What does it mean to travel kinder?

2 minute read

If you’ve been to an airport recently, read the news or clicked onto Instagram, you’ll know that travel is back – in a big way. But as millions of us pack our bags again, we’d be well served to question how we can travel in a more sustainable way.

Because while the travel industry accounts for one in 10 jobs globally, it’s also responsible for eight percent of the world’s carbon emissions – emissions that the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report said we need to drastically curb immediately. If we want a world worth seeing in years to come, it’s clear that we need to start seeing it the right way now.

But aside from choosing ‘kinder’ eco-conscious stays, that consider their social responsibility and care about their local communities, what can we do to ensure we’re travelling more responsibly? In a way that doesn’t further degrade the planet, and perhaps even rejuvenates it?

The first step we might take is adopting a ‘less but better’ approach, travelling less often but for longer periods of time. Less flights equals less carbon emissions, an important point considering international arrivals grew from 70 million in 1960 to about 1.4 billion today, a figure expected to reach 3 billion by 2050.

Travelling closer to home is another element of this, questioning whether there’s somewhere nearby that might provide the same stimulation and expansion you’re seeking, before booking that next long-haul flight. As Proust famously said, “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

According to the UN’s World Tourism Organisation, 95 percent of money spent by tourists leaks out of the local community and into the hands of multinational corporations. One of the best ways to plug these leaks is to put money directly into the hands of locals, by prioritising small, locally-owned businesses including eateries and hotels, native guides and tour operators, and local craftspeople creating handmade goods. All of which equate to vastly more satisfying, unique travel experiences.

Nina Karnikowski in Inida

Putting nature at the centre of our journeys, seeing each trip as an opportunity to reignite our connection to the natural world, is another factor. Being surrounded by thriving natural environments helps us feel awe for our planet, a feeling that encourages us to put the interests of others and the world before our own. The perfect excuse for weaving hiking, biking, camping or sailing into our travels, or rewilding or conservation projects that repair environmental damage and bolster endangered species populations. Or, choosing travel companies and hotels that fund conservation initiatives.

Essentially, being a kinder traveller really comes down to taking responsibility for our actions in the places we visit as much as in our own homes, thinking as citizens rather than consumers. And, most importantly, thinking of the generations ahead who will inherit the world we are creating now.


Nina Karnikowski’s latest book is The Mindful Traveller: a memoir about travelling with a full heart, a light foot and a clear conscience.

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