What the Heck is Responsible Travel and Why Should I Care?
There's something different in the air lately. Flying out of most major airports I've noticed a stagnant hazy fog. It creeps up pretty high, so you don't really notice it. Until you're reaching those gushing heights over a city of lights, winding streets and concrete buildings, and you break free. And for a moment your view out the small plastic window is half hazy, half blue sky.
I first noticed this three years ago flying into Shanghai. I know, pollution is to be expected in China, but that doesn't make it right. During my two weeks in China I started the feel the effects of breathing in thick pollution. My chest felt heavy, I felt like I was constantly on the brink of a cold and I came accustom to coughing regularly. It was nothing to be really concerned about, all the symptoms were minor, but they were there.
I then noticed a layer of smog above Paris a year later. And I realised, it's not just China breathing in polluted air and contributing to the slow suffocation of our planet, it's the entire world, and we're not doing much about it.
The sad truth is, the most eco thing to do is to stop travelling altogether, eat an 100% meatless diet, grow our own grain and veggies, walk or ride everywhere and use no paid utilities. If we all did that, our planet would be able to breathe again – and so would we. But I know that's impossible. That's not the society we live in.
This realisation usually causes me to want to crawl up into a ball in bed and never leave. It's hopeless, I think to myself. We're doomed and our planet is doomed with us.
But instead of accepting defeat, I've realised I can do my part. I've got a voice here, a platform, and I've got what it takes to share a little insight.
I've made the pledge to myself to live more sustainably in my life at home and when I travel, and I hope you will join me.
What's travel got to do with it?
The travel industry is responsible for 5% of global CO2 emissions and 4.6% of global warming. Transport is its biggest contributor – that's everything from planes, cars, buses to ships and trains. But, as you can imagine, air travel is the biggest contributor and is responsible for a huge 40% of total carbon emissions.
But we can't give up travelling altogether, can we?
Tips to Travelling Responsibly
Awareness is the best way to travel responsibly. Here are a few pointers to get your in the right direction next time you start planning your adventure.
Avoid air travel when possible | If you can catch a train or bus instead of a plane, do it. Make an adventure out of it and enjoy the scenery. When you break it down, a train or couch departs and arrives in city centres, unlike planes which are often further out and take a few hours of waiting around. If you live in Europe, there's really no reason why you need to fly. Seriously guys. You're so damn lucky to have so much at your doorstep! #jealous
When flying, fly responsibly | There are times when flying is necessary. Like, if you live in Australia like me. I recommend looking into airlines that offer you the option to carbon offset your flight. This means, they take the money you've added to your flight and plant a tree. There are also some airlines that religiously recycle waste from food, beverages and paper. Every little bit helps.
Stay at locally owned hotels | Big chain hotels may feel like they're more reliable, but your money isn't supporting the local community. Sure, it may be paying the staff, but the profit is moved into someone else's pocket, living on his yacht in Florida.
Treat your hotel like it's home | Meaning, turn off the lights and heating/cooling when you leave and don't ask housekeeping to change your towels or sheets. If you need more tea, coffee, or anything that comes complimentary with housekeeping – just call and ask the front desk for more. The thought here is, would I do this if I were home? If the answer is no, don't get housekeeping to do it.
Research when politics are involved | If you're travelling to a country with an oppressive political regime, research what hotels are funded or supported by the government. Don't be afraid to email.
Bike or walk | The most eco friendly way to get around is by bike or walking. You see more this way too!
Support local communities | Buy from local markets, suppliers and locally-owned businesses. And for the love of all things travel, don't shop at the H&M's or Zara's, or even McDonald's for that matter.
Research tours first | Don't be afraid to ask the hard questions before you book. Ask what percentage of staff are locally hired, how they give back to local communities, what they do to give back to the environment. Know where your money is going before you commit.
Respect wildlife | If you're planning on visiting a wildlife sanctuary or zoo, do you research. There are far too many places out there taking animals for granted and making an absolute fortune off naive tourists. Don't be a naive tourist.
Bring a reusable water bottle | I can't even begin to tell you how bad plastic bottles are for the environment. Whether you can drink the tap water or not, bring a reusable water bottle. If tap water isn't an option, buy a big case of water instead of the little bottles. There are also many ways you can purify water these days, like Aquatabs for $12 – bloody bargain.
Opt for the road less travelled | This is a difficult one, but do you research and talk to locals. If you spend more time off the tourist track, you'll have a more authentic, local experience supporting local communities.
Save paper, go digital | Paper maps are a nice souvenir to have, but they're a wasted resource – especially now that we can go digital. Google Maps actually lets you download maps so you can use them offline. And guess what, your little blue dot works offline too – I dunno what dark magic that is but it's a million times better than figuring out a paper map.
Save water, wash your clothes in the bathroom sink | If you bring some washing powder with you, you can easily wash your smalls (and larger items) in your bathroom sink. It saves water and money.
Pick up after yourself | This one's pretty obvious, but don't be that guy, don't litter.
What's the most sustainable mode of transport?
There's actually no simple answer to this question. It's very complicated. It comes down to how many people you're travelling with, how many people you're sharing the transport with and how far you're going. The table below is an interesting comparison.
Walk or ride | Obviously walking and riding are going to be your most sustainable mode of transport. But they don't get you far. So they get ruled out when you need to get to another country or in same cases, the other side of the city.
Bus or train | These are your second best eco-friendly options. The great thing about travelling on bus or train is it departs and arrives in the city centre, as opposed to planes that take a great deal of effort to get to, wait around, and get out of. Buses can be pretty budget friendly too.
Car | I've gotta say, roadtrip holidays are one of my favourite type of ways to see a country. But they can be pretty bad for the environment. If you need to drive around a country (like Iceland or Canada for instance), try to rent a car that's small – a hybrid car would be best.
Plane | As I've mentioned before, air travel is the biggest emissions contributor with 40% of total carbon emissions. But, if you're travelling more than 1600km away, surprisingly an economy flight is somewhat sustainable compared to driving.
Sustainable travel is a complicated notion though. Just take a look at the table below.
I've only just touched the surface here. But eco-travel is definitely something I want to learn and discuss more on Wayfare West. The older I get, the more aware I've become of my impact on the planet. I could just sit back, and think, it's to hard and too late to change anything, sure that would be the easy way out. But I think it's up to our generation to make a difference – because we certainly can't trust those baby boomers to change a thing.
What are your thoughts on responsible travel? Are you intrigued to learn more like me? Or do you have any tips I may have missed? Let me know in the comments below.