What Is Sustainable Travel?

How You Can Reduce Your Environmental Footprint While Volunteering Abroad

Volunteering abroad is a great way to give your time and effort to communities that are not your own. It provides a chance to explore what the world has to offer while putting smiles on people’s faces thousands of miles away from your home.

When you search for volunteering opportunities abroad, chances are thousands of options will appear. It’s best to find one that promotes ethical volunteering, as not all abroad experiences bring good to the community receiving aid. One major aspect of this is being sustainable while you travel.

What Is Sustainable Travel?

Perhaps you think the only way to travel sustainably is to build your own canoe out of reclaimed wood and travel across the ocean, only to be met by a horse or a bicycle to complete your journey. While that would surely be sustainable, it’s not practical for today. There are other ways to do this.

Sustainable travel or tourism considers the impacts on the economy, society and environment, both now and in the future. It’s tourism that looks at the needs of visitors, the industry, the surrounding ecosystem and the communities that host the travellers.

If you plan on volunteering abroad and care about traveling sustainably and ethically, you’ve come to the right place.

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How to Volunteer Abroad Sustainably

Why does sustainable travel matter, anyway? It reduces the negative impact humans have on the planet we live on, and it also impacts the future of travel.  Think of the travel depression so many have dealt with this year when their travel plans were cancelled due to COVID-19 — and imagine how that would feel if it were permanent.

Without sustainable travel and the effort to be eco-conscious, there might be a day where you cannot travel to another part of the world to see the untouched, beautiful aspects of the natural environment, or where travel itself becomes much less possible.

Before packing your bags and traveling across the country or around the world, there are some things you should consider for green volunteer travel. 

1. Consider Your Travel Options

Not all forms of transportation are best for limiting your travel footprint. Before hopping on a plane with a few stops, research other options. 

Trains have about an 80% lower emission rate than cars and are the most environmentally friendly travel option. Walking and bicycling are the only two other ways of transport that have an even less negative impact on the environment. 

If trains aren’t an option, limit your flights. Try to find direct routes and opt to stay at destinations longer rather than taking multiple trips throughout the year. If you can, remain for at least a month.

When you travel, pack as lightly as possible. Any added weight to vehicles increases emissions.

2. Support the Locals

Most of the money that goes into travelling goes right back to big corporations. Rather than dining at fast-food restaurants or staying at chain hotels, find local eateries and places to stay.

Part of sustainable travel is supporting the economy in an eco-friendly way. An ethical volunteer opportunity should already involve the local community, so it shouldn’t be hard to get plugged into local businesses. 

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3. Live Environmentally Responsible

While you’re at your volunteer destination, choose to live sustainably. Travel by bicycle or walk when possible. Use a refillable water bottle. Avoid single-use plastics. Just as you would be eco-conscious at home, you should also do so when you volunteer.

Another part of living responsibly while abroad is to avoid close-encounter animal facilities. They may not be treating animals ethically. Instead, choose volunteer options that put the welfare of the animals above the tourist's experience.

4. Educate People Back Home

When you return from your volunteering abroad experience, educate your friends and family back home. Tell them the realities of traveling abroad — not all volunteer options are sustainable and ethical.

Educate them about doing research and let them know you can be a resource for their sustainable and ethical volunteering questions or needs. Write reviews on the volunteer experience and on places you went while traveling.

Additionally, continue to support the local community where you volunteered. 

Choose Green Volunteer Travel

Sustainable travel is something that will help restore the planet to its natural beauty. When you volunteer abroad, take caution to keep your footprint as light as possible.

Pack light, buy locally, be mindful of the environment around you and make sure you spread the word about your sustainable, ethical volunteer experience.

Globalteer guest author Ginger
Author - Ginger Abbot

Ginger Abbot is a learning and education writer with a personal passion for study abroad and international travel. She also serves as Editor-in-Chief of Classrooms.com, where you can read more of her work.