As COVID cases decline in some areas and everyone gets a little more stir-crazy, we’re all starting to think a bit more about when we can travel again in the future—and what it will look like when we do. Now that the landscape of travel has completely changed (at least for now), it’s a great time to reconsider how we’ll travel in the future and how we can adjust our travel habits to be more sustainable and responsible travelers in the long-term.
Here’s a few ways you can be a more sustainable traveler in the future:
1. Respect the locals (and local culture)
If you want to be a more sustainable traveler, this is the number one place to start. If we as travelers are not being respectful and caring toward the people and places that are hosting us, travel won’t be sustainable for the future. Remember that when you’re traveling, you are a guest in someone else’s home, sometimes literally! Be respectful, take the time before you go to learn a bit about the culture, and follow local rules to help leave things better than you found them. Book local tours and experiences when possible and shop and eat at local stores and restaurants.
Also, don’t try to skirt local rules and guidelines around tourist attractions. For example, if signs advise you to stay on the path or avoid swimming in a certain area—follow the rules, no matter how cool the Instagram pic would look. Breaking these rules often leads to certain landmarks or national sites becoming damaged, closed down or even disappearing due to too much wear and tear.
2. Be mindful of who needs you—and who doesn’t.
Overtourism is a real problem in many areas of the world, causing issues like the destruction of natural ecosystems and local culture, increased pollution, and other negative environmental and social problems. On the other hand, some cities or countries rely strongly on tourism for income. If there’s a place that’s safe for you to travel post-Covid that has been hard-hit for a lack of tourists, consider bumping it to the top of your bucket list.
Additionally, for areas that have been heavily touristed in the past (looking at you, Venice, Dubrovnik, Maya Bay…), consider giving those areas some space to revitalize their cities and local culture so they can continue to be amazing places to live and visit for years to come. If you want to help avoid contributing to overtourism, check out some of our favorite off-the-beaten-path places to visit.
3. Travel during off-season.
Whether you’re traveling to a really popular destination (Italy, anyone?) or not, traveling during off-season is a great way to support the destination and local culture in a responsible way. And it’s a major win for you as a traveler too! Most destinations—especially very popular ones—experience high tourist seasons in mid to late summer. Streets and sightseeing spots are overcrowded, lines are long, restaurants, hotels, flights and taxis are all more expensive than usual—the list goes on.
Traveling during shoulder season (just before or after peak, usually May and September) or even during the fall or winter months can not only save you a ton of money, but will provide you with a less crowded experience and help support the local economy and ways of life. In the midst of Covid, where we’re all keeping our distance, traveling when it’s not going to be crowded is a massive plus!
4. Consider a staycation.
If there’s one thing this season has taught us, it’s the importance of local communities. A staycation is a great way to support your local (or neighboring) communities and have a weekend trip without dealing with some of the risks of more distance travel. There’s probably things right in your own city—or within a few hours drive—that you’ve always wanted to do, but never made the time for. Now is the perfect time to explore all those hidden gems right where you are!
Road trips can also be a great way to venture a bit further during your staycation (and stay socially distanced, if need be!). If you need some ideas, we’ve always got lists of some of our favorite road trips in the US.
5. Choose destinations carefully to stay healthy.
Paris or Rome might rebound and quickly become filled with both locals and visitors, making it more difficult to social distance and keep everyone healthy. If you’re planning a trip to Italy, you may want to pivot to some less-touristed areas, like Puglia or Trentino. (Keep in mind that less-touristed rarely means less beautiful or exciting to travel to!)
The same can be true for anywhere—instead of heading to a big city, maybe opt for a road trip or a weekend camping trip. Go kayaking to explore Milford Sound instead of taking a cruise boat around where you’ll be around a lot of other travelers. Opt for outdoor drinks on the beach instead of at a crowded local bar.
Regardless of whether or not your destination and hometown requires it, it may be a good idea to get tested before and after traveling. Needless to say, you should stay home if you’re sick (or think you might be). Better safe than sorry!
6. If you can, support the travel industry during this season too.
It’s not just cities and destinations that will need our support to keep us all traveling again once this is over. It’s the travel industry too—think airlines, travel agencies, hotels, tour operators, and more. If you can, support your favorite travel brands now. You can buy gift cards, miles, taking advantage of “buy now, fly later” deals or support in other ways. It’ll give you something to look forward to! Plus, most airlines and hotels are offering flexible change and cancellation policies currently, so it’s a win for everyone!
7. Stay inspired.
Learn more about the slow travel movement or do some research on how to travel sustainably in the destinations you’re planning on visiting. Listen to some podcasts on sustainable travel and maybe even purchase a few eco-friendly travel essentials. Research tiny houses, cool cabins or other sustainable and local accommodations and save them for your future travels.
All of these things will help support local cities and smaller economies and gives you a much deeper local experience. That means better vacations for you and more sustainable travel for the years to come!
8. Be a green traveler.
Bringing reusable water bottles and walking for quick trips instead of driving aren’t just for regular life! These things can help make a big difference in the places you’re visiting as well. Sustainable travel starts with the small things. Take the train between two cities in Europe instead of driving on your own or flying. Shop local instead of buying mass-produced souvenirs.
If you’re visiting a beach destination, use a sunscreen that won’t damage ocean reefs and wildlife. Stay and eat from local businesses. If you’re doing any outdoor activities or hiking, be sure to always pack trash out with you. Leave places better than you found them!
Ready to start planning your next trip? Start looking at cheap flights now! (Pro tip: you can offset the carbon emissions of your flights when you fly with StudentUniverse and purchase carbon credits to fly carbon-neutral!)