Travel looks different in a post-pandemic world. For many, it has been suspended and those trips we looked forward to are likely postponed or cancelled. TSA estimates that the number of air passengers has decreased by 90% this time last year; not surprising when we consider that 93% of people live in countries marked by travel bans.
While these figures are unnerving when we think of the economic devastation that airlines (and other travel related industries) are facing, I know I’m not alone in thinking that at least one party has benefited: Mother Earth. Most of us have seen recent photos of the canals in Venice during the pandemic; cleaner now than they’ve appeared in years due to the dramatic reduction in tourist boats. And Venice isn’t the only city with bragging rights. Wuhan, China, has seen an 80% reduction in air pollution alone.
The Scientific journal, Nature Climate Change, published a study in 2018 promulgating that emissions from tourism add up to 8% of the global total — flying being the largest share. Sustainability scientist at LUCSUS, Kimberly Nicholas, said that “By far, the biggest action we can take is to stop flying or to fly less.” “One round-trip flight from New York to London is the equivalent of about two years of eating meat [concerning one’s carbon footprint].”
While it’s personally unthinkable to stop traveling all together, it’s clear that people’s priority towards sustainable travel is gaining momentum — especially amidst this pandemic, when so many of us are realizing that travel isn’t something we can take for granted. Sustainable advocate and CEO of the Adventure Travel Trade Association, Shannon Stowell puts it best:
“I’m fine seeing tourism numbers lower overall and for the quality of tourism to increase, where people understand the destination better and have a positive impact on it versus overcrowding and pollution and wildlife habitat loss – which are all outcomes of too much tourism.”
Before this pandemic, I, like most, regarded Kayak (my go-to booking website) and Airbnb as my trusted resources whenever I needed a getaway; whether that meant a B&B in Maine or a beach house in Ecuador, my travel whims were Airbnb’s command. Never did I actively pause to think what these trips meant for my carbon footprint or take action by doing something as simple as buying carbon offsets along with my plane ticket. Looking back on my four month backpacking trip and the 15+ flights I boarded (not to mention ensuing the taxi rides I took to and from airports, etc) it all seems indulgent and unnecessary considering that my trip lasted a little over four months. In hindsight, I could just as easily have spent more time in fewer countries and immersed myself more fully in each place, supporting local businesses and taking local transportation along the way.
So, while I don’t think that travel is going anywhere, per se, people’s approach around travel will look different. According to a 2500 person study conducted by LuggageHero, 58% of Americans plan to travel between May and September this year as long as their destinations aren’t subject to quarantine. A quarter of those surveyed said that they would avoid big cities and public transportation and would opt for domestic travel.
I for one, hope that this pandemic challenges travelers to rethink their itineraries, even if it means cancelling that trip to Cancun in lieu of a local backpacking trip along California’s coastline to visit Big Sur. Or maybe, it means canceling those trips that felt more like obligations and putting those air miles towards that next bucket list adventure instead.
I agree with author and futurist, Ross Dawson, who says, “Humans need to travel. That is a fundamental aspect of what it is to be human.” Whatever travel looks like to you, learn and immerse yourself in other cultures, traditions, and ways of seeing life, even if it’s in your own backyard.
And if you live in Denver, Colorado, or even just passing by, join me for a local dinner hosted by The Same Plate, an organization committed to creating local (and sustainable!) travel experiences by highlighting the rich cultural diversity that Denver has to offer. Sit with other like minded travelers and marvel at the smells and sights that these local dishes inspire, listening to the stories the cooks and restaurant owners share about their home countries. In that moment, I am sure, you will have travelled somewhere different even if just for a night.
Check this upcoming event and other events like it here.0