Sustainable Travel 101: The Real Deal with Abbie Synan
Have you ever considered how to travel in a sustainable and responsible way? We spoke with Abbie Synan, sustainable travel expert, who writes about her experiences traveling ethically, and shares tips about how to be a responsible tourist on her blog, Speck on the Globe. Here’s a glimpse into our conversation.
Tell us about Speck on the Globe; how did you get started?
Speck on the Globe is a collection of stories chronicling the travels of a single, solo, sustainable traveler. I started my blog in 2013 after transitioning from my office job to a remote position. My blog came on the heels of my one-way ticket I booked to Thailand. Mainly it began as a way for me to share my adventures with family and friends, and like most bloggers, it morphed from there.
What is sustainable travel and why do you choose to focus on it on your blog?
To me, sustainable travel is, to put it simply, valuing the place you are visiting. That may mean being mindful ethically and environmentally, improving communities or economies while making a positive impact. Basically, I like to think about the saying we learned back when I was in Girl Scouts, “Leave a place better than how you found it”.
I chose to focus on responsible tourism on my blog because like most travelers, we are all learning as we go and I am happy to pass along the knowledge I’ve learned on the road while I’m also being taught new things on a daily basis. Eco travel, experiential travel, sustainable tourism, responsible travel, mindful or conscious tourism are all buzz words for the type of work I do. Whatever words you choose to use, it means to me to put more thought into your vacation besides flying in, getting some R&R and then flying home.
Are there certain countries where sustainable travel is more feasible? If yes, which ones and how so?
I think there are countries that are offering sustainable travel choices more readily than others, for sure. Places that have embraced tourism in an impactful way–like Costa Rica, Palau, Slovenia, Bhutan, Norway or New Zealand–are countries that come to mind that have easy access to sustainable travel choices. These are places, in my opinion, that have acknowledged their environment or culture and have placed importance on preserving it.
That doesn’t mean you can’t make mindful choices in other countries, and I like the challenge of finding an eco-hotel or community tourism project in countries that may not have sustainability as a priority. If I can do the research and share my findings, it makes a better choice more accessible to the average tourist.
Are there countries where sustainable travel is particularly difficult? If so, which ones and how so?
I think in developing nations it is harder for a community or government to place importance on wildlife or the environment when they have other major issues to contend with. Overpopulated countries like China and India have a hard time with pollution, or war-torn regions in countries make tourism–even more specifically, responsible tourism–increasingly difficult.
What are some easy ways to engage in sustainable travel and tourism?
There are easy ways to make strides towards sustainable travel, I know anyone can do it! It takes just a little more planning or research, but it’s worth the extra effort in the long run. Vacationers sometimes have a skewed view on responsible tourism; it’s accessible for everyone, not just luxury travelers, or [they think it’s] giving up creature comforts in the name of being eco-friendly.
Adjust your Google searches to find “green” or “eco” lodges. There are companies that specialize in doing the hard work for you and will offer accommodation recommendations on their sites that meet sustainable requirements. Find tour operators that are working alongside local communities in a meaningful way; maybe they are locally run, paying their workers a fair wage and aren’t exploiting the culture or community. Find walking tours, ethical animal encounters, fair trade souvenirs and shop local as well as volunteer opportunities that are helping and not hindering. Look for writers, bloggers and photographers who are spending time on location asking the right questions and finding conscious travel choices for consumers.
Are there organizations that promote ethical travel and sustainable tourism?
There are several organizations that promote sustainable tourism. Global Sustainable Tourism Council, Center for Responsible Travel, International Ecotourism Society, Sustainable Travel International or the UN World Tourism Organization are all trusted sites [from which] to gain more insight into how to be a more responsible traveler and [learn about] sustainable tourism initiatives on a global level. There are countries or regions with more local organizations, so you can narrow down the field.
Also, you can find tour operators like GAdventures, Purposeful Nomad, Unearth the World or Lokal Travel in a similar fashion. Find a travel blogger that you can trust who will give you these connections from their explorations on their website. Make sure your tour operator isn’t exploiting the location, its people or its wildlife. Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions to be certain the company you are giving your money to is putting those funds to good use.
What advice do you have for women wanting to travel in a more sustainable way?
You can do it too, don’t be discouraged or afraid to try! Women are the primary decision-makers about their household travel choices. Women in recent years are out-traveling men, and more and more women are out solo traveling than ever before. I’m proud that we as a collective can evoke a major shift in the travel industry to be a proponent for change. Once tourism boards, tour operators, organizations and locations see the value in responsible tourism choices, then they will adapt to what we as women are looking for and eventually demand.
I’m a big believer in thinking as a global citizen, and we as women can play a big role in thinking globally. Most women care about their neighborhood, keeping where they live clean, safe and thriving. I encourage everyone to take that mindset and expand it universally.