When I visited Indonesia for the sixth time this year, it really opened my eyes to the importance of eco-travel and how I can diminish the negative impact of my exploration. We all know that flying isn't the most environmentally friendly way of getting about - the carbon adds up. Beside that, some non-western cultures have less-developed recycling programmes and nobody wants to see litter washed up on beaches or piled up in the streets with tourists adding to the problem.
To help your holiday destination remain a place that visitors dream of and locals can thrive, make sure you're part of the solution. Here are 5 areas where responsible travel can minimise your impact.
In countries where the drinking water is not safe, people tend to drink the equivalent of about 1-5 bottles of water per. On a two week holiday using 3 bottles per day as an average, this could add up to around 49 bottles of water used. The problem is, these bottles that helped quench your thirst in that hot, humid moment will hang around for around 1000 years, well after you're gone. So what's the solution?
A great way to avoid leaving a water bottle legacy is to buy a refillable water bottle which filters viruses and bacteria andcan filled from any tap. I used a 'water to go' bottle throughout my holiday, which not only saved me money and tasted like normal water - it cut down on non-biodegradable bottles. If you don't have one of these bottles, look out for water refill stations to fill up your empty water bottles (you can often find these in dive shops).
When buying snacks for those bus, train and boat journeys, opt for munchies and drinks that are naturally packaged in biodegradable form, like bananas, coconuts - for a healthy drink and coconut treat once drunk, or street food like the famous Indonesian 'Nasi Campur' which comes wrapped in banana leaves or paper. Tasty, local, zero waste!
As you're by now used to at home, remember to avoid taking plastic bags from shops unless really needed; instead stuff your purchases in to your rucksack, beach bag or scooter storage under the seat.
As you're sipping your pina colada watching the sunset go down or refreshing yourself with a sweet tropical juice, one easy suggestion is to avoid the plastic straws that often come with drinks. Plastic straws also take hundreds of years to decompose and have sadly been found stuck in turtles nasal cavities, causing them distress and harm. On my last trip away I was pleased to discovered quite a few places in Indonesia using bamboo straws - where very thin prices of bamboo have been hollowed out - and a few Eco cafes using the old fashioned paper straws.
Air travel and its carbon footprint is an ever increasingly complex subject. If considered it over the short term, say 5 years, experts say a transatlantic flight is worse than one years’ worth of driving. However in the longer term it doesn't appear so bad. Whichever way you look at it, we shoudl all minimise our impact wherever possible.
First up, carbon offsetting. Although this can't make your trip ‘carbon neutral’, because tree planting is not a like-for-like swap for aviation emissions there are benefits. Many projects supported by carbon off setters are great environmental projects worthy of support in their own right. The Voluntary Carbon Offset Information Portal lists the 4 best carbon offsetting companies if you want to make a contribution: atmosfair, climate friendly, myclimate, and NativeEnergy
Something else to consider when planning your trip is how to work in overland or 'surface' sectors. Classic overland legs open up adventurous possibilities, can add more countries into your itinerary for free and also reduce your environmental impact in terms of air miles.
Rail travel is a magnificent andway to gain insight into local life and is ususally very affordable. Meet locals as you travel and peek into hidden slices of life as the train bisects cities, slums and countryside. India and Sri Lanka are well known for their extensive and easy to travel rail networks and Japan's extensive shinkansen system ('bullet train') is a super slick way to get around and made even easier if you buy a Japan Rail Pass. Canada and the USA also offer excellent rail options, and with huge cross-continental distances to cover, they really do cut down on air miles.
For a truly epic journey, the Tran Siberian Train from Moscow to Beijing is surely one of the best; traversing an entire continent, you'll see amazing snapshots of life in Russia, Mongolia and China along the way. Heading down under? Although it's easy to tack on a low-cost flight to hop about in Australia, don't overlook the cross-country trains, The Ghan (from Adelaide in South Australia to Darwin in the Northern Territory via Uluru) and the Indian Pacific which runs right the way from Sydney to Perth. You'll be whisked through the Aussie outback past kangaroos in comfort and there are some cheaper options if you're on a budget.
Here are some of our favourite rail journeys of the world: Beijing to Hong Kong Express, Northeast India and Darjeeling by Rail
Overland travel, doesn’t just include trains, you can also opt for buses, boats, tuk tuks and bikes to travel overland between countries. You will get yourself off the beaten track, find yourself with adventurous travel tales and will experience the countries at their fullest. If you want to go far, make it a longer holiday rather than a few short trips. Round the world flights are great for visiting Australia and New Zealand for example! Our very own Chris from Travel Nation cycled the length of Canada and South America by bike, check out his blogs here.
More and more beach destinations are becoming aware of the importance of clean beaches for tourism and wildlife. On this Indonesian trip everywhere we went we saw dive and surf shops organising beach clean ups for tourists and locals to get involved in. If there isn't one where you're going and you see some beach debris pick it up and others will start to follow suit!
Whilst travelling it’s hard to avoid those UV rays and sunscreen is one of the few things which is often not cheaper to buy during your trip. To allow us more fun time in the sun most sunscreens contain chemicals to block the harmful UV rays whilst we enjoy checking out the fish snorkelling and hiking up the Machu Picchu trails without having to cower from the rays. Not many people know this, however when your sunscreen washes off the chemicals do too. Sunscreen containing oxybenzone has toxic effects on young coral including increasing coral bleaching. Don’t stop wearing sunscreen, just buy carefully. Look out for ‘reef safe’ options or ones with titanium oxide or zinc oxide which don’t harm coral reefs or opt for wearing a good rash vest. One sunscreen I used on my last trip was Badger SPF 35 Sunscreen.
We found a cafe in Nusa Lembongan, Bali Eco Deli who recycled wastewater, involved educating local businesses to recycle, paid to ship water bottles back to Bali mainland, gave discounts if you brought in litter picked bottles and were starting the islands first organic garden. Search out Eco resorts and restaurants in your next destination and be sure to swing by to show your support. Here are a couple of our favourite Eco resorts: Gayana Eco Resort in Borneo, Bora Bora Eco Lodge Private Motu in French Polynesia and Kimi Ora Eco lodge in New Zealand.
Eco cycle tours such as this Cycle Central America tour are also a great way to discover a destination - you can go at your own pace, get to places normally inaccessible by other means of transport (e.g. Rice paddy tours in Ubud, Bali), it's great exercise and you can feel smug that your activity is carbon neutral!
Make sure that what you are buying as souvenirs is not negatively impacting the environment or wildlife. I'm sure we can all live without Ivory statutes, sampling shark fin soup and bringing back coral ornaments!
On the flip-side, I have seen many a local making ingenious souvenirs on my travels. There are guys making mini tuk-tuks from old aluminium cans in Thailand, women's work cooperatives weaving purses from old plastic bags in Sulawesi and hats and bags woven from old newspapers in Lombok. These are the ideas we should be supporting as tourists so be sure to be on the hunt on your next trip!
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