Do you know that the moment you step onto an airplane, and check into your hotel room, you have already left a huge amount of carbon footprint from all the energy consumption? Let’s be honest, environmental concern is probably the last thing that comes to mind when you’re traveling. I feel the need to address this issue, because as a frequent traveller, I have seen picturesque and magnificent scenes of nature. I have dived into some of the most tranquil and crystal clear water. I have closed my eyes and imagined, what the world would be like if everything disappeared within the blink of an eye, with only landfill as mountains and plastics floating all over the sea water.
With that in mind, here are some tips for us all to be more eco-friendly travellers and embark on this journey to save the world!
Avoid short-distance flights, opt for land transportation
A typical plane like Boeing 747 uses approximately 4 litres every second. Over the course of a two hour flight, it might burn 28,800 litres of fuel. With this amount of fuel, you can drive a car for seven rounds along the equator of the earth and still have fuel left in your car. I hope that explains why air tickets are expensive; this is because they fluctuate along with the fuel price. While some destinations are unreachable without a plane, you can always travel by land transport, like trains or buses, for short distance travels. Some countries even offer long distance ride-sharing services, like GumTree in Australia. The trip may be slower, but the scenery of the countryside is worth the while.
Avoid hotels, go for homestay or hostels
So you have just landed at your destination and checked in your hotel. During your stay, your bed sheet and towels will be replaced every single day. Just imagine how many gallons of wastewater they generate in order to do the laundry. Not to mention, the disposable shampoo bottles and the unfinished buffet you eat for breakfast; all of that ends up in the landfill. Thanks to Airbnb, people can now enjoy local experiences while generating less waste at the same time. Hostels can be also be one of the options, especially for backpackers who don’t find the need for soap supplies nor the need to change bed sheets every day.
Avoid disposable product, use reusable product
Common disposable products include disposable shavers, disposable toothbrushes, disposable undergarments and the list goes on. It does not really increase your luggage weight to replace all these products with reusable ones. Sometimes, reusable products tend to have better quality and comfort. Avoid using the shampoo they provide in the hotel and bring your favourite brand of hair shampoo, because I feel like hotel’s hair shampoo does more damage to my hair texture and I did not pay for that (sarcasm intended).
Avoid zoos and animal tourism spots, support conservation centers and nature reserves
Some examples of animal tourism spots include circuses, elephant rides, tiger temples, animal theme parks and many more. Most animal-related tourism activities are abusive and detrimental to the animals. Fact: zoos are often not a place to protect endangered species from extinction. It is also really hard to identify whether a zoo’s operation is ethnical or not, because there are different law protections for animals in different countries. Therefore, I think the best solution is to avoid these places at all costs. These animals have lost their natural habitat to be confined in a cage for the pleasure of people. They are forced to perform while receiving constant stares and camera flashes from the visitors. Worst of all, they have to go through all this without being fed properly.
Zoos do serve an educational purpose for children, especially for those who live in the city. However, I believe that there are better options and more authentic experiences to interact with animals. You might not be able to see the entire animal kingdom by visiting conservation centers or animal sanctuaries, but it is a more sustainable way to see wild animals. My favourite way to get in touch with wild animals is through visiting nature reserves and national parks. These are the places where you can interact with wildlife up-close. Chances are, they won’t bite you unless you disturb them.
Avoid disposable plastic bottles
Just in case you have never heard of this invention, “Life straw”, it is a water filter that is designed like a straw. It can remove 99.99% of waterborne bacteria so it makes water safe for drinking. You can get this from outdoor gear stores or even eBay. This investment is good if you enjoy going into the woods for hiking or jungle trekking, and are tired of carrying a big water bottle. Here is a guide of countries where tap water is safe to drink. Furthermore, you can always bring your own water bottle and request for water refill from the restaurants you visit while travelling.
Support local products
You can always get fresh food from the local market, which allows you to indulge in local experiences and haggle for a cheaper price. As far as presents go, souvenirs crafted by locals like indigenous people are much more valuable than the mass produced souvenirs. Avoid craft works made from animals like elephant tusk and fur skin. In addition to that, choose products with less packaging.
Leave footprints, and only your footprints
One of the most irritating things that a tourist can do is to disrupt the nature around them for the sake of capturing good pictures. I’ve seen some tourists who grab fishes while scuba-diving and collect corals from sea beds. Others leave piles of trashes in camping grounds and seasides, and carve on trees and cave walls. If you cannot commit to preserve the environment, the least you can do is not become a cause of environmental destruction. You can take as many photos as you want, but leave the nature untouched and avoid harming the environment while doing so. After all, it is the quality time you spend with your loved ones, and the memories you take back to your home country that will matter the most.
Being an eco-friendly traveller doesn’t mean that you have to always put extra effort. It can be the simple acts of environmental conservation that can enrich your travel experience while making a difference in the world.
By America Lee Yan Yi