Nature has given us a hard punch in the face. With this coronavirus crisis, all of us, governments and companies included, are left licking our wounds and rethinking the way we live our life. Indeed, this disruption in ‘business as usual’ should be a time for reflection and a time for change – and that should include the way we travel. Sustainable travel practices that have only been ‘on our minds’ until now have today the biggest chance ever to become a reality. How will you travel in the post-pandemic world?

Join us and make a pledge for sustainable travel at the bottom of this article.

Why should we care?

The climate crisis has long been a “hot topic” – getting hotter by the day. As a matter of fact, tourism is responsible for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions and about 14% of global solid waste. Most of us feel uneasy when we hear about plane and cruise pollution and carbon footprint. But also about the waste due to holiday packages and resorts, overtourism, the damage to historical and natural sites, unethical and disrespectful tourism, animal abuse, etc.

And yet we still talk more about it than we act upon it, like we do when we think of quitting smoking or snacking. Responsible travel sounds like out of an ideal world, and we come up with easy excuses. Ever heard “the plane will fly even if your seat remains empty”? That’s my favourite.

It’s time we make a stand. Individual actions result in a shift of the collective mindset, which in turn will push companies to introduce change. Supply can only be where there is a demand.

Wild monkey in Tayrona Park
Wildlife flourishes in protected areas

Why now?

We’ve never had that much time, and such an imperative reason, to reflect upon the changes we want to apply to our lives and our society.

Some say that the world got to this point because we humans have acted irresponsibly with our environment. Today’s fast fashion, daily meat-eating and intensive tourism are all expressions of the same demand: the constant crave for more, always cheaper and more decadent.

Even poor pangolins cannot be left alone, and now this bloody virus is on a killing spree. As Stuart Neil, head of virology at King’s College London, puts it, “humans are exposed to these viruses because of how they behave and interact with animals”.

But now, all over the world, the lockdown is giving our tired planet some much-needed rest. Transport is reduced to a bare minimum, and so is industry. In China for example, scientists note a 25% reduction in carbon emissions.

So should we stop travelling?

We should definitely not stop travelling! Travelling is eye-opening and it teaches the most important life lessons. Through different cultures, we learn to be more open-minded, tolerant and free-thinking. Through the beauties of the planet, we learn to care more and live more simply, more essentially. Or so we should.

Travel will start again stronger than ever once the pandemic is over. We’ll all be able to see the world again, spend our winter holiday on some exotic beach, and post our favourite travel photos on social media.

But this crisis should be an opportunity to make things right, shape a better world with new sustainable habits, on a larger scale. Like a new dawn, or some kind of global New Year’s Eve, here’s our chance to put our good travel resolutions into practice.

Chambalabamba community in Ecuador
Visiting a community in Ecuador and learning about permaculture

And how do we do this?

Change the reason why we travel

Let’s stop ticking boxes off a “bucket list” or “doing” countries and continents.

Instead, let’s look for authentic experiences that bring a radical change from our daily life, something beyond our comfort zone and our worldview. Those are the memories we’ll remember the most, the ones that will shape us. What’s the point of travelling if we are the same person when we come back home?

There are a number of ways we can get authentic and local experiences:

  • By volunteering
  • By visiting an indigenous community, or taking part in a local crafts workshop
  • Or simply by exploring a completely non-touristy (but safe) part of town and meeting locals
Square life in Urubamba, Peru
Volunteering is a great way to have time to explore lesser-visited sites in an area

Travel more slowly

Let’s stop rushing through our holidays.

All those companies which said we couldn’t work from home have backtracked and put it into practice in a matter of days! Remote work is actually possible and not just the privilege of a handful of digital nomads. We envision more remote working in the future, and this will allow people to travel for longer periods of time.

So let’s give ourselves more time to travel. We can try and convince our boss to let us work remotely from now on. Or maybe even realise that a sedentary routine isn’t for us and kiss the corporate world goodbye.

Fast vs slow tourism is not a new concept by the way.
The Guardian already wrote about it back in 2005.

Avoid the crowds

Let’s do our best to counter overtourism.

It would be hypocritical and just plain wrong to tell people not to visit amazing destinations such as Machu Picchu. They’re popular for a reason, and seeing them is an enriching experience. But historical and natural sites suffocate from a big rush of visitors; it would be much better to spread out the visits evenly throughout the year.

So let’s travel in low or shoulder seasons. But let’s also visit lesser-known places that are often equally deserving of our attention. These places also have the incomparable advantage of being less crowded, cheaper and more authentic.

Choquequirao peru hike valley path
Machu Picchu’s unknown little sister

Use cleaner transportation

Let’s stop taking domestic flights when we visit a country.

Instead, let’s plan carefully and reduce distances. A journey should be proportionate to the time we have at hand. We don’t cross the world to explore a new land on a weekend getaway, so should we really take planes to jump from site to site on a continent?

If you have only 1 week of holidays, do you really need to spend it on the other side of the world? Adventure and authentic experiences can be found closer to home. But if you’re set on a country, do you need to see all its sites in one go? Focus on one region and explore it by train, bus or car. Or do like our friends at Veggie Vagabonds and go on a cycling holiday!

Check out how big your carbon footprint is on WWF’s carbon footprint calculator.
On the results page, you’ll find out how much it adds up when you fly.

Choose the right companies to support

Let’s stop encouraging infrastructure of mass-tourism.

Resorts and chains (whether hotels, restaurants or coffee shops) are designed to cater to a high quantity of people, based on a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. They’re certainly not giving us an authentic and local experience, plus they don’t often support local businesses.

Let’s look instead for the unique, the local, the homegrown. Many of us already do this for our craft beer. So why not when we travel too, for our accommodation, transportation, tours, the places we eat at.

For inspiration, check out more tips on how to travel responsibly.

Take the pledge for sustainable travel !

I, _________________, pledge that, when I can travel again, I will do my best to be a more mindful and responsible traveller.

I commit to:

  • Aiming at getting local authentic experiences everywhere I go
  • Adapting my itinerary to the time I have to avoid domestic flights
  • Planning my next trip to a destination that supports sustainability
  • Using accommodations, restaurants & tour companies that promote sustainability
  • Saying “no” to activities that abuse animals or degrade the environment
  • Spreading the word through online reviews about both sustainable & unsustainable companies


Take the pledge on

Of course, sustainability shouldn’t be applied to tourism only but to many other areas too. Some organisations and individuals have already started pushing for a change and we encourage you to do the same.

Are you a green traveller? Help us spread the word!
Start a discussion on social media, with your friends, or at your next family reunion.

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Who am I?

Anna and Anthony are long-time travellers, polyglots and all-kinds-of-art-lovers. They write about eco travels, nature hikes and cultural discoveries, mainly in South America, on the budget travel blog Green Mochila.

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    1. Glad you agree with this, Lannie!
      The pledge isn’t electronic; it’s a decision you take for yourself & keep in your heart. Alternatively, you can print & sign it: that’s why there’s space to write your name. But the important part is that you believe in it, not that you write your name anywhere.

  1. Brilliant! This is the post that i wish we’d written all those times we added a top 10 list of things to do. To be honest we have struggled for the last 3 years, being torn between talking about the places we loved and promoting overtourism.Sustainable tourism,
    it all starts with us bloggers!

  2. Well written guys. I’m about halfway through your pledge, I’ve never taken a domestic flight, I rarely use hotel chains, and I do support local business. Its hard to know how travel will return, and a debate we have daily in work. I do imagine it will be more difficult than before, for some time anyway.

    1. You can be proud of the steps you’ve already taken, John! Now the next step will be to start up a conversation about it with your loved ones. It’s personally the commitment I find the most difficult.

  3. I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching these past few weeks reflecting on the why I travel. I believe it’s still the best gift we can give ourselves, but I’m reevaluating the destinations I would love to visit…are they truly meaningful or are they on my list because of my ego? I pledge to become more thoughtful in my travel decision-making.

  4. A thought-provoking article which I enjoyed reading. It deals with a topic I have struggled with for a long time. Travelling is, as you point out, an enriching experience and can have many benefits both for the traveller and the destination: many communities are economically dependent on tourism. But over-tourism is destructive and causing so much damage to our planet, spoiling the character and life of places which made them attractive in the first place. Not sure of the solution, but if this pandemic makes us more mindful going forward, that will be a positive coming from a dark time.

  5. What a beautifully written post about sustainable tourism. I hope this crisis is an awakening to us all to take good care of Mother Earth and be a responsible tourist. I’m big proponent to the Leave no Trace Principles and supporting local tourism.

    I’m hoping though that after this crisis, companies will start looking at working from home option.

  6. Thanks for such a great post, Anna and Anthony! Sustainability is about reducing the carbon footprint for the planet as a whole, indeed – but it’s also about the various different types of impact that tourism brings to a destination, some of them being good types of impact for the local communities visited. For instance, seeing how tourism can bring beneficial income to the places one visits, a great recommendation in your blog post is to plan and go discover lesser-known, off-the-beaten path destinations that are amazing (and safe, indeed!) to experience too. Thus you not only avoid contributing to the damaging overcrowding of certain destinations, but you mindfully make a choice that your trip’s economic benefits are not restricted to a few, larger tourism poles. If you purposely think of the well-being of the communities you can visit and you spread out the traveller’s love, the stories you will be able to tell when you get back home will be way more meaningful and inspiring!

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