The year of change and a shift to conscious travel

The year of change and a shift to conscious travel

The year of change and a shift to conscious travel

Let’s face it: there is nothing worse than couch activism. You know? Those people who spend their days on social media assuming the ultimate role as keyboard warrior. The ones who share information about world trends and events—the doom and gloom—without really ever doing anything about it save for sharing screenshots and flaming the fires of discord.

The world faces many issues; too many to mention here. These past few months have been particularly taxing—compounding all the pre-existing troubles faced by the global populace. Much of what is happening is completely outside our individual control; it is therefore worthwhile to focus on the things we can change. Bickering online under the guise of social responsibility for movements or taking on the plights of others usually only ensures one thing: a half-measured attempt at advocating for change which ostracises those whose minds and behaviours you want to change.

With all the vitriol, fake news, political furore and social distress that abounds, what can we as individuals do to contribute to progressive change while simultaneously weeding out those things which are detrimental to our society?

Though political and socio-economic points are a bit too hot to cover at present, there is one thing which we as a collective humanity can agree on: we need to preserve our earth.

Change is a process…and it starts now!

We need to start small—focus on the things we can adjust in our lives to achieve incremental change. These things count, and are far more effective in creating lasting change; it is the sum of all these little things.

Don’t misunderstand—it is good to back a worthy cause by joining groups and movements which[AM1] actively fight against the wrongs of the world. However, signing petitions and ‘liking’ [AM2] posts will not change a thing. Humans need to get involved in the causes they support and there are many ways to do so which fall within their means.

Changing our approach to travel

People around the globe are becoming increasingly aware of the effect they have on the environment around them, thanks—in part—to readily available news at the press of a button. Before the age of the internet, we were pretty much living in ignorance, relying solely on what we were told by local newspapers.

Knowledge on tap can be overwhelming, but it should also be celebrated—provided we use it correctly.

Climate change is a global challenge. Unlike lockdown this problem has no borders and addressing the issue requires coordination and cooperation between all people and countries. The same applies to pollution of the skies and rivers, including the plastic floating around our oceans. Threats stretch even further: endangered species are killed off due to habitat loss as our population grows to levels where the earth finds itself in a never-ending battle to sustain every living species.

The rules of sustainable travel

Researchers into sustainable travel have broken the problem down into three main components to help us better understand the issues surrounding mass tourism and work on actionable resolutions to the problem.

While these three pillars of sustainability were initially aimed at the corporate world (encouraging big businesses to prioritise sustainable processes), they are equally relevant to anybody and everybody hoping to travel in a more eco-friendly and conscious manner.

The three verticals of sustainability are:

  • The Environmental or Ecological Pillar—minimising our impact on the environment
  • The Social Pillar—having a positive impact on the local community
  • The Economic Pillar—supporting the local economy

It’s important to keep these three pillars of sustainability in mind when you travel to ensure that each action you take falls under one of these key areas.

If you are a keen traveller and aware of your impact on the world around you, read on. The simplest solution is merely changing the way you travel.

Before you leave

Here are a few tips that will help save energy while you’re away.

Turn off all electronics, geysers and unnecessary power drinkers. You won’t be needing those while you’re away and appliances use superfluous resources while plugged in. This will save on your electricity bill too, so it’s a win-win for both you and the planet.

Pack light. It’s easy to think that your heavy luggage won’t make a difference in the grand scheme of things, but take thousands of people with the same mindset, and it becomes an issue. All modes of transport, whether it be planes, taxis or boats, will release more greenhouse gases the heavier the load. If everyone adheres to this simple rule, a difference—however small—will be made.

Familiarise yourself with the country you are traveling to. Get to know the rules and customs so as not to break the law by purchasing items which go against their environmental laws. For example, plastic bags are banned in Tanzania, and in Australia you cannot board your flight back home with fauna and flora indigenous to the country. You are, indirectly, supporting an industry that is destructive to nature and the environment. By not supporting this, you are not encouraging a trade that generates money from removing sensitive or endangered items from nature.

Getting around while you’re visiting

If you love to explore the country you’re visiting, be mindful of how you get around. Transfer buses are often booked as private transfers, meaning you and your travel companion could occupy a 16-seater bus between the two of you, such travel is truly unnecessary and a waste of fuel. Be adventurous and hop on a bicycle if you’re fit enough. This not only creates an opportunity to immerse yourself in your surroundings, but also helps keep the blood flowing and the muscles working.

Countries like Thailand, for example, have cheap scooter rentals. This costs you less in fuel and allows you to be one with the tropical weather conditions. Tuk-tuks are also popular and add to the experience.

Taking on any European city by foot is an adventure in itself: it allows you to soak up all the architectural gems hidden on the continent. You’ll see far more this way, so as an added extra your trip will be infused with local ambience.

If you’re going to rent a car, be sure to rent a small one or even a hybrid if possible. Ensure your tyres are inflated properly, stick to the speed limit and avoid idling to reduce emissions.

Once you’re there

Do some research and book into ‘green’ hotels and stays. Although many accommodation options may display their ‘green badge’, it is wise to visit the website to get a feel for their environmental ethics. Many cosy and quaint establishments have taken on an environmentally friendly ethos simply by using solar power, growing their own food and reducing their carbon footprint and waste. Follow simple practises to minimise energy use. For example: take quick showers, use your towel more than once and turn off electronics when you’re out and about. Also consider the recycling regimes of the hotel or venue, and whether the staff are locally employed.

Ask questions about the hotel’s sustainability initiatives, such as solar power, wind turbines, rainwater harvesting, energy-efficient lighting, and low-flow toilets.

Sometimes it is best to skip hotels altogether. Stay with friends or family. This will give you an opportunity to immerse yourself in the culture of the country you’re visiting.

Responsible travel tips:

  • Always carry a reusable shopping bag with you.
  • Dispose of your litter in allocated garbage bins. Pick up litter when you see it and dispose of it.
  • Pre-purchase shampoo bars instead of bottles. These come in tiny containers and will free up some space in your luggage. Most of these products are also environmentally friendly and consist of eco-friendly ingredients which won’t put pesky chemicals into drains.
  • Show respect when visiting any attractions with animals by not feeding them. Also keep this in mind when visiting elephant ‘sanctuaries’. Riding elephants is a cruel form of entertainment and should not be supported in any way. Steer clear of photo-ops with exotic animals—these animals are often sedated and treated cruelly to keep them docile.
  • Avoid using plastic straws and disposable plastic packaging at all costs. These have had a devastating effect on marine life across the globe.
  • When snorkelling or swimming, be sure to use reef-safe sunscreen. Some sunscreens contain damaging chemicals and contribute to the demise of growing coral everywhere.
  • Buy local: purchase items only from local vendors as this helps with the local economy as well as keeping local villagers/residents employed.
  • When going on hikes, be sure to stay on the designated paths. Straying from the route may cause damage to delicate and protected flora. This will also prevent you from getting lost. When this happens, the local emergency services must be summoned to rescue you which costs the local economy money, time and resources.
  • Use recyclable plastic water bottles where possible and stop buying take away coffee. Paper and plastic eventually end up in environmentally sensitive areas, contributing to a global pollution problem.
  • When snorkelling or diving, try not to stand on any live coral as these take years to grow and damage can affect all types of marine life.
  • Be a volunteer. Set aside one day where you can help out at a shelter, kennel or any other non-profit organisation in the area you’re visiting. This will create a wonderful opportunity to identify the struggles of the culture you’re experiencing, and you’ll be giving back.
  • Try to book non-stop flights whenever you can: tt’s the take-offs and landings which create most of an airplane’s carbon emissions.
  • Take any leftover soap, shampoo or toothpaste with you. Unused portions are usually thrown away, and you can reuse the plastic bottles in the future.
  • Return maps, brochures and other tourist info once you’re finished with them so that they may be reused by future travellers.
  • Don’t buy anything made from endangered plants/animals, unsustainable hardwoods, or ancient artifacts (or which impact these). Not only is it wrong, but you probably won’t be able to get them back through customs.

Play your part

The truth is that sustainable travel is all about making simple choices to lessen your negative impact on a given destination. A fragile earth does not have room for fragile egos—we each have a responsibility to do what’s right.

Individually, each one of these choices makes only a small difference in the big picture. But collectively, becoming more conscious of these little things can have a huge cumulative impact. More than that, by simply adjusting the way you behave and react towards current threats to the environment, you could also start applying this behaviour in your everyday life.

When done well, green travel is the antithesis of mass tourism. It’s all about trying to make smarter choices that help to mitigate the negative impacts we create when we travel.

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