Tread Lightly: A Guide To Eco Travel
With the awareness of responsible travel on the up rise, more and more travellers are seeking deeper travel experiences. While fun is most definitely on top of our list, many of us also want to do our part for the people and places that we travel to.
Travel, if done mindfully, can leave a positive impact on both the travel destination and the quality of your travel experience – restoring balance and a sense of connection.
Here are some simple ways to become a more eco-conscious traveller so that you can enjoy both a meaningful and memorable travel experience.
Research Your Destination
Before you jet off take some time to delve a little deeper into the ecological, social and political issues at your destination. Seek out any policies that the government or local community has adopted to promote sustainable tourism and think about ways you can support them. To avoid wasting valuable time when you arrive, Google traveller reviews on sustainable hotels, restaurants, markets and so forth before you leave.
Travel With Cultural Sensitivity
Treat the local people with respect, they are an important part of your travel experience and play a key role in protecting the countries culture, natural habitat and wildlife.
There are times when your ethical beliefs may go against local practices, however make every effort to keep an open mind and always respect the culture and customs of your host country.
Simple ways to show respect and courtesy is to learn a few words of the local language and use them, dress appropriately for local customs and seek permission before taking photos, or entering sacred places, homes and private land.
Respect The Natural Habitat
Do your part to help preserve the natural environment by leaving the location as you found it. Never remove anything from its natural environment including shells, rocks, flowers and coral.
Don’t touch, feed or harass animals. Always follow designated trails, listen to local guides and obey park rules. And finally don’t be a scrooge, support conservation by paying entrance fees to parks and protected sites.
Pay The Fair Price
Refrain from engaging in any overly aggressive bargaining just for the sake of ‘scoring a bargain’. Remind yourself that the local people live on a few dollars a day, so while the extra money you have to fork out may have a short term affect on your pride and wallet, it can have a long lasting positive impact for the local stallholder. Also don’t short-change on tips for services, as local workers rely on them for their livelihood.
The most unique, and often more treasured gifts, are those made by local artisans using native natural resources.
Enrich your experience and provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people by contributing to the local economy. This will also reduce the effects of pollution and greenhouse gasses, as many souvenirs and goods are actually mass-produced and shipped internationally from industrial countries.
Choose locally owned restaurants, shop in local markets, attend local festivals/events, hire local guides, and buy products made or grown locally.
Engage in Responsible Tourism
Make every effort to do business only with people engaged in responsible tourism. Sure, you may pay a little more for lodging and other services, but you can feel good knowing that your tourist dollar is directly helping local people and protecting their habitat. Look for hotel accommodations and tour operators that carry environmental friendly certifications or memberships in green industry associations. Keep in mind that due to often-expensive fees associated with being part of an association many companies can’t afford the membership, so use a little initiative and be open to seeking out smaller companies that uphold ethical practices. Don’t hesitate to find out more about the company, especially its commitment to conservation and community development.
Also keep an eye out for businesses that have won awards for sustainable tourism practices.
Use Re-chargeable Batteries
Being snap happy chews through battery power and unfortunately those disposable batteries are especially noxious as they leach toxic chemicals into the earth. Choose the path of responsible travel by packing a charger and re-chargeable batteries, which also happens to be a more economical option.
Say No To Plastic Bags
No matter where you travel to in the world there are always two things you are guaranteed to come across, that is Coca-Cola and plastic bags. The non-biodegradable plastic bag is everywhere, and unfortunately they end up littering streets, parks and oceans. When you arrive at your destination take a trip down to the local market and buy a re-usable shopping bag or market bag, it will not only make for a great souvenir but you will be able to politely decline the plastic bag and become a part of the solution!
Stay On The Trail
When hiking or following the local footpaths stay on the trail and avoid taking shortcuts. The reasoning behind this is to protect the indigenous plants and local wildlife, and to stop the spreading of disease and foreign flora, which can be carried on the bottom of shoes. Although it may seem a rather minor action to take a shortcut, when multiplied by several thousand trekkers each year it then becomes rather significant.
Use Biodegradable Soap, Shampoo And Conditioner
Pack environmentally friendly soap, shampoo and conditioner which will be gentle on the local water system, especially in rural areas where the grey water is often recycled. There are many gentle and natural formulations on the market today; some of my favourites include Dr. Bronner’s and Gaia.
The fuel-burning emissions caused by planes are most definitely a concern for our planet, however thankfully more and more airline carriers are taking steps to reduce their mile-high carbon footprints. Carbon offsetting is widely used by most airline carriers, allowing you to calculate the amount of carbon emission being generated by your air travel and purchase carbon credits to offset it. Your carbon credits fund various renewable energy projects, such as wind farms, marine protection and reforestation. For bonus green points choose to reduce your paper waste by not printing off your ticket and opting to either write down the booking number or saving a digital copy on your smartphone.
Seek Out Urban Eco Adventures
The idea of holidaying in a big city may conjure up images of treeless sidewalks, pollution and traffic-choked streets. But an eco-friendly trip is not just limited to nature or culture based destinations, and many urban areas are very ‘green’. In most cities you will find a fantastic public transportation system, local markets, urban farms, green parks, botanical gardens, various organic restaurants, a cultural centre, bespoke shops that support local artists and a network of bike paths to explore. Embark on some local urban adventures, as it is a great way to absorb the local culture and see the cities ‘secret’ spots.
Bottled water consumption across the globe is rampant and the
Growing waste from plastic water bottles is fast becoming a worldwide issue. Empty bottles, made of petroleum-based plastic, accumulate as non-biodegradable rubbish along city streets, in rivers, in parks, on beaches, and in the ocean. Best practice is to always bring your own bottle and fill up with fresh, clean water whenever you can. If you are travelling to countries where you need to treat the water then bring along either purification tablets or invest in a water bottle that has a purifier built into it.
If you find yourself without a reusable water bottle or purifier, then buy the bigger bottles of water rather than tossing five or six small bottles in the rubbish every day.
Jump Aboard Public Transport
Instead of renting a car, utilize the endless options of public transport available around the world, such as trains, Traghetto’s, buses, subways, rickshaws or dog sleds. It’s less chaotic than driving in an unfamiliar place and will enable you to fully enjoy the scenery and interact with locals. To become part of the local scene, consider guided walking tours, renting a bike, or taking a leisurely stroll down one of the local paths.
Protect Our Animal Friends
If you come across people selling wildlife products, be aware that those ‘souvenirs’ could very well be protected species that have been poached from the wild and are being sold illegally. Also, don’t support local establishments that keep local wildlife on display for tourists. It may be tempting to have your picture taken with an elephant as a memento but doing so supports the practice of animal exploitation.
Poaching and unethical practices of animals is something that is far too common. Don’t underestimate your power to influence change. You can make a difference by how you choose to spend your money. Vote with your wallet and buy products/services from establishments doing the right thing.
Leave A Positive Impact On Your Travel Destination
Lessen your impact as a tourist by giving back to the people, community and environment during your stay. There are many things you can do, some of my favourites are:
- Pack old clothes and blankets to drop off at local shelters, which will also ultimately create more space in your suitcase to take home more souvenirs.
- In under-developed countries school supplies are scarce. Bring over some pens, pencils and notebooks to hand out to the local school.
- Plan to travel to indigenous villages and participate in community development projects, such as building a school or water fountain.
- Seek out a cultural-immersion home stay for a few days.
Be At Home In Your Hotel
Wherever you choose to lay your head at night make a conscious effort to treat it like you would your own home. Avoid getting clean towels everyday, don’t take excessive long showers, turn off the TV and lights when not using them, open curtains for natural light and turn off the aircon when you leave the room.
Be Mindful Of Water Consumption
Use water sparingly as in many places this is a very scarce resource. Over 2.2 billion people are affected by inadequate supplies of clean water, as a result this leads to sanitation problems, exposing communities to diseases such as cholera , typhoid fever and other water-borne illnesses.
Buy A Travel Solar Power Panel
They cost about $80 and are the size of an iPad. While charging your phone or laptop with solar energy may seem like a small and somewhat insignificant action, every bit contributes positively to the environment. I personally love my travel solar panel and they are great in remote places where you are not always guaranteed to have a power outlet. Invest in one for your next travels – the planet will thank you.
When You Come Home
Write a letter or email to your hotel, tour guide or any other establishment that you came across, thanking them for their efforts in supporting sustainable tourism. This will encourage them to promote and adopt more environmentally friendly practices.
Travel is more than simply visiting places, taking photos, buying souvenirs and crossing destinations off your bucket list. When executed mindfully, and with minimum impact, travel can inspire cultural awareness along with positive environmental and social change. Your journey to becoming an eco-traveller starts with an awareness that, you, the traveler, have the power to help change the way the world travels.
Become a change maker today and choose to travel lightly. Happy Travels!