“Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else”.
Leonardo Da Vinci, the ingenious polymath, put it together for the world to know that all the elements here, big and small, are interconnected. To say that we humans are just as much the nature that we stroll in, won’t be a stretch of a statement. Our chapters progress as we are heedlessly detaching ourselves from the very notion of who we are and what our actions might entail when it comes to the greater good of nature. We destroy because we fail to see our ethereal connection to everything around us.
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I genuinely love to travel, and the number one reason I love it so much is that we live on such a breathtaking planet. This planet has much more to offer than any of us can ever imagine. There are innumerable parts of the Earth that are yet to be touched and photographed. There are mountains that my feet itch to climb, and my skin yearns for the feel of beach water on my ankles. They say that what you love the most has the power to hurt you too!
The recent news of environmental disasters taking place all over the world made me stop and think. Is this nature’s way of warning us to stop? Is nature already too hurt, or is there still redemption?
Stopping overexploitation, over-exhaustion, irrational garbage dumping and mass fossil fuel burning. A cloud of sadness passes over me as these are not the things that I can largely control or alter. But I do see a silver lining when it comes to sustainable travelling!
What is sustainable travel?
The World Commission on Environment and Development defines sustainability simply as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Sustainable travel is travelling in a responsible manner and making conscious decisions to reduce your carbon footprint. It refers to eco-friendly travel methods, sustainable air travel, and slow travel.
Who Should Practice Sustainable Travelling?
You, I and that friend you plan on going to Goa with! Yes, the one who you’re sure won’t bail out last minute!!
Honestly, everyone everywhere needs to practice sustainability. The shift to environmentally friendly travel is more of a personal responsibility than a choice. You owe it to this bountiful, beautiful blue planet to leave it better than you found it.
Why Should I Travel Sustainably?
It breaks my heart to think that future generations may not be able to see the majesty of this planet. I say this because my travel experiences in the past have made me realize that the Earth isn’t getting any more beautiful by the day.
The pollution levels, carbon emissions, water contamination, over-exhaustion of fossil fuels and exploitation of resources are stripping Earth away of its natural beauty. Hence, it is necessary to take steps now to conserve and preserve the resources of our dear Earth.
Where Can I Practice Sustainability While Travelling?
Right from the minute you plan the trip and book your tickets to the part where you come back home. Sustainability, responsible and environmentally friendly travelling can be practised in many ways and at many different levels.
You could be someone like me who is just discovering the road to sustainability or an expert in this field. There is always space for improvement, and innovative and easier ways of sustainability are emerging now more than ever.
How Can I Be A Sustainable Traveller?
Am I already a responsible and sustainable traveller? What do I do to be one? Do I have to sleep in a tent and ride a bicycle instead of a motorbike to be considered an eco-friendly traveller? These questions must be bubbling like a volcano in your mind by now.
A Beginner’s Guide to Be a Sustainable Traveller
- If the time duration and the commute distance permit, try to opt for road journeys instead of air travel. Road transports such as cars, buses, trains and ships are much easier on the environment.
- If you are travelling in a bunch, taking a road trip in your car is a good idea. But if you are travelling solo, it is better to fly since a car would be creating humongous amounts of carbon emissions for just one person.
- For local commutes, perhaps consider walking, or cycling or taking local public transports to reduce footprints and to help fuel the local economy.
- Be solicitous to stay in local-run homestays, hostels, small lodges and guesthouses to help empower the locals financially. Also, such local- run accommodations are often more heedful towards reducing their environmental footprints.
- One of the most basic but critical habit towards sustainability is to carry your BPA-free water bottle on your travels which you can refill from filtered water dispensers at cafes, restaurants, hotels, airports, and bars. Strictly say no buying or rather accepting complimentary plastic packaged drinking water bottles on flights and in hotels.
- Another fundamental measure is to switch off the electrical appliances before leaving hotel rooms. You could also consider leaving a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door as it can minimize the energy used in cleaning operations.
- Remember to take along any leftover portions of toiletries with you as unused ones get disposed off. You could always use these at your home or on your travels.
- Strictly say NO to wildlife tours, zoos, animal rides, animal shows and aquariums as they strip animals of their free life in their natural habitat, thus adversely violating the concept of green tourism. By indulging in such experiences, you are promoting a life of eternal torture for billions of animals.
- Consider shopping handmade products such as trinkets, bags, scarves, and chunky silver jewellery as souvenirs from the local markets as this can help the craftsmen financially and add to the state economy. Also, you can consider dining at local food joints instead of fast-food chains. By doing so, you can save money and give locals a chance to serve you with quality food from a small scale business.
- Before photographing people, make a genuine effort to communicate with them, make them comfortable and seek their permission. Respect them despite getting no for an answer!
An Intermediate Guide to Be a Sustainable Traveller
- If you decide to be responsible and drive to your destination, make sure your ride is well under the pollution limits. If not, consider renting a vehicle which is eco-friendly and emits fewer carbon residues.
- If you have to fly, make an effort to book flights which are non-stop. This can help minimize an aeroplane’s carbon emissions.
- If you prefer to stay in a hotel over a homestay, make an effort to communicate with the hotel staff and ask them if they have a recycling program, solar power system, rainwater harvesting, and energy-efficient lighting. Educate them about these critical matters and encourage them to shift to more sustainable methods. Also, motivate the hotels owners to hire more local staff and to utilize homegrown products over imported ones.
- Please do not use the hotel laundry as they wash every guest’s clothing items separately and waste gallons of water. Wash your clothes while you shower, and you can dry them overnight. Also, avoid sending the hotel towels and bed linens for laundry every day.
- Avoid loitering off the hiking trails not to harm the native fauna and flora. Never touch or feed animals as such acts can disturb their natural habits.
- Try to make your travels as clean as possible and to do so always carry a small bag to collect packaged encasings for whenever you can’t find a trash bin.
- Do not buy travel gears made of plastic and consider shifting to menstrual cups instead of tampons and sanitary napkins. Do not accept plastic bags and educate the locals who make daily use of plastic bags by explaining to them its harmful effects.
- Respect local cultures and traditions of a place and dress up and conduct yourself accordingly. Try learning a few common words such as “Greetings” and “Thank you” in the native language. Also, indulge in unique cuisines, listen to local music and explore new art forms on your travels. After all, travel is about incorporating new colours and cultures!!
An Advanced/ Experienced Guide to Be a Sustainable Traveller
- Be discreet when it comes to choosing the destinations for your travels. On the one hand, you could opt for the off-season to visit places when the crowds are much lesser to ease the pressure created by the on-season tourism boost. On the other hand, you could consider the regions or the countries that are unexplored yet and looking forward to welcoming and hosting tourists.
- When booking your accommodation, be thoughtful to research a bit extra and book eco-friendly stays that are highly committed towards their role in saving this planet. Nowadays, many eco-lodges are readily coming up to encourage travellers to make conscious travel choices.
- Be mindful to book flights with airlines such as Delta, JetBlue, and KLM as they are much more particular about their environmental impact and have undertaken many initiatives to promote sustainability.
- Consider conducting cleanliness drives on your hikes and treks. This might be a little daunting but is a drastic step towards green tourism.
- One of the most effective ways in which we can give back to society while backpacking across nations is called “Voluntourism” which is a merging of terms for Volunteering and Tourism. Teaching young kids, working on local farms, taking care of animals, etc. are some of the volunteering works that you can take up when you travel.
- Be cautious to research a bit before you buy anything on your travels. Make sure it isn’t anything made of animal skin or fur or unsustainable rainforest wood. That is something that is ethically incorrect and violates the meaning of life for living organisms of this planet.
- Only travel with responsible travel agencies/ tour operates who organize trips for smaller groups in a more sustainable manner. Ask them about their efforts to give back to our Earth and to support the local communities. In this way, the money we spend on our travels can also fuel the local communities!
- When indulging in water adventures such as scuba diving and snorkelling, wear reef-safe sunscreens to prevent sunscreen- induced bleaching of corals by chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate chemicals. Also, be careful not to touch the corals as it can disturb the delicate reef ecosystem.
- Slowly try to incline yourself towards slow and meaningful travel. Expand your experiences rather than the places visited. Travel qualitatively instead of quantitatively! Don’t just travel to see places but to explore and learn art, music, dance forms, cuisines, history and architecture.
Small Efforts, Big Differences!
I hope that by now, you have discovered at least one way in which you will travel responsibly and make a positive difference to this planet. If you did find something useful in this article, please consider sharing it with your friends and family. It is the need of the hour to spread awareness about sustainable travelling and take the collective responsibility to ensure quality travels.
Let me know in the comments below what level of sustainable travel are you on! Also please share any tips you have on sustainable travelling. I would love to learn more about this subject!
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