How can we embrace sustainable practices while traveling?

19th August 2022

Traveling the world has always been a dream for most people and today, with flexible jobs, remote work, and an abundance of travel opportunities, many people can do it.

Also, with technology and the ability to share travel inspiration, many small and previously not very popular places have gotten their fair share of tourism.

And even though this has impacted positively on the economy of some countries and regions, it also harmed the environment and the preservation of the cultural heritage of these places.

People started traveling just so they can showcase beautiful photos on their social media, or just to spend a week or two in “a paradise” without actually being interested in the place beyond that.

But, all these “paradises’ ‘ are also homes to local  people, their cultures, histories, etc.

That’s why it is time to speak about sustainable travel as a way of preserving the natural and cultural heritage of the places we visit. Instead of only using the resources of these places, let’s be kind and try to give back.

Sunrise from Roque de Jama

What is sustainable travel?

Sustainable travel is a form of tourism that focuses on maintaining the natural and cultural heritage and goods of touristic sites. This means that while travelling, our decisions as travellers or tourists don’t harm the environment

It is not only about not harming or not negatively impacting the places, but also about supporting them, helping, and working for their benefit.  

Even though this sounds complicated, it is not, and every individual can contribute to it with the actions we will explain later in this article.

To better understand what this means and visualise how you can contribute, let’s first see the main backbones of sustainable travel.

Clean-up in the mountain

What are the aspects of sustainable travel?

Sustainable travel is built on some principles and knowing them can help you understand what this form of tourism is truly about.

It might also help realise that being sustainable and conscious while travelling is not hard and requires minimum effort to make a big difference.

So, imagine what we can do with just a bit more effort or even giving our maximum to support this?

Here are the aspects that you should think about when you think of sustainable tourism:

1. Local community impact

Whether we want it or not, as tourists, we have an impact on the local community. There is no way of choosing to have an impact or not. What we can choose, though, is whether the impact we have will be positive or negative.

As previously mentioned, unfortunately, most tourists that come in a form of classical tourism leave a negative impact. The reason for this mainly comes from the fact that tourists mostly come with some sort of expectations that might not match the real thing at all.

But, to maintain the flow of tourism and earn, touristic places, especially the small ones, start to accommodate expectations of foreigners, putting the real culture in the shadows.

For example, most tourists that come to the Canary Islands are from the UK and Germany, especially in Tenerife. So, most restaurants in the touristics areas  offer international food instead of local, just to accommodate the needs of tourists.

Organic local vegetables from the farmers market

Another example are berets as a symbol of Paris and France. Even though berets originate from France, it’s the Hollywood movies that popularized them and made them a french symbol.

So, today, tourists will go to France and look for a place to buy a beret to feel authentic, but the truth is that the real authentic heritage will be in the shadow of this symbol that became a symbol only because of the tourists’ expectations.

At the end, where there is demand, there will be supply. But, sadly, this is how cultural integrity and heritage slowly get destroyed by tourism.  

So, to choose to have a positive local impact means not falling into these tourist traps and stopping the promotion of fake culture and outside influence.

2. Environmental consciousness

Another important aspect of being a sustainable and conscious traveler is to realize what impact you have on the natural environment of the site you’re visiting. This means being respectful towards natural resources, the wildlife, but also towards the means and ways people native to the site harvest, use, and organize these resources.

Of course, leaving garbage on the streets, woods, etc., is something that you should never do anywhere. And that’s the first step.

The second is to understand how not to harm or exploit natural resources native to the land.

For example, taking sand from the beaches and bringing it home as a souvenir can sometimes be harmful. Also, collecting seashells or other sea creatures without permission or knowing what you’re collecting.

Picking beautiful flowers or fruits on your walk without knowing if they’re endangered or food to an endangered species is also often a small thing with very harmful consequences.

Cacti at the coliving in Tenerife

Some natural sites have been negatively impacted by tourists who brought invasive species from the outside that populated the areas and disturbed the natural ecosystem.

But even if not doing anything as big as this, being environmentally conscious about the place you’re visiting is also about respecting the established ways of life there.

Being respectful means not overusing the resources, getting to know what the place is abundant in, and what it is lacking, and trying to align your habits with this.

If you go to Sweden, maybe eating tropical fruits every day is not the best thing to do as the fruits don’t grow there and you’re contributing to unnecessary imports that can be harmful to the planet.

3. Ecological footprint

The ecological footprint is the main pillar of sustainable living, and so it is also an important aspect of sustainable tourism.

An ecological footprint is a term that measures an individual’s impact on the environment by analyzing how many resources we use, how much garbage we produce, and during how much time, compared to the time it takes nature to produce those resources and break down  the garbage.

Some of the examples of reducing one’s ecological footprint are being conscious about water and energy consumption, recycling, reducing the use of plastic, reducing intake of meat and animal products, trying to eat organically and avoid mass production, to find eco means of transportation (cycling, going by foot, public transportation, car-sharing, slow traveling, etc.), try to avoid fast fashion, etc.

In terms of tourism, the actions we can take to reduce our ecological footprint mostly apply to being conscious about the means of transportation, eating locally, supporting local shops and businesses, thinking about energy and water consumption even when you’re not paying the bills, shopping responsibility etc.  

Visit to our neighbour's farm

How to make your next trip more sustainable?

As we mentioned, it is not hard to be a sustainable traveler or, at least contribute with some of our actions.

Not only will this help the places maintain their culture and natural beauty, but it will also make your experience much more valuable and authentic.

Here are a few easy things that you can do on your next trip to support sustainable tourism:

1. Eat and buy locally grown food

By eating locally grown food, you’re supporting local agriculture and overall food production.

This is not only helping the planet but is providing jobs to the locals instead of financing supermarket chains and unnecessary import of foreign products.

To buy local food, you can ask around to see when the next farmer’s market is. On farmer’s markets, you can also purchase other local products like cosmetics, souvenirs, clothes, etc.

This can also be a great opportunity to learn about the culture as you’ll meet locals and talk to them.

Farmer's market in Valle San Lorenzo

2. Learn about the local culture before you come

Today, you can practically find any information in less than a minute. So, why not try googling a bit more about the local culture of a place you’re visiting?

This doesn’t have to be a whole history lesson on the place. But maybe search for some local celebrations, a bit about their dialect or a special language they speak, maybe look for a picture of their traditional clothing, and  listen to a few local songs.

It really can’t hurt. And what it can do is make you understand the culture better, connect easier with the locals, and maybe even get some insights into some local happenings like music festivals or a town celebration while you’re there.

Romería Valle San Lorenzo

3. Do research before going on wildlife and sealife tours

Even though sealife and wildlife tours are something that people tend not to miss when having the opportunity, you should think twice about the impact that you’re leaving before booking.

Researching on websites that care for ecology and wildlife and asking around to see if these tours are truly responsible is the only right way to go.

Tourist agencies often exploit animals so a tour that you think is adorable and rewarding, can be super invasive to the animals’ habitat. Mostly, cities will not allow these malpractices to happen, but for places that live off tourism, this might not be a priority.

So, please, before going swimming with dolphins, or going on a safari trip, do your best to research if it is responsible.

Whale watching

4. Connect with local NGOs

Connecting with local NGOs, such as Rotary Tenerife Sur, and asking for volunteering opportunities while you’re on your stay can be very rewarding for you and the place.

There are plenty of organizations open for tourists to come in and help during their stay. This can be volunteering in nature, cleaning up a beach, volunteering in a community kitchen, working with kids, etc.

Once you try this way of traveling, you will realize how rewarding it is.

You don’t have to volunteer for more than one day, so you can still enjoy your vacation the rest of the days, knowing that you did something valuable to give back.

Clean-up with Rotary and Rotaract Associations

How is Cactus Coliving helping you be a sustainable traveller?

Cactus coliving is one of those places that refuse to support irresponsible  tourism and fight to promote sustainable traveling.

Located in Tenerife, Cactus is aware of the negative impact that regular tourism has on its island.

Tenerife receives many tourists throughout the year, but 90% go back home not knowing anything about the Canarian culture, without trying anything of the real Canarian food and leaving behind small business owners from the island that try to compete with foreign chains struggling.

So, how does Cactus help the island, and why staying at Cactus can help you be more sustainable while traveling?

1. Buying local produce and taking you to farmer’s market

Cactus offers free daily breakfasts to its colivers that consist of fresh, locally produced fruits and veggies, eggs, nuts, etc.

By promoting local foods, Cactus wants to encourage its colivers to buy less in the supermarkets, and more from the local producers. To further support this, Cactus organizes weekly outings to the town’s farmer’s market and introduces you to local products, artisanal food, clothes, etc.

Breakfast with local products, available daily at Cactus Tenerife

2. Taking you to beach or mountain cleanups

If you don’t know where to start when it comes to contacting NGOs for volunteering opportunities, no worries. Cactus coliving takes its colivers for a monthly beach or mountain cleanups. They do this in collaboration with other green organizations that help the island and you can be a part of it!

What could  be better than helping the island while enjoying nice weather, great company, and the island’s nature?

Coast Clean-up with colivers

3. Teaching you about the local culture and history

Maria (the founder of Cactus Coliving) is a true local. She grew up on the island and can’t wait to share with you everything she knows about it. She will give you some tips for getting around, going to restaurants, and trying the food, but also, she’ll organize activities in Cactus that help you learn about the culture and Tenerife.

For example, she organizes barraquito workshops that teach you how to make a traditional Canarian coffee drink, as well as workshops to learn a traditional Canarian sauce, talks about the Canarian customs, and takes you to Canarian festivals and celebrations when they’re in town.

When taking colivers on hikes in the area, and Cactus organizes a lot of these, Maria likes to share her knowledge on the geography and history of the place, like to give fun facts about the formation of the Canary Islands and Tenerife or talk a bit about species of cactuses that grow there, etc.. This way people can link the stories to nature and the views, and thus feel more connected to the area.

Colivers enjoying a Barraquito, a Canarian way of making coffee

4. Educating you about sustainable travelling

With activities offered, recycling rules in the house, connections with NGOs, and Maria’s example, Cactus inspires people to dive into the world of sustainable living.

For example, Cactus has a car for colivers to use so it encourages people not to rent a car individually, but to share it among themselves.

Another example is using an industrial washing machine that uses twice as less water and energy for twice as big loads.

Lastly, being a coliving, it also supports slow travel through long-term stay options and connecting with like-minded people which makes sharing this lifestyle much easier.

So, if you want to start traveling more sustainably, but don’t know where to start, finding a place  like Cactus that will help you connect the dots might be a good idea to learn and get experience.

María Mayordomo
Founder of Cactus Coliving. In love with nature of the Canary Islands.

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