Mindful travel: Protecting people and the planet

So you enjoyed our introduction to mindful travel and now you want to dig a little deeper?

Well, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve been doing some digging of our own recently and we were inspired when we came across the Five Mindfulness Trainings. The trainings highlight the importance of practicing awareness not just of ourselves, but of the world we inhabit too - and the damaging effects that we can cause to it as a result of being unmindful.

By being aware of how our actions affect others, we can avoid causing harm and become better people. If we apply this to travel, we could become better travellers by learning how our trips affect others and the planet too. So we’ve put together a few issues in tourism to be aware of, alongside some tips to combat them when you take your next trip.

Be aware of the environmental damage caused by tourism

It’s ironic that our love for Earth’s best places is - to be frank - ruining them. Prior to Covid, we saw islands and beaches such as Maya Bay and Boracay shutting down, following damaged ecosystems that needed time to recover. Concerns were rising for several national parks across the US that were being flooded with tourists. And historic sites such as Machu Picchu and Angkor Wat had to put restrictions in place due to overstrained infrastructure. These are a few examples of the consequences that are happening as a result of overtourism (when destinations suffer from too many visitors). The majority of small islands, nature reserves and World Heritage sites are simply too fragile to support hundreds - or sometimes thousands - of tourists passing through each day. Paired with excessive pollution, waste, and overconsumption of local resources, the environmental consequences of tourism could be colossal if left unchecked. So what can you do about it when you go away?

  • Don’t go to the same places as everyone else. Venice, Barcelona and Amsterdam attract millions of visitors each year and are suffering for it. By choosing somewhere that’s less busy, you’ll take the strain off of those places, and visit somewhere that would benefit more from you being there.
  • If you do have your heart set on a popular destination, try visiting outside of peak season or peak hours when it’s less busy.
  • Do your research on environmental issues in your destination before you go. That way you won’t be contributing towards the same issues once you get there.
  • Put your phone away. Several tourism boards around the world have asked visitors to stop geotagging locations due to the surge of visitors it causes.

Be aware of your carbon footprint when travelling

We’re sure you’re well aware that we have just 9 years left to curb our carbon emissions to limit global warming (under the Paris Agreement, the EU needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% before 2030). But did you know that 1 cruise ship can emit as much carbon per day as 1 million cars? And that just 1 return flight from London to New York produces the equivalent of 1 person's carbon ‘allowance’ for an entire year? Practicing sustainability while we’re away is great, but these attempts can feel futile if we’re using tonnes of carbon to get there. As a nation, we fly more than any other country in the world, which seems unnecessary when we have rail links to Europe. As travellers, we’re driven by a love for our environment; climate change is its biggest threat. It only makes sense that we do what we can to fight it.

  • Fly less. Cutting down on flying is one of the most powerful actions you can take as an individual to curb your carbon.
  • If you’re travelling to Europe, take the train instead and make it into an adventure.
  • Encourage your friends to take the same approach to travel as you; collective action is what we need to create change.
  • Avoid cruises. The emissions are so bad that even being aboard one can impact your health. The air quality is more polluted than the world’s worst affected cities.
  • Don’t rely on carbon offsetting to ‘cancel’ your footprint from excessive flying. Unfortunately most offsetting projects don’t work. The best thing you can do is simply reduce your carbon.

Be aware of  tourism’s impact on local communities

Covid has proved just how many livelihoods rely on tourism around the world. There’s no disputing that tourism can be life-changing for local communities, but it can also be extremely harmful to them when used in the wrong way. In larger cities such as Barcelona, overtourism has severely impacted locals' way of life. The cost of living goes up while the quality of life goes down; expensive cafes and souvenir shops are set up to suit tourists, and antisocial behaviour from visitors can be frustrating for residents.

In smaller islands and developing nations, tourism can have limited economic benefits for locals; the majority of tourists’ money ends up benefitting larger corporations instead. For every $100 spent travelling a developing country, just $5 stays in the local economy. There’s also the risk of unique cultural identities being lost or commodified to suit foreign tastes. That’s why it’s so important to spend locally and be respectful while you’re away.

  • Look for locally-owned accommodation, and excursions using local companies and guides.
  • Look for social enterprises to support or consider donating to a local charity that’s involved in social or conservation projects.
  • Try to buy locally-made souvenirs (avoid anything made from shells or endangered species). Supporting local artisans helps to preserve traditional skills and crafts.
  • Go to local bars, cafes and restaurants to eat local specialities (usually prepared with locally-grown fresh produce!)
  • Respect local culture, traditions and wildlife and always keep in mind that you’re a visitor in someone’s home.

Inspired to be a better traveller? We’ve got more travel tips in the works - be sure to follow us on Instagram so that you can stay up to date.

Team Pluto

Team Pluto

Written by the travel lovers at Pluto HQ