How to travel more responsible and reduce environmental impact
Personal note: Travelling has become just about the most important thing in my life right now. I call it my runners high, you know that feeling you get when you're running for a long time. I get that feeling when I'm traveling, I get a kick when I get on a plane on my way to a new destination, to new adventures.
Although I like to travel a lot, the last year I also thought a lot about the impact of all these trips. And then I'm mainly talking about the ecological footprint I leave behind. Continuous travel of course also means that I fly a lot and that is accompanied by higher CO2 emissions. Since this year, I have started to travel more consciously. Not less, but more conscious.
By the way, there are many ways to travel consciously. And it’s not just about reducing environmental or ecological impact. Below are some examples of what you can do if you want to travel more consciously.
Buy mostly from local shops and local farmers
Everyone loves souvenirs to take home souvenirs and presents whether it's for themselves or for their loved ones. But when you buy souvenirs, be careful as to where you go and buy them. Go for the smaller stalls where the local people handcraft everything. A lot of souvenir shops have goods that are imported from countries such as China. As a result less than 5% of the profit stays in the country you bought the souvenirs in. So instead of helping the local economy, you are actually making it worse.
Studies show that when you buy from an independent, locally owned business, rather than a nationally owned business, a significantly greater portion of your money is then used to make purchases from other local businesses, service providers, and farms — further strengthening the economic base of the whole community.
The same goes for big hotel chains that are often owned by a foreign investor or part of a hotel chain. Although a big hotel probably gives work to a lot of locals, the real profit doesn't stay in the country. Also a lot of hotels have arrangements with tour guides, offering scenic or cultural tours at a "promotional rate". However, a lot of these tour guides don't even get half of the money you spend on a tour.
Did you know that some hotels even try to scare their customers into staying in to the hotel? They are claiming that it's dangerous to go outside by your own and it's best to just enjoying everything the hotel has to offer. I have learned that the best way to go by is to ask around or talk openly about your worries with the hotel you are staying. Or even do some research on the internet before leaving on vacation. Or ask friends and family about who they did a certain tour or activity with. Just don't go for the typical tourist traps and try to dig deeper, you'll be happy, I swear!
If we continue the line to restaurants, it's best to stay away from fast food chains or similar restaurants. When I was in Vanuatu I met Francesca for Francesca's Beach Club, who is originally from Italy but fell in love with Vanuatu many years ago. She moved to Port Vila and opened a nice restaurant with a single guest room near the beach.
Francesca works exclusively with traditional vanuatuan chefs and cooks with mostly local products from local farmers. She is combining her love for Italian food with everything the Vanuatu cuisine, gardens and beaches have to offer. She uses the locally produced coconut oil from the Tanna Farms and fresh fish or prawns.
Her twist on coconut prawns is literally one of the most delicious things I've eaten. And because the prawns are from a sustainable farm not far away, they are even much bigger and tastier than any other prawns I've eaten before.
And it's not just the food, the whole atmosphere at Francesca's place is amazing. You can even enjoy the best sunset on the Island for free.
Avoid single use plastics
Plastic pollution is one of the biggest environmental problems we face today. Plastic has toxins that harm the environment and cause soil, water and air pollution. It takes hundreds or even thousands of years for plastics to degrade, so the damage to the environment is long lasting. Not only is plastic difficult to degrade, it can also cause injury and ultimately lead to the death of many species.
I think a lot of companies still don't realise that things have to change. When I flew to Australia I got water in a single plastic cup with an aluminium seal. Ten minutes later they came around with water from a bottle. Where is the logic?
Let's take the example of straws. Everyday tens of millions of tons of plastic make their way into the oceans, where they are a danger to marine wildlife. Although plastic straws are only a fraction of the daily use of plastic and plastic pollution, today more and more restaurants and hotels are banning straws and replace them with washable and therefore reusable straws. Or even better, with a stem of a plant or something like lemongrass. First of all I like that it looks better, it's also very good for the environment.
At this one place I stayed, they even got rid of plates and replaced it with hand-woven ones made out of palm and banana leaves. It looks good doesn't it?
Sign up for volunteer work or help a local business
When I was younger I really wanted to do volunteer work, but I never got to it. Since I started traveling a few years ago I always look for projects where I can be of any use. Whether it's on a local farm harvesting fruits and vegetables, or helping local businesses with anything marketing or social media related to boost their presence.
When I was on Tanna, another Vanuatu Island, I helped out John. He is the owner of the Volcano Eco and Treehouse. His offer is really unique, but he struggles to get the people to come and stay at his place. Mostly because he doesn't really know how and secondly because there's a lot of competition from bigger, more touristic accommodations.
I helped John set up his online booking account and added a lot of new, attractive pictures. I even gave him a list of things he could do himself to attract new customers on Facebook. For me this wasn't a lot of work and it took me maybe an hour or more, but for John it meant so much.
Another great project in Vanuatu that I was more than glad to support is located on Moso Island. About an hour by boat from the East side of Efate, you'll find the Tranquility Island resort and the Hawksbill Turtle Sanctuary. First things first, I am not a big fan of animals kept in captivity, but at the sanctuary the young turtles are only kept there for 12 months.
The turtles are taken care of in ponds until they are big and strong enough to go out in the ocean. There's a pond for each size of turtle, all the way up to the Pre-Release Pond, which means the next step is the Ocean.
The reason why the sanctuary is doing this, is because there are a lot of predators that feed on turtle eggs or recently hatched turtles, because the shells aren't hard yet, making it easier for them to swallow. Without the sanctuary a lot of baby turtles wouldn't even stand a chance.
While I was at the sanctuary with the team, we decided to free one of the turtles, #14706 and made a donation to the sanctuary. These donations are one of the main sources of income for the resort and they are struggling at times. Ever since the last hurricane destroyed everything and they had to rebuilt the whole resort, the numbers of tourists aren't high, which means there is less money available for food and taking care of the turtles.
Compensate your CO2 emissions
Because I travel a lot I've been looking for ways to do something about the higher C02 emission that accompanies my wonderful trips. I found a couple of amazing sites where you can actually compensate your ecological footprint by donating to a good cause. Sites such as Trees for all, Green tripper and Treecological let you easily calculate and compensate your CO2 emissions.
Spread the message and ensure that more people travel consciously
Every little helps and if everyone, like me, helps to spread the word, then we can make sure that the situation does not get any worse. We have to be realistic and realise that there are a lot of things that we cannot solve or for which we can no longer turn back the clock. What we can do is to work together to ensure that things do not get any worser. We can make a difference today. Don't forget that.
Are you taking measures to travel more responsible? Or do you just wanna have a chat about what you could do? Come talk to me at @angeloveroofficial. Or leave a comment below.
This article was in no way sponsored by the organisations or companies mentioned above and is only the result of my personal search for more responsible travel.