Tips for Sustainable Travel to Maui and Around the World

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Sustainable tourism respects local culture.
Local communities worship in ways that might appear to be something else. This is prayerful Nepal. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts

Sustainable travel was already having a moment in the spotlight before the fires swept through west Maui. As the island reopens to visitors, the idea of tourists returning is a double-edged sword. The local people depend upon the dollars tourists bring to Maui. But they have been through an unfathomable loss — of their homes, their businesses and their loved ones — and they are hoping the tourists who return will understand and respect that.

You can read more about what Maui locals hope for as tourists return. But the fragile state of Maui is just one example of a place where tourists can support the local economy, local people and local customs. Choosing to travel sustainably is not that hard. Read on for some simple and cheerful tips, ready to be embraced by travelers of all ages visiting places around the world.

How to Travel Sustainably

Sure, I could quit flying to alleviate climate change. Or at least believe I was doing my part. But then how would I meet the women worshiping in a town square in Nepal? Or the children attending school in India? Or the healers preserving ancient traditions in Peru’s Amazon?

Could sustainable tourism allow me those experiences?

Thank goodness, the answer for world tourism is yes. Organizations digging deeply into responsible tourism are certifying trips and destinations with sustainable development goals. They’re researching the impact of hikes on natural resources. They examine shopping jaunts and culinary experiences for environmental impacts and influence on the local economy.

Tourism Activities Can Support Local Culture

Local communities mean everything in sustainable tourism.

“Who gets the money?” is a great question. Is the economic growth local?

Paying a proper price to the artisan selling handcrafted textiles – that’s sustainable tourism. When I respect the people of local communities, I support socio-cultural heritage. Confessing my old style of feeling clever just trying to get a bargain might help me change my habits.

Keys to Sustainable Tourism

“Sustainable travel” might seem a little stuffy, but the organizations and institutes passionate about people and places create friendly resources.

For instance, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council offers a straightforward guide to finding Certified Sustainable Destinations.

At the core: Never harm or overlook the essence of a place.

Just paying a little attention, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council says, can make a big difference. They share broad brushstrokes such as:

  • Sustainable management
  • Socioeconomic impacts
  • Cultural impacts
  • Environmental impacts

Sustainable tourism involves travelers, local students and ancient sites.

An added bonus to admiring ancient sites in India – meeting local school children. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts

Seeing Sustainable Tourism Up Close

Visitors are an important source of income for many communities located in biodiverse and fragile areas like Maui.

In India, my guide on a hike was a former poacher. Thanks to sustainable tourism practices, he could now support his family without poaching; tourism to the forest supports the local economy.

In Mexico’s Yucatan, near the ancient Mayan site called Coba, I met a pottery teacher. He was helping a little community that had been clear-cutting their forests to sell the wood and earn a meager living. Instead, they were becoming artisans, selling lovely works to tourists. The forests can grow again. Sustainable development can be supported.

In Nepal, I spent the afternoon with multigenerational families, each age with a painting specialty to create ancient-tradition thangkas. Mine calls me daily to stare and contemplate the many Buddhas created with the tiniest of brushes by an abundance of relatives.

Create A Positive Circle Of Impact

Over-tourism gets a lot of negative buzz – too many visitors to the famous places. Impact Tourism is getting a new buzz throughout the tourism industry.

The World Tourism Day conference in Washington, D.C. in 2022 talked about “moving from tourist-centric marketing that aims to get more heads and beds and towards community-centered storytelling that aims to capture a destination’s sense of place and benefit the community in ways requested by the community.”

focused on volunteerism and impact on local communities. CREST is the resource to watch. That’s the Center for Responsible Travel. The focus of the conference was to highlight and promote collaboration and community-focused engagement. “Tourism done well can help protect these places. Done badly, it can help destroy them” the organization wrote in a summary of the conference.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Keep an eye out for impact becoming a good thing in sustainable tourism. Giving back to host communities is one concept.

Giving Back to the Kids

I love the idea of giving back to the kids whose lands I am fortunate enough to visit. But it’s hard to figure out how.

Buy A Trip, Give A Trip is the grand idea of Elevate Destinations, a luxury eco-tour company that asks its clients to “Travel to find greater meaning in the world.”

The company designs customized trips that support local conservation initiatives that rely on tourism funds. And then Elevate Destinations puts together trips for local kids who can’t afford such a thing. My sustainable travel will help underwrite travel for children in their own country.

Sustainable tourism lets local kids experience tourist sistes in their own culture.
Buy A Trip, Give A Trip is the brainchild of Elevate Destinations. Travel purchases translate to kids experiencing their own culture. These students from About Asia Schools Program are exploring Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Despite living near the world-renown UNESCO site, this was their first time touring the archeological wonder. Photo courtesy Elevate Destinations.

Reducing Our Footprints Traveling With The Kids

Seems like a good match to me when families can make travel decisions with family-owned businesses.

That’s where Journeys International comes in. Robin Weber Pollak is chief adventure officer; her parents founded the company four decades ago. Their goal was and is to interact directly and respectfully with local people and natural environments.

Today, the Earth Preservation Fund shares the Journeys vision as their non-profit arm supporting small-scale, community-initiated travel experiences. Sustainability means everything and Executive Director (and husband) Joe Pollak shares simple tips as well as big pictures.

Struggling to limit single-use plastic? Pollak says eat ice cream in a cone. No plastic cups or spoons in his world. Easy sell for kids.

“In developing countries with questionable water sources, we take along a travel water purifier. I think our kids stay better hydrated when they use their familiar, take-to-school refillable water bottles.”

Sustainable tourism includes teaching the kids to use public transportation.
Trains, ferries, all sorts of public transportation–that’s what the Pollak family uses for sustainable travel. Joe Pollak heads the Earth Preservation Fund of his wife Robin Pollak’s Journeys International. Small-scale, community-initiated trips for them! Photo courtesy Earth Preservation Fund.

The Pollack family also chooses public transit as an eco way to travel. They pick up litter, too, and stay on trails when they hike.

“All kids can understand that different plants and animals live in different places,” says Joe Pollak. “I think developing an appreciation for different places and cultures helps them understand the potential impacts of the  choices they make at home.”

Read More: How to Do Voluntourism Right with Kids

Sustainable tourism includes helping an island in Peru be plastic free.
Elevate Destinations works with local communities in Uros Tototra in Lake Titicaca, Peru to make their island plastic-free. Photo courtesy Elevate Destinations.

Certification Means Putting Change In Place

As you plan your sustainable travel, look for hotels, destinations and tours that have been certified. Responsible travel operations receiving certification hone in on details such as:

  • Reducing negative impacts on the environment
  • Calculating carbon emissions and find ways to compensate
  • Rationally using water and energy
  • Promoting local ways of life
  • Preventing situations of damage like child labor, prostitution, sexual exploitation
  • Respecting human and labor rights
  • Protecting and respecting natural resources
Sustainable tourism includes wildlife on land and sea.
Natural resources impact responsible tourism decisions too. Photo courtesy Biosphere Expeditions

Sustainable Tourism Questions To Ask

Do you have a sustainable tourism policy?

Don’t settle for a simple yes. If it’s really true, expect details and leads to resources and websites.

Do you have a special project supporting local communities and economic benefits?

And ask directly how you could support that project — before, during and after your trip — if it interests you.

Sustainable tourism might mean hiking trails marked on boulders in the jungle.
Discover artisans everywhere. This map on a rock points the way in Peru for visitors staying in an ecolodge in the Amazon. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts

Simple But Effective Ways to Travel Sustainably

So what’s a traveling family to ask? Rainforest Alliance embraces The Global Sustainable Tourism Council’s criteria and offers this list of ideas:

  • At the hotel: Ask about environmental policies and practices. Is the hotel enthusiastic and specific about sustainable tourism development? Does the hotel support community development or conservation projects?
  • Language: Learn some local language and use it. Developing countries offer opportunities to experience dialects outside of most travelers’ language studies.
  • Dress: Learn local manners and dress appropriately. Modest dress may be important. Local culture is a fashion experience.
  • Behavior: Be respectful of the locals’ privacy. Ask permission before entering sacred places, homes, or private lands. Social responsibility involves noticing how people do things in their places.
  • Photographs: Be sensitive to when and where you take photos/video of people. Always ask first. Local culture might have very different concepts about photography.
  • Environment: Never touch or harass wildlife. Always follow designated trails. Support conservation by paying entrance fees to parks and protected sites or making a donation.
  • Wildlife or forest products: Never purchase anything derived from protected or endangered wildlife or plant species. Think about the indigenous peoples living in or near that land.
  • Pay a fair price: Don’t engage in overly aggressive bargaining for souvenirs. Consider the well-being of those selling. You can affect their quality of life.
  • Tip generously: Don’t short-change on tips for services. People working in the tourism business have had a rough few years thanks to the pandemic.
  • Buy local: Choose locally-owned lodges and hotels. Use local buses, car rental agencies, and airlines. Eat in local restaurants, shop in local markets, and attend local events. Notice the social impacts.
  • Hire local guides: Enrich your experience and support the local economy. Ask guides and tour operators if they are licensed and live nearby. Are they recommended by tour operators?

Read More: 6 Tips for Planning an African Safari with Kids

Christine Tibbetts believes family travel is shared discovery — almost like having a secret among generations who travel together. The matriarch of a big blended clan with many adventuresome traveling members, she is a classically-trained journalist. Christine handled PR and marketing accounts for four decades, specializing in tourism, the arts, education, politics and community development.  She builds travel features with depth interviews and abundant musing to uncover the soul of each place.
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One response

  1. This is a terrific post! I haven’t traveled much since the baby was born, but I lived overseas for a few months, and all of these suggestions are a wonderful way to respect the culture you are visiting! 🙂

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