In October 2020, during the travel industry’s long winter, the reservation website Booking.com released a report, drawing on a survey of more than 20,000 travelers, predicting which trends would shape post-pandemic travel. In addition to traveling more locally and—not surprisingly—with more health and safety precautions in mind, a majority of respondents said they wanted to journey more sustainably. Covid-19, the report said, “has amped people’s awareness about their impact on the environment and local communities.”
Publishers seem to have intuited this trend: recent months have brought several travel books that put environmental awareness front and center. One of those is White Lion’s Sustainable Travel by travel writer Holly Tuppen (the Guardian, Condé Nast Traveller, and others). Jessica Axe, publisher at White Lion, says that, while the pandemic has highlighted the benefits of travel, it’s also illustrated the industry’s excesses. “Some national parks and waterways, once choked and trampled by visitors, have flourished in the respite,” she says. “Locals have reclaimed their cities, and destinations have vowed to measure success by environmental and social indicators rather than visitor numbers.”
Tuppen’s book offers advice for mitigating the climate impact of travel, such as by taking longer but less frequent trips, as well as for bolstering the economic sustainability of travel destinations, such as by supporting local businesses. Further advice is found in travel writer and sustainability advocate Nina Karnikowski’s Go Lightly (Laurence King), which offers tips on protecting wildlife and prioritizing green destinations, among them carbon-negative Bhutan. In the same vein, Wanderlust magazine’s How to Travel Guilt Free (Welbeck) advises traveling off-season, bike-riding and carpooling, and eschewing ethically questionable activities (e.g., don’t ride the donkeys).
Island Press’s Overtourism, edited by Martha Honey and Kelsey Frenkiel, a cofounder and program manager respectively at the Center for Responsible Travel, provides a broader overview of travel’s sustainability challenges, gathering insights from tourism officials, scholars, city council members, and others on the dangers of excessive tourism to beach communities, historic cities, World Heritage sites, and more.
Perhaps one of the most sustainable forms of travel is one that many have resorted to over the past year and half: making a destination of your community. The Art of Being a Tourist at Home (Hardie Grant) by Jenny Herbert (2008’s The Intelligent Traveler) proposes that walking, seeking out street art, and making new friends through clubs offer the benefits of travel without its environmental costs.
Such books suggest that, for many, the resumption of travel will not mean a return to business as usual. White Lion’s Axe sums up the prevailing sentiment: “There’s never been a better time to lean into a more conscious and conscientious way of living.”