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Return to travel: how to plan a sustainable and thoughtful vacation

One of the top emerging travel trends we’ve seen heightened by the pandemic is the desire of many adventure seekers to travel in more sustainable and mindful ways. A recent study from booking.com has shown that 83% of global travellers think sustainable travel is vital, with 61% saying the pandemic has made them want to travel more sustainably in the future. Travellers want to take meaningful trips, making a positive economic impact on the communities they are visiting while reducing the negative impact on the planet where possible.

Perhaps you may be wondering, where do I even begin? In addition to carefully picking the right destination for your first (or second or third) post-pandemic trip, you’ll want to consider the things you do while travelling. As many economies and communities re-build, we have the opportunity to make an impact through the choices we make.

To ensure your next holiday is not only a great experience, but one you feel good about, we put together some trip-planning tips. Here’s how to travel thoughtfully and lower your environmental impact on the regions you’re visiting, plus a few destination ideas.

woman using her laptop in her kitchen at home 

How to plan thoughtfully

Many countries and regions whose economies depend heavily on travel have been especially impacted over the past year and a half. For various reasons, your destination of choice may have changed from when you initially began researching before COVID-19, but no matter where you go, here are a few things to factor into your planning:

  • Consider staying at independent or smaller hotels.
  • Research and respect local etiquette.
  • Book local activities and excursions to support small businesses.
  • Read up on the local history of the land and people in the places you plan to visit to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for your destination and ensure you're acting respectfully during your travels.

And remember to maintain this mindset once you’ve arrived at your destination, for example, shop at local stores and restaurants, and try to avoid big chains/franchises. You may have to go a bit out of your way to make these things happen, but each of these items will make your trip more meaningful. Your visit will also mean more to the locals, so you can have a more genuine and authentic connection with the community.

exploring lush jungle on a lake 

Planning with sustainability in mind

In addition to the pandemic, the effects of climate change are also more apparent than ever before. As we start to venture beyond the confines of our towns, province and country, we should be considerate of the impact of our trip. To help you plan a sustainable trip, here are a few things to try:

  • Research the vendors and tour providers you’re interested in, and book with those who have a clear respect and focus on preserving the environment. There are eco-friendly certifications that accommodations and tour operators can have to showcase that they are sustainably built, ensuring your activities aren’t negatively impacting the communities or ecosystems that you visit.
  • Consider using a sustainable travel agent like lokal who can help you organize trips and activities that take into account environmental and social impact.
  • Reduce the carbon footprint of your trip with a service like Tree Canada, which plants trees to cancel out your emissions.
  • Try to visit less-popular destinations to avoid degrading the land or further polluting areas that deal with significant waste issues.
  • Consider using public transit, cycling or bike sharing, or even simply walking as forms of transportation at your destination.
  • Engage in slower tourism – use trains to travel overland rather than flying and see the sights between your destinations.

Another approach to consider is the circular travel economy. By going out of your way to buy locally produced goods, joining tours with local operators and booking locally owned accommodations, you’re contributing directly to the region’s economy.

This helps the area grow their businesses, keeps money in their community, lessens their dependence on outside investment while maintaining their cultural traditions. You can make an impact in helping a city, region or even country rebound from the pandemic.

Sustainable travel destinations

Here are a few destination ideas to help inspire your travel planning. As a reminder, it’s a good idea to always check on current travel advice and advisories for your destination of choice prior to booking:

rio celeste falls 

Destination 1: Costa Rica

Why visit: Costa Rica is the world’s pioneer in sustainable travel.
Go to see: The Osa Peninsula on Costa Rica’s southern Pacific coast.
Did you know: The wild Osa Peninsula has an incredible 2.5% of the Earth’s biodiversity in just 0.001% of its surface area. About 80% of the peninsula is protected, much of it in Corcovado National Park, where you can go on guided trail excursions with local groups like Caminos de Osa and Dos Brazos de Rio Tigre. From jungle lodges around Drake Bay, you can enjoy rainforest hikes, mangrove swamp tours, surfing at Cabo Matapalo, whale watching, snorkelling or diving at Isla del Caño.

helsinki aerial finland 

Destination 2: Helsinki, Finland

Why visit: Helsinki vows to be carbon neutral by 2035 and invites visitors to take the sustainability pledge.
Go to see: Tour the entire city on a rented bike, as Helsinki’s bike rental system is the most used by any city in Europe. Helsinki is a vibrant, seaside city with one of the world’s best transportation systems, plus it’s easy to walk and bike everywhere. For a complete list of how to travel sustainability in Helsinki and Finland, go to visitfinland.com/sustainable-finland/ and check their list of destinations and companies that have been awarded the Sustainable Travel Finland label.
Did you know: If you’re heading there this fall, winter, or spring, be sure to layer up with the Finnish designer Pure Waste, whose clothing is made from 100% recycled material and gives you free delivery for orders over 100 Euros within Finland, while the Finnish designer LUMI produces eco-friendly bags and accessories.

walking on a beach 

Destination 3: Gabon, Africa

Why visit: Africa’s ‘last Eden’ is moving to a green economy thanks to a UN-backed sustainable development strategy.
Go to see: Loango, blessed with beaches and set on a gorgeous river, is a destination for wildlife lovers. There you’ll get to see western lowland gorillas in the forest, an exclusive, sustainable wildlife experience that’s hard to beat. Gabon’s dense inland forests cover 80% of its landmass, and elephants and hippopotamuses roam free in 13 national parks that take up 11% of Gabon’s total land.
Did you know: In the north of the country, near Libreville on the coast, Pongara is one of five national parks that protect critical sea turtle habitats. You’ll see critically endangered leatherback turtles and migrating dolphins and whales. To help you get around, there's a global investment in the country's transportation networks. The United Nations is introducing a sustainable development strategy that will expand Gabon's eco-tourism — all to make sure that the country's wildest places stay that way.

For more great eco-friendly destinations, you can check out this list from Condé Nast or this one from National Geographic.

senior couple having a video call with their doctor 

Travel safely

Wherever you travel to, and whatever you plan to do while you’re there, it’s also a good idea to consider your travel insurance coverage. BCAA Travel Insurance offers comprehensive protection so you can enjoy your trip to the fullest.

With BCAA you get FREE COVID-19 medical coverage and virtual care included when you buy a BCAA Travel Emergency Medical Insurance policy so you can get the medical care you need wherever you are in the world. Plus, you get the freedom to choose your medical provider and, wherever possible, your medical expenses will be paid directly so you won’t be out of pocket. Members save an additional 10% and kids are covered for free. Learn more at bcaa.com/travel.