By Michael Levin

While COVID gave the travel industry a most severe and unwelcome disruption, there was at least one beneficiary of the fact that so many fewer people were travelling and sightseeing. That beneficiary is the Planet Earth.

“You could say the planet got a chance to breathe,” says Dr, Susanne Etti, Environmental Impact Specialist for Intrepid Travel, a B Corp certified company that organizes climate-friendly tours across the planet.

Having already become carbon neutral in 2010 through verified offsetting projects, the world’s largest adventure travel company brought Etti onto its team in 2019 to further decarbonize the business and help Intrepid advocate for a more sustainable travel industry.

Etti says that as millions of travelers around the world are getting ready to give into their pent-up desire to see new places, we need to be climate-conscious as we plan our jaunts.

She offers five suggestions for how to do just that based on the approach that her company takes to planning trips.

Number One: Stay in smaller hotels.

“Bigger hotels typically have more carbon use than smaller ones,” Etti says. “When you support local, family-run hotels and residences, you’re keeping money in the community and you are reducing the carbon footprint of any given trip.”

Number Two: Shop local.

Etti suggests that the best way to connect with the place you visit is to support the arts and crafts industry in that country. So much of what we buy on vacation are the brands that we can find in our local malls or online. Again, when you support the local artists and craftspeople, you are contributing to the place you visit and at the same time bringing home something unique for yourself, your friends, and your loved ones.

Number Three: If there’s no recycling where you’re going, bring your own reusable items and consider bringing your plastic home.

Not every country offers the same sort of recycling opportunities that we take for granted here in the West, Etti notes. While abroad, especially in developing countries, get in the habit of bringing a reusable water bottle into restaurants and filling up from their purified water source. It takes a little extra work to remember, but it’s infinitely healthier for the planet versus increasing plastic waste. She also suggests that if there is no recycling available where you are traveling, avoid using plastic when possible and consider bringing home things like plastic shampoo bottles to dispose of them responsibly once you return to your home country.

Number Four: Take the train.

Etti says that Intrepid Travel is eliminating all flights under 90 minutes from its

top 50 trips around the world by the end of next year whenever there is a feasible land or road alternative

available. The reason is that a train ride typically produces just one quarter of the carbon emissions as does flying in a jet.

“It might make your trip longer to take the train,” Etti notes, but you will see more of the place you are visiting and trains are typically much more interesting and pleasant than flying, anyway.

Number Five: Learn the language.

It’s not possible, of course, to learn an entire language when we are visiting a country for just a few days, but Etti says that it’s just plain etiquette to learn basic phrases like please and thank you.

“We will always be the visitor,” she points out, “but it’s important to show respect.”

Etti typically spends her days monitoring climate impact and climate action work for Intrepid, which advocates a “responsible rebuilding of tourism,” she points out.

Intrepid Travel has taken an interest in the environment since the founders first viewed Al Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth. While international travel came to a standstill in 2020, the company prioritized sharing its climate learnings and doubling down on its own climate efforts. For example, in 2020 Etti published an open source guide for others in tourism called A 10-Step Quick Start Guide to Decarbonize Your Travel Business and in October 2020 became the first and only tour operator in the world with verified science-based climate targets. Through its non-profit arm, The Intrepid Foundation, the company tackles projects like restorations of wetlands in Australia and increasing education options for girls in Morocco.

“Tourism produces greenhouse gases,” Etti says, “which is not healthy for the community or the environment. We need to look after our planet, especially in light of climate change.

“The question is not, should we travel? We should absolutely travel! It’s just a question of how we can trek lighter, providing more for the people who live in the places we visit but also looking after those places during the time we are visiting.”