10 Ways to Make Your Travels More Ecofriendly
in Sustainability / Travel
Over the past 6 years I have travelled quite a bit and indeed learnt an incredible amount from some of the amazing opportunties I have had access to through travel, but over the past couple of years or so my views around why, where and how I travel have significantly changed. Since having Roscoe just over 2 years ago we have tried to live a much more sustainable and conscious lifestyle, there was something about thinking deeply towards the next generation that made me do a thorough check of our consumption. Alongside this I opened my mind to learning more about our individual environmental impacts and assessing just how environmentally, culturally and socio-economically destructive travel can really be.
The bottom line is that more often than not no one actually benefits from travel other than one's self, particularly if little research is done into who that holiday money is really supporting. Tourism represents one of the world's largest industries, yet the ability to share our pictures and location all over the internet has led to globalization of cultures and food, mass tourism to sights that cannot environmentally handle the heavy footfall and the worldwide justification that flying by airplane is always worth the environmental destruction it contributes to for the opportunities it enables. It is important to recognise that travel is a privilege, not an achievement, and, in my opinion, it should never have been about country counting or following the 'bucket list' mentality.
Do not get me wrong, I still believe travel provides incredibly eye-opening, engaging and unforgettable experiences and I feel it it important to learn more about the world before we can change it for the better. However, after personally witnessing some of the detrimental effects of mass tourism on the planet, from plastic-covered beaches in western Bali to the shutting down of local restaurants everywhere that cannot compete with commercial giants, I do think there needs to be a revolution in how, why and where we travel.
I have jotted down ten points we are implementing in our lives to travel more environmentally friendly. Do comment below if you have any thoughts on them, or if you have any others which you think should be included in this list.
1. Fly Less
Unfortunately air travel is still one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions and I do believe there is signficant green washing within the aviation industry, if more people knew just how environmentally destructive flying is, I doubt they would fly as often. Of course from a consumer's point of view the problem is that flying is not only the quickest and easiest way of getting from A to B, but often the cheapest too. The fact is that when I calculate my carbon emissions over the last year and look at how much I have saved by living a conscious, zero waste, vegan lifestyle whilst at home, the flights I have taken outweigh that saving by quite a large amount. We're talking a saving of around 2-3 tonnes compared to a supermarket-shopping, plastic-buying, meat-eating average member of the population, yet my flights add on around 8-9 tonnes! It is always better to travel by bus or train over any given distance. Boats and ferries also usually have a much smaller footprint, although with huge cruise liners the issue becomes more complex once you consider the electricity use on board and the large amounts of waste they produce. It's also obviously always best to ditch the car and walk or cycle wherever you can. If no travel alternative is available then carbon offsetting is another option. It is not perfect and will not erase the carbon emissions released by flying but does help you take responsbility for unavoidable emissions and means your funds are going towards an environmentally friendly cause.
2. Read Before You Go
Anyone else head straight to the library with a reading list immediately after booking a trip? And I'm not talking about taking the first travel guide you find. I'm talking about looking up local authors, historians and artists, attempting to understand or at least be aware of of the current political, socio-economic and environmental issues at your destination. Learning a bit of their history and why a given country may be geographically and politically shaped the way it is. Nobody likes an ignorant tourist and it is important to remember that no one owes you anything. As tourists we impose ourselves upon another country and it is only polite to accept any interaction with gratitude. Learning more about a place and it's people encourages you to treat a place with much greater respect and leads to more meaningful connections with locals, potentially making your stay much more ethical.
3. Take Your Reusables Everywhere
This point goes for at home and whilst travelling and is one of those that once you do it often enough, it just becomes the norm. We carry reusable water bottles everywhere and fill them up whenever we can access safe drinking water. For any future long trips I am also thinking of purchasing a portable hardcore water filter to remove the need to buy plastic water bottles wherever we are. In the past we have usually boiled tap water for safe drinking. We also take reusable coffee cups to avoid disposables and a little bamboo cutlery set for Roscoe to avoid those horrible plastic forks. Cloth nappies/wipes and metal straws also come with us wherever we go.
4. Choose Hotels Consciously
Lots of hotels have big waste management and energy efficiency issues, not to mention unfair staff wages and landscape pollution. Also, does anyone else absolutely detest those little plastic bottles of shampoo you find in hotel showers! We try to make our stay anywhere as ecofriendly as possible by bringing our own shampoo bars, soap, safety razor and bamboo toothbrushes, but you can do more by deliberately staying in sustainable hotels. If this isn't an option we try to stay in hotels or apartments owned and run by local people, then at least we know our money is going directly back into the local community.
5. Don't Accept Plastic Bags
We've all been there, in a shop in a country where we know very little of the language and tried, embarrassingly and unsuccessfully, to refuse a plastic bag. Now I take our tote bags and containers everywhere and hunt out where I can buy plastic free produce wherever we are in the world. It does become easier once you get used to refusing plastic bags and learning a little of the local language is always a good idea.
6. Eat Vegetarian/Vegan and Eat Local
After quitting flying, eating vegan is the biggest single change you can make to reduce your carbon footprint. I've been mostly vegetarian for many years and recently decided to go full vegan. I am loving discovering new recipes to cook and I really enjoyed checking out local vegan dishes when we travelling around Asia last year. Eating in local establishments is also the best way to go as it benefits everyone. As tourists you get a much more authentic taste of the local culture, it minimises waste, puts money directly back into the local economy and often saves you money too.
7. Shop Local
One thing I try to never do is buy something for the sake of it. I feel an item has to have meaning or a real, functional purpose for me to purchase, a philosophy I'm also trying to adopt when it comes to buying presents for others. However when you do buy souvenirs it is always a good idea to buy them at the place which makes them. This helps support local artists and communities and reduces the emissions associated with importing items.
8. Pick Up Trash and Do Beach Clean-Ups
The phrase 'Take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints' rings especially true here. It is so important to leave no waste and carrying reusables around makes this much easier. Whenever we visited a beach in SE Asia last year we would spend a couple of minutes doing a quick beach clean. The irony of course was that this rubbish would just be put in bins at the side of the beach and who knows where it will eventually end up. Cleaning up beaches isn't a solution to the plastic problem but it does help create a cleaner world in the meantime. Plastic pollution is everyone's responsibility and any real solution is going to take a lot of people just doing that little bit more.
9. Travel Slowly
There is something extremely powerful in learning how to slow down and just be present, plus quitting flying and travelling slowly kind of go hand in hand. Slow travel allows you to really immerse yourself in a place and almost imagine what life would be like if you actually lived there, it forces you to take in the landscape, fully comprehend distances and marvel at just how large the world really is. Travel is not about ticking off a list, for me it is more about a feeling, a sense of wonder in discovering places I have never been before. Slow travel also means you have reduced emissions over a given time period, regardless of transport mode. The world becomes so much bigger and more exciting when you can't travel to the other side of it in less than a day.
10. Learn Local Recycling Regulations
Although I don't believe recycling is the solution to the world's current waste issues, it is important nonetheless. Recycling is about recognising that waste has a value and doing recycling correctly requires an understanding of quality over quantity. Putting the wrong materials or food/liquid into a bin can contaminate the whole lot meaning none of it can be recycled. It can get very complicated as pretty much everywhere has different abilities, funding or regulations regarding what can and cannot be recycled. Some places often have a number of recycling bins for different materials. When you are travelling and often going between different places it can all get very confusing but it is worth taking the time to listen/read the hotel recommendations or airBnB rules. Learning how to recycle properly in a place is a basic form of respect.
Do you have any have any other tips on how to travel in a more eco-friendly manner? Do let me know in the comments below.
Thanks for reading.