Image Source: Unsplash

If you’re like the majority of travelers, your suitcase has accumulated a substantial layer of dust since March 2020. After months of quarantine, it’s understandable that you have the itch to get out and explore. But, rather than just picking up where you left off, traveling in the time of COVID-19 is an opportunity to embrace responsible and sustainable travel.

The pandemic has forced travelers to rethink everything from the destinations they visit and the transportation they utilize to how far they need to go to create fun, long-lasting memories with loved ones. If up until now you thought “sustainable travel” was nothing more than a buzzword used by travelers with Fjallraven backpacks and vegan Doc Martens, the pandemic is your chance to experiment with traveling responsibly.

With your help, the silver lining of COVID-19 could be safer and more viable travel for people and the Earth alike. Once you understand how the pandemic has changed travel, you can make a plan to adopt sustainable travel habits during quarantine that you can continue practicing long after there’s a vaccine.
How COVID-19 Has Changed Travel

It’s no secret that the travel and tourism industries are suffering. With many borders around the world still closed, record low seasons in many tourist destinations means businesses ranging from restaurants and hotels to tour operators and souvenir shops are on the verge of going under. Airlines are facing bankruptcy, and Forbes senior contributor Alex Ledsom reports that the cruise industry is anticipating an even slower recovery than after the financial crisis in 2008.

While at first glance the future of travel and tourism seems bleak, a closer look reveals that the COVID-19 pandemic offers an unexpected opportunity to reimagine the formerly booming industry. Should you be in a hurry to return to your pre-pandemic way of travel? Or, is there a better approach waiting in the wings?

The economic impact of COVID-19 has been devastating, but the effects of human-induced climate change due to pre-pandemic travel was arguably equally disastrous. In many destinations, tourism had long since abandoned any hopes of sustainability much to the detriment of local communities. Cities such as Venice and Barcelona were overwhelmed with tourists while receiving little economic benefit in return.

In short, this public health crisis has in many ways offered a respite for communities that were experiencing overtourism. Instead of inundating these destinations again post-pandemic, many travelers are recognizing the value of having adventures closer to home. Not being able to travel long distances doesn’t mean you have to stop traveling. By following sustainable travel tips, you can satisfy your wanderlust during quarantine and do your part to help create a more sustainable post-pandemic world.

Plan a Road Trip

If you were a frequent flyer pre-pandemic, then quarantine is a chance to try out more sustainable ways to travel. Although many airlines have safety measures in place, you might feel more comfortable traveling by bus or train instead. Perhaps you’d rather be in the literal driver’s seat, and if that’s the case, planning a road trip is a safe and sustainable option.

As you’re organizing your road trip itinerary, research travel restrictions. Keep in mind that mask mandates and quarantine guidelines can vary from state to state. Since rules shift often, you should be prepared with food and water in case your road trip takes you through an area where restaurants and stores are closed. Similarly, you should have sufficient hand sanitizer, masks, and medicine to last your entire trip.

On the subject of masks, if you haven’t yet, invest in several reusable and washable masks. Disposable masks may be convenient, but they are bad for the environment. In fact, some scientists estimate that masks in the oceans will soon outnumber jellyfish. Other reusable items you can consider investing in are food containers, silverware, and straws. Not only will these items help to mitigate contamination risk, but they’re staples of sustainable travel. 

Organize a Staycation

Another option for sustainable travel during quarantine is arranging a staycation. With some forethought, you and your loved ones can enjoy a fun travel-themed staycation. To make up for lost tourism revenue, many travel destinations, resorts, and eateries are selling their merchandise and food online so that anyone living anywhere in the world can experience their products in the comfort and safety of home.

For example, you can order sustainably-produced wines from Napa Valley and plan an at-home wine tasting. More into the idea of a country-specific getaway? Stock your home with food, beverages, movies, and music from your chosen destination. In addition to being pandemic-proof, choosing to enjoy a staycation means you’re minimizing your carbon footprint, which is good news for the environment.

If you decide to plan a staycation, don’t feel as if you need to stay indoors unless your city’s quarantine guidelines mandate it. Check online to see what parks and outdoor recreation areas are open near you. You can easily practice social distancing while enjoying fresh air activities such as walking, hiking, and biking which also happen to be good ways of sustainably relieving stress.

Reimagine Family Gatherings

Quarantine and other travel restrictions have drastically affected families’ abilities to gather. Especially with older relatives, in-person get-togethers have the potential to be high-risk. COVID-19 has forced many families to change their plans for events such as weddings, baby showers, and reunions.

Colder weather will make hosting outdoors to accommodate social distancing more difficult, which means families will need to rethink their holiday gatherings. Just because you can’t travel to see your loved ones in person doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy time with extended family. One creative solution is planning a virtual reunion.

Gathering via a video conferencing app such as Skype or Zoom is safe and sustainable. Consider sending out a digital invitation instead of a traditional paper one to make the event even more environmentally-friendly.

From virtual celebrations and themed staycations to responsible road trips, there are a variety of ways to scratch your travel itch during quarantine. Seeing what staying closer to home and other locally-based opportunities have to offer might encourage you to stick with your new sustainable travel habits even after COVID-19 is under control. If any good can come out of this public health crisis, maybe it’s a new approach to travel and tourism so that generations to come can continue exploring the world.