Travelling in a world that has an increasing threat of climate change comes with a new level of responsibility. It’s now no longer enough to float from country to country without a sense of the repercussions the lifestyle may accumulate. Travelling opens our eyes to the beauty of the world and thanks to social media and cheap flights now everyone can can have access to it. But after sitting in the suspiciously warm and glorious February sunshine (sixteen degrees Celsius in a UK winter!), it’s not hard to see how vulnerable that beauty is in the face of climate change and how easily those sites we take such pleasure in can be destroyed. So, whether it’s combating pollution or supporting local businesses, travelling with an ethical conscience is important to ensure that everyone can enjoy that beauty for generations to come.
1. Go local
Instead of souvenir hunting in supermarkets and touristy shops, head down to the local markets and have a browse at the trinkets on offer. True, you might end up spending a little bit more, particularly if you haven’t quite got the hang of haggling. I for one have never mustered the courage to inform a seller that their wares are overpriced, and probably never will… But even so, making an effort to support local artisans can have a positive impact on the economy. And you can’t beat that feeling of satisfaction when you uncover a true gem that’s one of a kind.
Another way to support the local community is to opt for homestays rather than hostels or hotels. Homestays are a personal and friendly alternative to holiday accommodation and they are ideal for solo travellers or anyone starting a new life in a foreign country. As a guest, you are welcomed into the security of a family network as you navigate an unfamiliar environment. Homestays offer opportunities to experience the real culture away from painted depictions in well-trodden tourist traps. You get an insight into what it’s like to live in the country through the eyes of the locals. They tend to be cheaper, and you know that at least some of the money you pay is going towards the families who host you.
2. Travel by train
Travelling shouldn’t be about rushing to squeeze in as many countries as humanly possible. You want to give yourself the chance to really immerse yourself in what your destination has to offer. Soaking up the country’s idiosyncrasies is the best form of travel so don’t waste any opportunity. Instead of flying everywhere, make use of the public transport, it’s never been easier. In fact, taking the train is a lot less stressful than air travel because you don’t have to worry about whether you’ve accidentally packed an oversized bottle of soap in your hand luggage which will almost certainly be confiscated.
Aim to explore a couple of countries in the same vicinity and take your time as you make your way through them. Make use of handy deals like the Eurail Pass which takes you all over Europe at a very affordable price, or experience a night on the famous sleeper trains in Southeast Asia. Whichever route you plan, taking the train is a slower form of travel but it enriches your sense of adventure. It becomes a form of sightseeing and the best part is your carbon footprint is a fraction of the size of flying.
3. Ditch single-use plastic
Somewhere in between Hawaii and California, in a floating sludge three times the size of France resides a a man-made island that is rapidly growing in size. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a coagulation of the world’s debris, most of which will not break down for thousands of years. It has a detrimental effect on the surrounding marine life but the worst part is that the patch in the Pacific Ocean is barely a fraction of the amount of waste suffocating marine ecosystems worldwide.
One of the most effective ways to combat this pollution is to limit your single-use plastic consumption. Opt for water bottles with purifying systems instead of their throwaway plastic cousins. Water purification has come a long way and you can actually get sophisticated water bottles that you can trust to prevent you from getting horribly ill. If you just can’t bring yourself to risk it or don’t have the option to get drinking water from an alternative source, use two litre bottles and recycle them.
Also, consider packing a few extra tote bags in your luggage. You never know when they will come in handy, and reducing your single-use plastic consumption will help prevent that garbage patch from growing.
4. Avoid animal products and entertainment
From furs to exotic shells and entertainment, you’re bound to come across commodified animal products while travelling. There’s nothing more exciting than experiencing something new on the road and it’s understandable if you think that includes the chance to cuddle an adorable real life tiger cub.
Sadly indulging in this trade and its practices only fuels the market for endangered animal trafficking and it has little consideration for the suffering and adverse effects on the wildlife population. Behind the scenes is an unbearable amount of cruelty as most businesses selling animal commodities certainly don’t have the creature’s best interests at heart when they take your money.
Typical animal entertainment advertised to tourists like big cat experiences, elephant rides, and turtle handling may seem like once in a lifetime activities but you’re better off researching an ethical safari trip and observing those animals from a respectable distance in the wild.
5. Research tour guides
Tours are a great way to travel, especially if you’re a solo traveller. They’re just so easy and you don’t have to plan a complicated itinerary as you only really need to show up. Tours can give you an insight into a destination you may not have found otherwise, and there’s one for every taste. But if you decide to opt for a tour on your next trip it’s important that their values are in line with your own. You want to be giving your money away to a company that is passionate about the country enough to want to show you the very best it has to offer.
The measures they take to practice sustainability is a key sign of their integrity. So, when you’re deliberating on which tour guide to book, take the time to scrutinise their website, read reviews online, or even call up and ask them to provide you with concrete examples of how they align sustainability with their business. The best tour guides have the environment as an integral part of their business as of course, its welfare impacts their revenue but they wouldn’t implement it if they weren’t already passionate about the country to start with.
6. Pack reusable items instead of throwaways
Packing for your trip usually follows the less is more rule. You want something light to carry as you manoeuvre those tricky commutes to your accommodation, and you need to keep in line with TSA at the airport. So this tends to mean that you end up packing miniatures of everything for convenience if you’re only taking a carry-on. But instead of indulging in a quick and easy selection of tiny cosmetics which barely last the week, grab a set of reusable bottles and fill them with your own favourite toiletries. Not only will you be saving money as you avoid those overpriced minis but you will be cutting down on your waste consumption too.
In keeping with the rule, packing items which will enhance your travelling experience is a no brainer. Choosing a well-planned selection of items can help you be more sustainable while travelling. If, for example, the street food in Vietnam is on your bucket list then packing a set of reusable cutlery will help you cut down on plastic forks. Squeezing in a container that can be used as a lunch box for leftovers is handy if you want to limit food waste and save money. These simple tools don’t take up much room in your luggage at all and you can feel confident in the knowledge that you’re doing the planet a favour.
7. Be mindful of your Instagram photos
Social media has become an integral part of our lives, and indeed, a part of travelling. Instagram in particular is responsible for creating a great deal of wanderlust and envy with its whole swathe of dreamy photos that could easily be taken in paradise. But in reality, social media has its own worrying contributions to the environment. Behind the most Instagrammable spots the world has to offer is a huge problem of overcrowding as tourists flock to capture that perfect photo. Hidden gems are becoming tourist traps, and many popular destinations like Santorini are so overpriced that some of the locals can no longer afford to live there.
Along with the obsession to procure those extra likes on on social media comes opportunistic tourists clambering over ancient historical sites, and fuelling the animal trafficking trade by posing with exotic creatures. Many local animals are poisoned or end up on a diet of junk food thanks to being coaxed into an Instagram worthy shot.
Overcrowding causes a huge strain on the environment, mainly because of all the detritus that is left in their wake. Previously untouched locations such as Thailand’s Maya Bay Beach and Pig Island in the Bahamas have been inundated with garbage from careless litterers. Photography is not to blame here but the lack of responsibility behind it as a product of social media’s demand for perfection. But it’s entirely possible to enjoy both social media and the planet with minimal intrusion by being mindful.
Try going a little off the beaten track to alleviate overcrowding in tourist hot spots. Familiarise yourself with the customs and cultures before you take photos so you’re sure you’re not impeding on any sacred sites. Above all, a photograph is the perfect souvenir because it has the power to take you back to your trip without adding weight to your bags. Just remember to step away from the lens from time to time and take the moment to enjoy your surroundings. Don’t dedicate your holiday to capturing the most likeable photos for your social media because you will regret it when it’s over.
Thanks for reading,