20.06.17

7 Eco Travel Tips So You Can Be A Responsible Traveller

Kira Simpson

Eco tourism. Has a nice ring to it right?

It conjures up images of resort style hotels surrounded by lush greenery, days filled with riding elephants and hunting for unique souvenirs to take home.

The reality is, travel often impacts negatively on the environment, animals and people of the places we visit. What we perceive to be “eco” is usually very far from it and our travel plans often do far more harm than good.

Photo Credit: David Simpson

eco travel

Travel makes you modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in this world.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to travel, take several trips a year and plan to see as much of the world as I can. But, there are many ways we can all travel better and more mindfully.

Taking care to help preserve the places we visit and support the people who’s country we are guests which extend beyond staying in eco tourism certified hotels and offsetting your carbon when you fly.

This is a broad topic and one I would like to delve into further as I learn more. For now, let’s start with the basics on how you can travel more responsibly.

1. Don’t buy disposable water bottles

Plastic waste, especially in developing countries is a huge problem. These countries rarely have the facilities to dispose of our trash properly and safely and our water bottles usually end up on the streets, in the ocean or burned. For countries where the water is safe to drink from the tap, bring your own water bottle. For countries where the drinking water is not safe we use a Steripen water purifier. It works by using UV light to destroy over 99.9% of bacteria, viruses, and protozoa like Giardia and Cryptosporidium. Our Steripen has taken two trips to Nepal and one to Thailand and worked brilliantly every time. They’re not cheap but a worthwhile investment if you travel often.

2. Support local businesses

If you can, avoid booking tours and activities online before you go. I know the thought of a discount can be enticing but, often the online operators take a big cut for their services. Booking locally means the person or businesses is making most if not all of the money you pay. Small businesses often rely on tourism dollars so be sure to tip your guide, driver, instructor or porter for their good service.

3. Take your trash with you

If you’re travelling to remote areas where waste disposal means burning or burying your trash then take it with you. Plastic wrappers, floss, face wipes, empty products can all be wrapped up and stored in your suitcase or backpack until you reach a town that can dispose of it reasonably well or, take it home with you.

4. Eat like a local

Hotels often have some incredible food on offer and, after a long day of sightseeing, opting for the restaurant downstairs or room service is very appealing to the weary. Get out and discover new eateries. Ask locals where they like to eat or take a chance on a small roadside cafe. Much like tours and activities, it’s important to support local businesses, many of whom would buy their produce locally as well.

5. Check your gear

Dave and I are trekkers, fully equipped with all the gear and bits and pieces we need to make out treks safe and comfortable. Our clothes and bags were purchased pre-mindful days so I am very much aware that some our gear are not good for the very same environment we are there to admire. Some travel gear such as clothing, backpacks, tents, shoes and sleeping bags which are weatherproof or stain resistant, contain PFC’s (per- and polyfluorinated chemicals) which  leach into the surrounding environment and degrade very slowly. The take home message is to try and avoid products with PFC’s if you can. You can find more information about PFC’s and what’s being done to remove them from outdoor gear here.

6. Travel overland

Flying is by far the quickest way to travel these days, and for those of us who live on an island like Australia, it’s the only way to leave. But what about when you arrive at your destination? Again, flying will probably be the most time efficient way to get places but, if you are wanting to reduce your carbon footprint, look at other options such as going by car, bus, boat or train. The added bonus is you’ll get to see more of the country your visiting.

7. Boycott animal tourism

I know this sounds like a no brainer but the animal tourism industry is still booming so somebody is still paying for it. Do not ride elephants, hold baby tigers, pet orangutans, feed macaques or watch dolphins perform. Basically do not pay to interact with an animal in a way that is unnatural to them and their nature. The animal tourism industry is shady and I understand it’s easy to believe the caretaker (if you can call them that) when they say the animal is well cared for. Any tourist attraction which uses animals to make a profit is wrong and should not be supported. There are conservation and rehabilitation programs which allow you to watch or walk with animals but they are rare and should be researched carefully before you decide to visit.

There are many things we can do reduce our social and environmental impact while we travel. If you have any tips to add, share them in the comments below!

Kira Simpson

Founder + Director of The Green Hub, an urban green living advocate and coffee obsessive. She believes there is no one size fits all green lifestyle and we can all live more sustainably in a way that fits in with each of our unique lifestyles.