Sustainable Travel with a Mindful Consumption Mindset
What does this mean? And why should it matter as a traveller?
Being a traveller, exploring our globe is a wonderful feeling, experiencing new sights, meeting new people, eating new cuisines, engaging in new activities, the benefits and reasons for exploring our globe are endless!
The reason to travel is different for every individual, yet we each have a collective responsibility to travel in a sustainable manner, which provides positive outcomes for everyone and everything during our travels.
First, let’s understand what sustainable travel is.
What is Sustainable Travel?
“Sustainable travel” is a term which has been used and around for decades, yet has gained momentum over recent years due to increase focus on the need to protect our planet, plus the massive increase of people now travelling across our globe is impacting our planet, and the frequency for which we travel.
Sustainable travel derives from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) sustainable tourism term of “Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities”. With tourism referring to “the activity of visitors, and a visitor is a particular type of traveller and consequently tourism is a subset of travel” (UNWTO).
Ultimately as a traveller, it means to provide current and future positive impact to the natural environment, support local communities and cultures, whilst ensuring economic benefits are sustained within local communities. Sustainable travel encompasses three pillars when travelling:
- People – social connections, communities, cultures
- Planet – environment, animals, nature
- Profit – economy
From an individual’s point of view, it’s about making positive decisions when you travel, to ensure local people and the natural environment are both benefited, whilst providing positive funds stay within local communities.
When traveling, it’s about firstly being aware of all three pillars, and how they can interact and link with each other. Then it’s having the behaviours and taking actions, which provide positive impacts towards those pillars, for both the current state and also future state into account.
Who’s Responsible for Sustainable Travel?
Not one person, community, organisation, or country is in charge of ensuring sustainable travel. We each individually need to contribute to our longevity of Earth.
We as travellers need to positively contribute to our globe, by taking small actions every time we travel, whilst possibly changing our habits and mindset going forward.
Whilst there are various organisations with a mission and purpose to provide guidelines for destinations and properties to adhere to sustainable practices, these are independent and not mandated across the globe.
There are also certifying bodies and guiding principles which allow destinations, properties, and providers, to meet certain sustainable practices and standards. These principles are non-mandatory for destinations, properties and providers to adhere to, yet they are beneficial as they inform stakeholders, including travellers, that they provide and adhere to sustainable practices.
What is Mindful Consumption?
Mindful is “careful not to forget about something, giving attention to” (Cambridge Dictionary). Consumption is “act of consuming a resource, or the act of buying and using things” (Cambridge Dictionary). So mindful consumption is the practice of being aware and careful of consumption choices.
Whilst the term mindful and mindful consumption are not new terms, they have increased in recent years. More people these days have heard of the term mindful yet they don’t necessarily associate it with consumption.
Making conscious decisions with a mindful consumption mindset, is taking all stakeholders into account, being people, nature and animals. Thinking in advance how they are each impacted either positively or negatively, then making changes if needed to ensure positive outcomes.
How we consume “things” include items such as deciding which mode of transport to take, where to eat or buy a meal from, how much water we use, what activities we participate in, to name a few. All decisions lead onto actions that we may not initially be aware of without thinking too much, until we consider other aspects besides ourselves or how much something costs us.
Why Care about Mindful Comsumption
As we travel, our consumption choices are heightened and we don’t often think too much of those particular choices when exploring new destinations, although each choice contributes to a range of other areas when travelling, whether it be how we Conserve and Protect our Natural Environment, Respect Cultures & Communities, Increase Animal Awareness and Eliminate Waste.
Taking the mindful consumption view goes past the initial possible impact of your bank balance, to what is the long term impact of my purchase. Is there a more ethical purchase I could make?
You may think who cares if I choose to take a train or plane. Opting to board a plane versus a train for a short distance commute, may very well be better for your bank balance, although what impact to the environment does the flight have over taking a train? The truth is tourism is a large contributor to high greenhouse gas emissions caused by the aviation industry. In some cases train travel can also support local communities more than air travel, with locals selling food on board the train, instead of globally produced food for air travel. Whilst the airline ticket is cheaper, having a mindful consumption mindset is being aware of the negatives to air travel over train travel, then making a change to the better option for all stakeholders, not purely your bank balance.
Say for meals you regularly opt for McDonalds instead of a locally owned cafe, in the long run the locally owned cafe may not be able to sustain a profit, hence need to close down, whereas the McDonalds will likely remain open due to global corporation ownership. The end result of your initial choice, if done on scale and by all tourists, could mean large offshore companies are gaining in profits, whereas local communities and people find it hard to sustain a living as they’re reliant on set wages from paying jobs that they may not want.
What would you prefer to see in cities or towns, well known fast food outlets side by side, or unique locally owned and operated cafes and restaurants, that offer local cuisines and culture?
Mindful consumption is asking yourself who is benefiting or negatively impacted by your purchase or action? Also ask yourself who is receiving the money at the end of the day?
It’s about taking longer to consider your options and making a more careful decision before making a snap decision, or acting out of habit like you’ve always done.
How Can We Be More Conscious Travellers?
Most people feel they alone cannot make an impact towards sustainable travel, which is not necessarily true. If everyone makes small behaviour changes and makes appropriate sustainable choices, it will collectively make a positive impact to the planet and communities as a whole.
There has been an ongoing focus on mindful consumption, and it is no different when we travel. We should make conscious and positive decisions that take others into consideration, not purely ourselves when travelling. The first step of mindful consumption is to gather options, then take time to decide. Possibly this means more planning or research prior to your trip, rather than when you’re away.
Once you open your mind to who benefits (or who is impacted) after your purchase, the journey begins to sustainable travel, for your life now and your future generations who want to travel just like you.
Being more conscious of your trips, how long you travel for, the modes of transportation you take, how often you travel and overall how you can travel with more awareness to ensure a sustainable and healthy planet.
Questions to ask yourself:
- Do your holiday plans positively or negatively impact other people/communities, natural environment and animals?
- Are you able, and more importantly willing, to adjust your plans slightly on how or where you travel to benefit other people/communities, natural environment and animals?
- How could you improve the people/communities, natural environment and animals when you’re exploring a destination?
It may require changes in your living standards when travelling, do you opt for a well known accommodation property chain, or a locally owned hostel or hotel. Your accommodation funds can benefit large corporate property chain, or a local family business who’ve built accommodation in a unique location or local style. Whilst staying at multi storey hotel chain may suit a particular standard, staying at some quirky properties provide great stories to tell, plus usually have other unique qualities about them.
A great start for accommodation property options, is to stay 25% at locally owned properties for your next trip, then increase to 40% on your next trip, and so on.
It could mean different meal options, say walking to the second block of streets off the main busy touristy strip. Then find a restaurant that is busy with locals instead of tourists, mingling and meeting locals, trying authentic meals and drinks. Along with meal venue options, comes mindful ordering. Being aware of how much food you actually require to fill your hunger, instead of ordering a massive meal then throwing half a plate of food waste away as you’re too full. Try ordering smaller meals of a variety of dishes than larger plates, and opt for sharing dishes with travel companions where possible to reduce food waste.
During your planning and research stage, consider taking the time to read the CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) of organisations, accommodation and tour operators, to read their ethical position, which is normally found on their website under ‘About Us’ section or in the website footer.
Changing a habit isn’t easy, yet is achievable with consistent focus and determination. It’s our time to protect our globe and our communities, so future generations have places to explore and visit.
Think of the future traveller, just like you…. they will thank you.