

  1. Transport

Air transport – Mitigate the negative impact of air travel by flying less often and staying for longer in further away destinations. Many long-term travellers can opt to travel through neighbouring countries instead of flying between countries that are further away. There are some airline companies that will attempt to neutralize the emissions caused by your flight.

 Ground transport – Go by foot or bicycle whenever possible, and use public transport and car shares to get around instead of private cars. Trains are a great option as they are so much more efficient that any other form of transport. Rail uses 7.4 times less fuel than a bus for the same number of passenger kilometres. This of course depends on how efficiently these services are organized.


2. Accomodation

 Local Accommodation – Opt for accommodation with locals, such as through Couchsurfing, Airbnb, hostels and other similar sharing and gift economy networks, or locally owned guesthouses.

Sustainable Hotels – Alternatively, look for accommodation with a commitment to sustainability and initiatives such as solar power, energy-efficient lighting, recycling and so on. Find out whether a hotel employs local staff, source their food locally and use locally sourced building materials and decor.

3. Food

 Eat locally grown food from local producers. Vegan and vegetarian options have a far lower impact on the planet when compared to meat and dairy. It will probably keep you in better health as well while you travel.  Avoid imported food products as they have to be transported from far away causing carbon emissions. It also takes money away from local manufacturers and concentrates it in large corporations. Just keep an eye out for what the local people are eating and what’s available in the markets. Local, plant-based options are a sure shot way to make sure that your food choices aren’t harming the planet.

 4. Be Aware

Be aware of your environment and respectful of the surroundings. Do your best to make sure that you leave the places you visit in the same or better state than you found them. Make sure that your actions help preserve the integrity of a place for the generations of travellers to come. This can prevent a situation like in Paris or Barcelona where the locals have started to despise the hordes of tourists that show up there all through the year. Even the city governments have started to enact changes that make it more difficult/expensive for people to visit. Venice is literally sinking and yet the stream of tourists never seems to cease - fairly oblivious of everything that is going on around.  Avoid any wildlife tours that promise up-close encounters with animals, as these may be unethical. Look for tours that won’t disturb wildlife.

The responsibility of finding a more sustainable model of tourism doesn’t only fall with the traveller, but with the airlines, host countries, local governments, and business owners.  Many of them realise that they need to work on more sustainable tourism initiatives but are concerned about upsetting the status quo by putting restrictions or taxes in place to mitigate the negative impacts of mass tourism. Speak up and let places and people know that you’re interested in sustainable travel. That’s the only certain way to create more of what we are looking for in the world. Vote with your dollar and you’ll find more and more sustainable businesses popping up everyday.