Dark side of tourism. Is it possible to travel without destroying the planet?

Is it possible to reconcile one’s passion for travel with being ecologically conscious and willing to live a zero-waste lifestyle? Can we still visit distant places without contributing to suffering of other people and beings? Can we continue to tick some epic destinations off our travel wish list and at the same time aim to have a possibly simple lifestyle, one that does not cause too much harm to the planet and its resources? Well, these are very difficult questions I don’t really know the answer to. But one of my resolutions for this year is to at least become a little bit closer to finding it.

After reading this introduction, many of you will probably think something is seriously wrong with me. What possibly can be bad about travelling? Travelling has only positive aspects: broadening your horizons, learning, meeting new people. It’s also an opportunity to practice foreign languages, forget about the monotony of everyday life and collect beautiful memories.

All this is difficult to deny. As for many other people, for me also one of the best life experiences so far have been the ones related to travel: volunteering abroad, two year’s stay in Ireland, a three months trip to South America, visiting friends living in various European countries. However, the older I get, the more I travel and the more I read around the topic, the more I find out about the dark side of travel.

Pollution caused by transport

Mostly by aviation industry, which is one of the biggest greenhouse gases emitors. For example: duration of a flight from London to Edinburgh is approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes. The amount of CO2 released to the atmosphere during such trip is over 33 tonnes. Air travel is one of the main culprits of the global warming. Depending to the source, it causes from 2 to even 5% of global CO2 emissions.

On the internet, you can find a huge number of carbon footprint calculators. By entering your route and flight duration, you can find out how much CO2 your trip will release to the atmosphere. The results might vary depending to the calculator, cabin class, aircraft type and a few other factors. But an average flight from one European capital to another is estimated to be causing emissions of at least one hundred to a couple of hundreds kg of CO2 per passenger.

Air travel is one of the main culprits of the global warming.

Mass tourism versus nature and local people

We live in times when once remote and mysterious places have become easily accessible to crowds of tourists. One could say it’s good because more and more people have now a chance to see wonders of nature and architecture. On one hand – it’s true. On the other – the consequences of these mass visits are very easy to notice. Here are some examples:

If you would like to find out more about the above problems, I encourage you to read “Overbooked” by Elizabeth Becker. Here you can find a review that I wrote of this book. Another interesting book about abuses in tourism industry (focusing mainly on travelling to Asian countries) is Jennie Dielemans’ “Welcome to paradise”.

A souvenir stand, Cuzco, Peru

Sustainable habits while travelling

Even if in your everyday life you have perfectly mastered sustainable habits, even though you try to shop consciously and limit the amounts of waste produced – you probably have also noticed that it is much more difficult to stick to your eco-friendly routine when travelling. Hectic preparations and excitement about the upcoming adventure make it easy to forget about very basic things. Even though on a daily basis I don’t buy bottled water, tea or coffee in disposable cups or snacks in plastic packaging, I have to admit that when I travel, it sometimes happens to me to bend the rules. Hot temperatures, hunger, thirst, being for the first time in a new town and not knowing its infrastructure – all these factors often make us act against our conscience.

Same applies to meat-free diet. I normally don’t eat any meat and I have almost eliminated all products of animal origin from my diet. However, it has happened to me a few times during my travels to reach for products I would never eat when at home. When I was travelling across South America, I remember going desperately from one restaurant to another, asking for some vegetarian options. In most of cases, the answer was: “Vegetarian options? Sure, we have chicken and ham.”


The conclusion is simple: travelling is evil and if we want to save the planet, we all should lock ourselves at home and never stick our noses outside our hometowns.

This would be probably the easiest solution, but it’s not very likely to happen any time soon. First of all, we live in times when the network of interpersonal relations (be it family, or business) reaches much further than one’s home town or country. Many people have their loved ones in other countries and continents – without the possibilities offered by the aviation industry these families wouldn’t have a chance to meet. More and more people work in international companies and organizations and from time to time have to go on a business trip. Students often go abroad to take part in international exchange programmes. All of us sometimes want to simply change the surroundings and see someting different. If we like it or not – we will not make people stop travel from one day to the next. And probably we wouldn’t like it to happen.

Tourists, Peru, March 2017

Not such a long time ago, in some countries (also in Poland), travelling abroad was strictly controlled by the state. These times for the most of people are not a happy memory. Quite the opposite – they are commonly remembered as the times of fear, uncertainty, lack of freedom and living under continuous supervision.

And then – tourism also has its bright sides. For example, creating jobs or ensuring protection for a number of endangered species. Opening national parks and reserves for animals that were once unpunishedly hunted for, usually can happen thanks to development of tourism in a given region.

One should be aware that in spite of its unquestioned advantages, travelling has also some very dark side, which will be difficult to eliminate in the nearest future. So let’s not forget that even such a seemingly innocent thing as our holiday can also have a negative impact on the environment or local people.

The good news is that certainly there a few ways to minimize our negative impact. For some time now, I’ve been trying to create a list of ideas and I will be very happy to share it in my next post (this one is already a bit too long). If you also have some tips on how to travel more responsibly, I would be also very curious to find out what they are.


    1. Na pewno jest to możliwe, choć całkowite zrezygnowanie z podróży wydaje mi się dosyć trudne. Na pewno nigdy nie korzystam z usług hoteli sieciowych (z wyjątkiem podróży służbowych, kiedy nie bardzo mam możliwość decydowania). Ostatnio szukam też pomysłów na wakacje w bardziej “alternatywnych” miejscach, do których być może uda się dotrzeć pociągiem. Mam nadzieję, że uda się coś wykombinować 🙂

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