Lessons learned from COVID-19: Embracing sustainable travel

Posted 19th Jun 2020
Lessons learned from COVID-19

More likely than not, you’re probably reading this while still in some form of lockdown. International travel has ground to a halt, non-essential businesses are closed to the public and any large gatherings are strictly prohibited.

You’re not alone if you’re getting post-apocalyptic vibes! It has been an emotional 6 weeks so far. 

While the world is a very strange place at the moment, we have all been forced to slow down and reflect. Just a few months ago, life was booming. I had multiple trips planned, soon to start a  new job and I was really making headway towards my goals. Then, everything stopped. All those future plans disappeared. I’m sure you can relate. 

COVID-19 has affected people from all over the world. It has changed our lives in more ways than one, and for those who have been personally affected by the virus, life will never be the same. Since the entire world is shifting, it’s safe to say that how, when and why we travel will too.

So, how do we navigate traveling in the era of COVID-19?

It goes without saying that you should listen to the advice of your government with regards to traveling. In the United States (where I live), all non-essential travel has been prohibited and self-quarantining has been advised. Because of this, I have had to cancel all of my trips and I have been in lockdown in my home for the last 6 weeks. Traveling has ground to a halt, but eventually we will be back on the road, doing what we love.

While this unprecedented amount of time indoors feels alien from the freedom we usually enjoy, there is so much to learn from it.  

COVID and travelling

If COVID-19 calls for anything, it’s sustainable travel. 

Sustainable travel includes environmentalism, but also invites social justice and conscious consumerism into the conversation. To put it simply, sustainable travel means being more mindful in every aspect of your life; from your travel practices, consumerism and spending habits, to where you travel and how you travel.

In response to this pandemic, traveling more mindfully through slow travel or staycations (also known as holistays) could potentially lower the impact of a transmission like this if it were to happen again. While the inevitable will always be so, adopting a conscious and slower paced lifestyle can offer heightened awareness in multiple aspects of our lives. 

When we aren’t in such a rush to hop from country to country, we are able to stop and smell all of the flowers, cherish each moment and have the time to take a detour on an unbeaten path. Not to mention, slow travel allows us to use less harmful modes of transportation and use less resources. 

COVID-19 also opens the discussion of privilege...

It is a privilege to be able to work remotely, or stay safe in the comfort of your own home. It is a privilege to have running water to wash your hands just as much as it is a privilege to have enough money to buy hygienic products, or stay afloat while being out of work. It is a privilege to live in a country where the government can financially support its citizens.

This pandemic also shows how much of a privilege traveling is, too. This virus was spread by the privileged of the world who can afford to travel and has hit those less fortunate the hardest. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but it’s our reality.

While a massive privilege, traveling is also widely beneficial for expanding our consciousness and our empathy. I don’t believe travelling should stop, as it benefits travelers and the receiving countries, but only if we adopt and embrace sustainable travel practices.

sustainable travel and COVID

Sustainable Travel: 3 top tips

1. Enjoy and Embrace Staycations

If this pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that we have all we need right in our hometowns. While international travel is absolutely amazing, there are plenty of epic travel adventures in our own backyards! 

Staycations offer a realistic (and cheap) escape away from the hussle and bussle, giving us time to spend in nature. This travel practice is not only beneficial for the environment (with no need to catch flights, your carbon emissions are dramatically reduced), but it is also a nice way to ease back into traveling once we are allowed to leave our homes (counting down the days!) 

2. Travel Slow And Sustainably

If international travel is calling your name, then by all means go for it once it’s safe to do so. However, let’s agree as travelers to put an end to country-hopping (aka jet setting to multiple countries in a short time frame). 

Instead, adopt the sustainable travel practice of slow travel. Slow travel minimizes aviation emissions (assuming you’re using domestic modes of transportation other than a plane) and allows you to truly immerse yourself in the culture of the country you’re visiting. It allows travellers to be more creative and can lead to a broader sense of perspective. For the communities visited, it promotes cross cultural exchanges and openness, helps negate negative attitudes towards tourism and promotes quality of life. 

Personally, I love spending an entire month (or more) in one country to really bask in its beauty, but if you are short on time, that doesn’t mean you can’t slow travel. Instead of cramming everything into one week, spend your holiday in one place, really getting to know the country and the people who live there. 

I am grateful that this pandemic has shown me the importance of slowing down, and I hope it has for you, too. So let’s not forget this lesson when we’re able to take off again. 

3. Spend Your Money Consciously

Someone once told me that "you vote with your dollar" and I resonated with that so much. You have more power than you think, and it starts with how you spend your money. So, be conscious of what you buy and from who/where. 

When you’re traveling, make it a commitment to only spend your money in the local economy so that it not only goes back into the community, but it also goes to the people who have worked so hard to give you a beautiful experience of their country. They need the funds to live the life they desire too and you can be a part of making that a reality with the choice of where you are spending your money

Even when you’re not traveling, it’s crucial to be conscious of where you are spending your money. Radical change starts with you. You can change the world by simply standing up for what you believe in, leading by example, and being conscious of what businesses and corporations you support. 

Sustainable travel and COVID

Closing thoughts...

While none of us know what the future will hold, it’s safe to say that we must altar our lifestyle into a more sustainable one. If anything, COVID-19 has taught us that we need to slow down, be more mindful in how we approach life and look out for one another. 

Enjoy the downtime while it lasts, count your blessings and stay safe everyone!


Written By
A frequent adventure-seeker specializing in sustainable travel.
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