Being a Conscious Traveller
Let me start by saying I think that travel is a wonderful thing! It can open us up as human beings, allow us to understand other cultures and customs, and even break down cross-border issues such as climate change. I don't think anyone should feel guilty about wanting to travel and see the world. That said, I believe it needs to be done on balance and we should continue to try to preserve our planet while exploring it.
I've broken this article down into 3 key areas to help give you tips on how to travel consciously - packing, planning, and exploring.
It's becoming easier and easier to pack sustainable goods for our trips, and I've put together a short list below of things I recommend you invest in. However I do want to point out that the best thing you can do is pack light - the lighter the plane the less carbon being emitted! Never mind the fact that overpacking can be a total pain, lugging around clothes you're just never going to use - ugh!
Essentials to bring:
- Dry Towel - lighter and means you won't have to use/rent towels at your accommodation
- Reusable airport toiletries bag - there's plenty of TSA approved options
- Water bottle & reusable straw - no explanation needed!
- Charcoal stick water filter - to use in places where you're not confident the water is clean
- Shampoo bar - can also be used as soap and will save you heaps of room
- Lunchbox - bring your yummy dinner leftovers away for tomorrow's lunch
Doing your research and planning is arguably the most important element in being a conscious traveller. Everything from how you get there, where you stay, and what you do can have a huge effect on your overall carbon footprint.
Firstly, 40% of the CO2 within the tourist industry is caused from air travel so if you can avoid flying then great. Travelling by bus or train is better for the environment, however this isn't always possible. This is where you should be careful in picking and choosing your trips. For example, if you travel a lot for work why not suggest more Skype meetings to your employer so that you can use your trips for pleasure. If that doesn't fly with them (pun intended!), ask them to offset the carbon emissions from your plane ticket. This can usually be done in two ways:
- Lots of airlines now have a carbon offset add-on option when purchasing your ticket
- Calculate your carbon emissions yourself (there are many carbon calculators online) and offset your own emissions by planting trees or investing in infrastructure for developing countries. At SunDrift, we offset our CO2 by planting trees with Irish registered charity, Hometree.
Next up is accommodation. Eco-friendly options are available everywhere these days, and in all varieties from budget hostels to luxury hotels. Do your research and choose somewhere to rest your head that is doing its bit for the environment. If you can try to avoid large chain hotels and support local family-run business instead. If you are staying in a hotel, do the simple things like reuse your towels and only use the A/C when necessary.
Food is a huge part of travel for me. I love to experience new flavours and get to know new cultures through its food. Supporting small local businesses that are using seasonal local produce is the best way to eat while you're travelling consciously. Again, research is important but not all of these places are online, so wander around the town or city when you arrive - and talk to locals for the best recommendations!
While we are discussing the topic of planning, I want to address to social pressures that are associated with travel and why we need to challenge them. Currently there is so much pressure on people to "tick" a whole host of countries off this "list" and then share it with the world. Over-consumption trends have not just taken over the fashion industry with fast fashion, it very much applies to travel too. The more you do, the cooler it is. I personally think this is just ridiculous - and yes I am an avid traveller and I've been lucky enough to have visited many different countries.
Let's SLOW DOWN! Instead of jetting in and out of cities as quickly as possible to tick them off your list, why not pick a handful of places and explore them in detail, getting to know the people and culture along the way. It will save you the jet lag and some cash, it will save the planet from more carbon, and you will probably enjoy it a whole lot more!
When you do arrive, I think the best way to explore a new place is by using your legs (shock horror!)... Yep, the old school way - by foot! Or if that doesn't float your boat, why not rent a city bike or trendy scooter which are available in most big cities around the world today. If the weather is bad, hop on the subway/tube/lightrail - in other words, avoid unnecessary taxis!
When visiting exotic places we often want to experience the exotic animals that live in these places. There is a right way and a wrong way of doing this. The right way again is to do your research and find reputable conservations or wildlife protection places that will allow you to experience the animals without harming them and use your money to protect them. You could even volunteer at somewhere like this if that's something you're interested in! The wrong way is to get an Insta photo with a drugged up tiger or ride an abused elephant. There is just no excuse for this, and if you see other tourists partaking in these activities, please educate them on the harm its causing to the animal.
I hope this has been helpful to those of you that are making the effort to travel in a conscious way. Well done - you should be proud of yourself for doing the best you can. Feel free to leave any questions below :)