2020 is the age of the socially conscious traveler – increased awareness around responsible travel has seen us become more conscious of our environmental and social footprint, and many travelers now acknowledge the importance of traveling with awareness and thought.
And that’s exactly what it means to be a socially conscious traveler – to make ethical decisions where you’re mindful of the impact you have on both the environment and the local community you are visiting abroad.
Ultimately, don’t destroy what you came to enjoy.
The basics of responsible travel apply where-ever you travel – simple things like not littering, leaving places the way you found them, and respecting nature and wildlife. However each destination may have additional specifics to consider.
This post is for those traveling to Europe!
Socially Conscious Travel in Europe
Conscious Travel Transportation
Reducing carbon emissions is one of the big issues surrounding responsible travel – ultimately, you’re not going to be able to avoid transportation, but you can however do your best to reduce your environmental impact.
Transport has a significant impact on the environment because of its major energy consumption. Transportation generates air pollution, and this pollution is one of the main contributors to global warming caused by the emission of carbon dioxide.
The conscious traveler should be aware of their carbon footprint and understand which transportations may be more eco-friendly, and less toxic. When it comes to the average carbon dioxide emission per passenger mile, two of the most harmful modes of transportations are ferries / cruise ships and air travel.
If you want to lower your carbon footprint during your travels, you might want to consider alternative modes of transportation such as the train, bus, cycling, or even walking.
Emissions from different transport modes:
Per passenger, per km traveled:
✈️ Domestic flight = 254g
? Long haul flight = 195g
? Car (1 person) = 171g
? Bus = 104g
? Domestic train = 41g
? Commercial bus = 27g
? Eurostar = 6g
How To Make Up For Your Plane Travels
Sometimes your destination is so far away that it may be unavoidable to use a plane during your journey. In these cases, carbon offsetting can be a great way to remedy your carbon footprint.
This form of trade allows you to buy an “offset” (funding a project which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions) when you purchase a plane ticket, and all major airlines now offer this option.
While you may need to catch a flight to get to Europe, for getting around, Europe has an extensive network of trains and buses that can connect you to all the major cities in the continent.
When breaking it down, Europe by train is actually much cheaper, easier, flexible, time saving and comfortable than other options. But traveling by train and bus will also leave a smaller carbon footprint compared to planes.
To see if there are alternative modes of transport to air travel, use the Omio app and website. Omio is the ultimate app for searching and booking trains and buses in Europe, and it allows you to compare your transportation options, directly book the tickets, and receive them straight to your phone.
Walk and Cycle Where Possible
There are plenty of beautiful destinations in Europe where it is customary to travel by foot or by bike around the city, avoiding cars as much as possible and using public transport only when necessary.
Most European centers are pedestrian friendly, and when you make it to a city like Amsterdam, you’ll find that bikes are actually the preferred method of transport used locally.
Whether the city is just small enough to walk from one attraction to the other, like as Florence, Bruges, and Delft, or has an eclectic mix of neighborhoods in-between the main sights, like Amsterdam, Paris, Rome, or Barcelona, walking is a great way to explore.
Choose a Responsible Travel Tour & Hotel
It’s important for any responsible traveler to make sure your money is going towards tour operators and hotels who stand for the same values. So make sure you research companies that are legitimate and practice corporate responsibility before you book.
You can find out how reliable a hotel or tour company may be by asking locals, looking at online reviews, or jumping onto their official website. If you’re unsure about a hotel or tour, check their website to see what their stance is on sustainability.
Most company websites will have pages dedicated to sustainable travel, and will detail the steps they take to make sure their tours or hotels don’t have a negative effect on the environment, and how they support the local community.
Double-check that the hotel and the travel operator do not in any way disregard the local customs, disrupt the community, or harm the environment; you could simply do this by inquiring whether there is anything they may do to promote ecotourism and socially responsible travel.
Try to prioritize small locally-owned accommodation during your trip, and using local tour guides, so that your money is directly going towards supporting the local community.
Respect Nature, Historical Sites & Monuments
When you’re visiting the countless attractions around Europe, you’re likely going to be visiting many heritage listed monuments.
Don’t engrave your name in the Colosseum, or destroy or deface a structure that has been standing for thousands of years. And it’s equally as important to respect local customs, and wear the appropriate attire when visiting sacred sites.
When you’re exploring the vast landscape that stretches across Europe, follow the simple rule of leaving the place as you found it. Bring a reusable water bottle, avoid littering, and use the established campsites and trails.
Once again, specific countries will have specific considerations, for instance, not making Cairns in Iceland. These are carefully arranged piles of stones, and while ancient cairns are a natural part of the cultural landscape in many National Parks, it has become an increasing problem that tourists are deciding to stack rocks to build their own.
“Tourist cairns” destroy the natural environment. Many of the ancient cairns are Viking relics and historically significant, spread out across the landscape as a way of marking trails. The addition of fake cairns throughout the country may as such misdirect hikers.
If you are not fully aware of the local customs and rules, it might be best to check online ahead of time or ask a local for any tips and advice.
Support Local Business (Eat, Shop & Stay!)
An essential part of conscious travel is supporting the local community of the destination you are visiting. Choosing to buy locally makes a major impact on the local economy, and means your money is going directly into the community.
Ever tried sour espresso in Berlin? What about a homemade baklava in Istanbul or the traditional Spanish paella?
When you choose to eat locally, you’re not only getting a more authentic experience, you’re also making sure that the product has traveled a shorter distance, which helps reduce greenhouse gas emission, and encourages sustainable agriculture.
When you shop locally, you are directly supporting local artisans, and their products may also have a whole story behind them, which makes them unique to the destination, and a lot special than returning home with another tacky souvenir.
What are your tips for being a socially responsible traveler in Europe?