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How to travel sustainably?

Traveling sustainably is a question that has been on my mind from various perspectives for quite some time. When we search for information on sustainable tourism, we often come across lists that, in various tones, remind us as tourists how to become good visitors.
by Monja Ferčec
July 10, 2023 · 3 min read

My father-in-law used to tell stories of how his grandfather would spit on the ground but was scolded by the younger generation, who introduced spittoons as a means of education. Over time, spitting became socially unacceptable. Similarly, the issue of throwing cigarette butts emerged, and it took a generation or two for society to find it unacceptable as well. Plastic bottles followed the same pattern. In the past, our ancestors would simply pour themselves a glass of water when they were thirsty, and friendly waiters would serve water to travelers. As students, we became travelers ourselves, and at the same time the importance of drinking water became more significant. At that time, a number of articles warning us about the negative effects of not consuming enough water each day emerged and water consumption became even more important. Conveniently, single-use plastic bottles came to our rescue, and we bought them cold or warm at every corner. Of course, we had to be careful to check the cap to ensure it hadn’t been filled with tap water by local vendors. But the world turned once again, and those plastic bottles started accumulating in places where they didn’t belong. They appeared in bushes, floated in pristine seas, and marred the views from hotel rooms. As travelers, it was relatively easy for us to turn away, mutter something about poor waste management, and dispose of the bottle in the nearest trash can or leave it in the hotel room. However, when we departed, the bottle remained at the destination, ready to frustrate the next visitor in one way or another. And so, the cycle continued. Tourism professionals, destination managers, and local activists declared war on us, teaching us that this behavior was unacceptable and that we needed to change our habits. Just as spitting on the ground had become unacceptable in the past, disposing of single-use plastic bottles is no longer considered “cool” today. The entrepreneurial sector identified a new niche, and suddenly, there wasn’t an event where you didn’t receive a useful reusable bottle as a gift. These bottles became a status symbol for those of us who are environmentally aware and conscious. We proudly carry them with us, fill them whenever we get the chance, and value fresh local tap water the most. We even have come to understand and accept that bartenders charge us for serving tap water. But does all of this make us more sustainable? Are we truly traveling as sustainable travelers? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. 


couple kayaking on lake

Sustainable practices start with sustainable offers from countries.


I can’t help but notice the repetition of patterns. We develop habits that, due to progress and convenience, replace ones that were perhaps more impractical but turned out to be more environmentally friendly in the long run. We take a long way around and end up back where we started, leaving behind a trail of poor decisions that have consequences in unexpected places. “However you turn, your back is always at the back,” my grandmother used to say. Unfortunately, sustainable solutions face the same challenge. 

What should be our course of action, then? Should we develop militant attitudes and declare war on ill-mannered tourists, resorting to scolding, condescension, and guilt-tripping as they finally board their planes? Those planes will transport them to the very destinations we invited them to. Destinations where they will be greeted by pristine nature, immersive local cultural experiences, always smiling and hospitable locals, and tourism professionals who can anticipate their desires. They will savor delicious traditional dishes infused with a touch of modernity and, above all, revel in the happiness and fulfillment of dreams they have long yearned for from their mundane office cubicles. However, I find myself grappling with a dilemma. How effective would it be to hand them mirrors upon arriving at their dream destinations and start preaching about how they should behave, what constitutes an acceptable vacation, and what doesn’t? Let’s face it: they simply aren’t interested. If sustainability values haven’t been embraced at home, the chances of them adopting them while on vacation are slim. If they desire a cooled room to retire to after a scorching day, where they can unwind on a comfortable couch and enjoy a refreshing beverage, they won’t hesitate to leave the air conditioning on all day or open a bottle of water from the minibar. And if we enable them to do so, who can blame them? After all, they are on vacation, seeking respite from the daily grind. They have had their fill of scolding, guidance, and adaptation at home; the last thing they desire is to encounter these on vacation. Vacations are synonymous with freedom, where almost anything goes. “I have indulged in this carefree mindset with the hard-earned money I possess. Leave me be. I simply yearn for happiness. It is not my responsibility to ensure the sustainability of your destination. That responsibility falls on your shoulders. I have brought you my earnings, trusting that you will utilize them wisely without burdening me with additional responsibilities.”


couple hiking in mountains

Slovenia was named the world’s first Green Country on Global Green Destinations Day 2016.


Of course, it’s never as straightforward as it seems, and as with most matters, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. It is incumbent upon all of us to first address the issues within our own spheres before pointing fingers at others. Nevertheless, I can’t help but sympathize with the tourist who feels averse to reading our guidelines on being a sustainable and responsible traveler. Why should it fall upon the tourist to exercise responsibility and make decisions such as “Please do not change my bed linen today,” while the service provider implores them, saying, “Please be responsible and conserve water as we are experiencing scarcity”? Why can’t the provider take charge on behalf of the tourist and simply state, “Because we are committed to sustainability, we change bed linen every three days while responsibly managing water resources”? Perhaps the solution lies in shifting the paradigm slightly, where unsustainable behavior becomes more challenging than sustainable practices. In doing so, we can elegantly transform obligingness into a more sustainable form, without compromising the tourist experience or burdening them with excessive education and awareness campaigns. 

Ultimately, the answer to traveling more sustainably may lie in consciously selecting destinations and providers that have undertaken their share of responsibility and established offerings that prioritize sustainability. This means that if we choose to travel unsustainably, we must make a concerted effort to do so, while sustainable travel becomes effortless, without the need for constant decision-making or heightened awareness. Yes, I am aware that the most significant obstacle to any sustainable solution lies in its implementation. However, by embracing a balanced approach and recognizing the importance of collective responsibility, we can work towards creating a more sustainable and enjoyable travel experience for everyone involved.

Author: Jana Apih

#column #jana apih #slovenia #slovenia green #sustainable tourism #sustainable travel #tourism #travel

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