I have been writing about eco-friendly travel since back when I was doing magazine stories pre-internet. All along on this blog I’ve done regular rants on the evils of single-use plastic water bottles that mostly end up in our waterways.
So I was trilled to finally go to a travel conference this month where water was served from giant containers (refill your own bottle) instead of the organizers using and discarding a ton of plastic. The companies doing pre-tours were directed to follow the same path. Kudos to the Adventure Travel Trade Association for walking the walk on sustainability instead of just giving it lip service. Carbon offsets and green certified hotels are nice, but it’s the everyday habits of individuals that really make the most impact on environmental sustainability in the end.
Long-term budget travelers can start out more smug on this subject of being an eco-friendly traveler anyway. You take public transportation because you have to and you often don’t have air conditioning in your hotels because well, you can’t afford those kinds of hotels. No wasteful jet-skis, ATVs, private jets, or heated plunge pools. Heck, sometimes it’s a challenge to even get a light bulb bright enough for reading!
Apart from taking the occasional tuk-tuk spewing out noxious fumes, backpackers are usually having less impact on the environment abroad than they would be in a working stiff life at home. They travel by plane, as most any international travelers must to get somewhere far, but usually go overland when that’s an option.
That doesn’t mean you can’t improve the situation though with some simple steps. Integrate these into your travel routine and you’ll have far less impact on our rapidly warming and more junked-up planet.
1) Find a way to create purified water on a regular basis instead of buying bottled water in plastic containers. Otherwise you’re a walking environmental disaster. There are great purification products out there from SteriPEN, Grayl, Lifestraw, and Katadyn—to name a few. In places where you can drink the tap water, then do.
2) Use electronic items that can be recharged, or carry rechargeable batteries and a charger if it’s not built in. This is a major trend in travel electronics, so it shouldn’t be hard when you pick up a headlamp, lantern, water purifier, or flashlight. Even better, carry a collapsible or inflatable solar lantern. Some cost less than $20.
3) Buy practical travel gear that lasts, not cheapo stuff that you’re going to have to toss in the trash halfway through your trip. If it’s manufactured in a low-impact way that’s nice too, but don’t get carried away thinking that’s a cure-all. (The stuff still has to get packaged and shipped to you.) Take Patagonia’s advice and really wear things out. Don’t believe the “new and improved” hype unless the technology is truly better or lighter. Often a new jacket or shoe style is just a fashion change.
4) Go local. This is not the same as “going native,” but halfway there. Eat local food, drink local drinks, buy souvenirs close to the point of origin, buy clothes manufactured in the country itself. This is not only better for the environment; it’s actually better than giving to charity when it comes to helping the local people who live there. Spend your money in ways that benefit the local communities and they’ll welcome visitors instead of resenting them. You’ve helped someone feed their family by running a business. This is doubly good when buying sustainable gifts for someone instead of forgettable factory-made junk.
This is just a start of becoming an eco-friendly traveler, but it is part of an attitude that travelers of all budgets need to adopt: before looking outward at carbon credits, green hotel certifications, and sustainable tour practices, first take a look inward and honestly assess your daily consumption habits.
Then turn off the lights when you leave your room for the day, okay?