These days there is an increasing focus on the detrimental ecological impacts of tourism. From the CO2 emissions created by airplanes, to the widespread deforestation to build resorts, it is clear that our species’ love of travel is contributing to the global climate crisis. Yikes.
Greta Thunberg’s journey across the Atlantic in a zero emission sailboat may be inspiring and does set the gold standard for green travel, but is is not exactly something we can all readily replicate. In fact, many ordinary travellers may be left feeling helpless and unable to do anything other than perhaps stop traveling completely.
But there are small measures we can all take and little things each of us can do to help. In this post we look at some of the easiest ways to support green, ecological travel.
We have already said that jet engine emissions are apparently one of the single biggest drivers of the climate crisis. The solution is therefore to fly as little as possible. If there is any overland option to get to your destination, do consider using it please. A simple one is to cut domestic fights and use busses and trains. If you live in the UK and are visiting France, then use the Channel Tunnel (London to Paris can be as cheap as $10 by bus) or if you are in Europe, take full advantage of the train network which runs from Belgium and France into the Balkans.
Of course it takes time which is not always a luxury you have. But if you take overnight sleeper services, you go sleep in one place and wake up in another!
Did you know that every kilo counts? Every kilo you pack puts pressure on the airplane which means more fuel getting burned! That is one of the reasons airplanes have a limit allowance (the other one is to prevent people from taking the p**s and packing everything they own – the flight would never finish getting loaded!).
So travel as light as possible my friends. Embrace the minimalist mantra and bring only what you absolutely NEED and not the “nice to have’s”. We have written a few article on the site about effective packing but a useful starting point is to take out the stuff you plan to bring, and then halve it.
I especially recommend going light on toiletries, These can be heavy to pack and also easy to pick up once you arrive in your destination.
I think we all now know by now that plastic is a serious problem. Some parts of the world are now finally acting on this and limiting and discouraging the use of plastic and especially single use plastics. When you travel, set the example and refuse plastic wherever possible. When you visit the 7/11 in Bangkok, bring your own reuseable shopping bag (or just fill your day backpack). Use a re-useable metal or wooden straw and refuse to accept plastic ones.
Also be sure to bring a re-useable water bottle to stay hydrated, whilst doing a tiny little bit for the environment.
Don’t Use Travel Sized Products
One of the single biggest things you can do to reduce plastic waste, is to stop buying “travel sized”, or miniature sized toiletry products. These products are purpose designed for carry on requirements but also to reflect the fact that you only need a smaller amount of your favourite toothpaste for a 2-week trip. This throwaway culture amounts to a massive overuse of disposable plastics.
Instead, wherever possible, buy regular sized products and bring whatever you have left home with you at the end of your trip.
As for carry on requirements, the solution is to invest in some re-useable, purpose made, carry on sized toiletry containers. You can fill them up with whatever product you choose. They come in different shapes. The longer, slim ones are designed for both shower gels and shampoo and the shorter, stubby ones are for hair products or face creams. Simple but effective!
Whilst we’re talking toiletries, another great tip for the guys out there is to only bring re-useable, straight razors for shaving. Yes, disposable razor and even disposable blades are NOT eco friendly!! Besides that, straight razors are cool and classy. Be sure to pick up some decent face moisturiser for men to aid the cooling process afterwards and then put it into a small, re-useable travel tube.
Do You Need Toilet Roll?
Let’s keep the toilet talk going a wee bit longer here shall we….?
When I first get to India I and many travellers were horrified by the lack of toilet roll. When I asked at guesthouses and restaurants, I was initially horrified by the suggestion to simply do as locals do and use the traditional Indian method…(water and hand).
Now however we all know it makes perfect eco sense! Toilet roll is one of the most audaciously wasteful products on the market and is responsible for countless acres of deforestation each year. Wherever possible, reduce and curtail your use of toilet roll. As long as there is enough water and soap to clean up after your movements, it’s actually far more hygienic as well!
In recent years, Venezuela has suffered a complete shortage of toilet roll. The locals have embraced the natural method as both me and Will when we visit the country.
Support Ecological Tourism
Ecological tourism initiatives are popping up across the globe now. From eco-resorts built using wooden cabins and powered by renewable energy, to sustainable adventure trips, green tour operators come in all shapes and sizes.
At the Broke Backpacker we feel that these initiatives should be rewarded, and similar initiatives encouraged. The only way to do this, is to support them.
You can do this by seeking and using green operators. It is true that ecological minded accommodation can be more expensive than the standard alternatives and if you are on an extreme budget, it ay be out of your reach. However, we do implore you to really ask yourself “Can I afford this? Can I afford not to support the environment?”. If it comes to booking an eco resort or saving $100 to buy some cheesy souvenirs, then we suggest you book the eco resort.
Which brings me to our next point…
Don’t Buy Crappy Souvenirs
One of the single biggest problems the world faces is over production of useless, material goods. From fast fashion culture to electronic appliances made to break, the industry of endless production is a major contributor emissions and pollutants. And it gets worse, most of this stuff ends in landfill or dumped in the sea.
Where travellers can help is to simply not buy crappy, pointless souvenirs. Yes, we understand that having a little memento of a trip is nice. And yes, we agree that are some lovely artefacts to be picked up and bartered for in many parts of the world.
But a lot of stuff marketed at tourists is mass produced, garish, tacky crap. For example, if you visit Spain, a handmade flamenco guitar is good, a little plastic pretend guitar is not. Buying an Indian Sari is cool, buying a “I Love India” vest is utterly pointless.
The best mementos you can buy are locally, hand made crafts. Not one are they eco friendly but you help the local economy. Which brings us nicely to our next point…
A lot of popular tourist destinations now cater to visitors tastes by importing their favourite predicts from back home and making them available. In the Costa Del Sol in Spain, there is an entire supermarket section full of British products. Carlsberg and Tuborg are available in liquor store and bars across the world. Oh the unbridled joy of capitalists globalisation.
But the environmental impact of moving large scale goods around is massive. Do not support this and instead, buy local products. This means drinking the local beer, eating the local candy bar (not Cadburys or Mars) and picking out the local brand of toiletries rather than simply going for names and brands you recognise.
In many cases the local stuff is as good if not better than the imported stuff and again, you support the countries economy at least at a national level.
Finally, if you want to go the extra mile and really make a positive contribution, why not doing a little bit of eco volunteering when traveling? This can be something really simple and informal and simple like spending an afternoon tidying up and collecting plastic. You can just go out yourself and get cracking or can try find others to come with you – in Goa there are expat Facebook groups who organise stuff like this.
Anther option is to engage in a spot of volunteerism and work with a proper eco-tourism organisation. This coil mea something truly exciting such as nursing baby Jaguars or re-planting the Amazon. Volun-touism is a thorny area and has come in for criticism in recent years so you need to take your time to do your research and do it properly. We have written a helpful guide to successful volunteerism which will help you find a good organisation and a project suitable for your own needs.
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Freeborn Aiden. Senior Editor, resident travel insurance expert and 2nd longest-serving member of team Broke Backpacker. Can’t resist a colourful shirt, ideally one with no buttons. Rampant Psytrance addict and seriel cat fancier. Aiden recently realised that his entire reality is little more than a badly written 90’s sitcom.