Travel bloggers and YouTubers may have turned travelling into a dream lifestyle, but I think that, deep down, what propels us to travel is the need to expand our horizons and feel awe in front of Mother Nature’s beauty. From backpackers to luxury tourists, travelling is food for our souls.
But travelling comes with one big catch-22.
Travellers seek to appreciate the planet’s beauty and, yet, the very act of travelling entails the depletion of that beauty.
Pollution, over-consumption and depletion of resources seem to be the trails that the visiting tourist leaves behind.
So, should we stop travelling? Should we decide that our souls are best where our bricks are? What a terrible sentence to impose on ourselves. Personally, I’ve always been my happiest when travelling.
The good news is there are easy ways of making sure that your impact when travelling is minimal, if not completely neutral. Or, even better, a positive one.
So how do you go about achieving any of those three things?
Water is a precious resource. Droughts and lack of proper infrastructure often result in severe water shortage and frequent water cuts in some countries.
That was the case for me in Mauritius. When I lived with my parents, the water shortage problem was apparent.
Every day from 9am – 3pm and again from 11pm – 6am, the water authorities would completely cut off the water. That’s right, no water at all for 13 hours.
So, if you need water, your options are limited to waking up at the crack of dawn to fill as many utensils as you can, relying on a roof tank (not drinkable) or buying pre-bottled water which, of course, comes in plastic. Bottle companies in Mauritius must find business very lucrative.
It’s an issue that would not be glaring to a visitor. I, for one, wasn’t thinking about it during my stay at Outrigger. Water shortage? Which water shortage?
So, when going on holiday, it might be worth doing your research and trying to use water as sparingly as possible. I know, it’s a holiday. But just shortening the length of your showers makes a difference, as well as asking for your towels to be changed only when necessary.
If the recycling infrastructures in countries like the UK, USA and Canada are insufficient (91% of plastic is not recycled), it’s not difficult to believe that in less developed countries, recycling facilities are pretty much non-existent.
So limiting your plastic usage to a minimum is one of the most basic, but most respectful, things you can do when visiting a country.
It starts with carrying a reusable water bottle around with you. Believe me, when you’re out and about, you will get thirsty. Do not underestimate your capacity to dehydrate like a prune in hot and humid conditions. You never know when an activity might pop up, resulting in physical strain and, therefore, thirst.
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Unfortunately, a lot of countries don’t have facilities for you to refill your bottle.
In our case, despite carrying reusable water bottles with us, we did run out of our water and had to buy the plastic shiz. In our defence, we had just climbed a mountain.
And instead of buying several, we only bought one. So I wouldn’t play down on the importance of bringing your own bottle.
If you’re a street food lover, like I am, don’t forget to bring some reusable cutlery with you. The ones I have come in a little cloth bag and are made of bamboo, so they’re super light to carry around. The pack includes a bamboo straw as well. So if you ever want to sip your cocktail the fancy way, you can do so without relying on here-for-2-centuries-don’t-mind-me plastic.
A reusable coffee cup can prove to be super useful too.
Jet lag and the need to explore everything in a very short lapse of time usually results in the need for frequent caffeine fixes.
As a huge coffee addict, coffee, regardless of where I am in the world, is imperative. Truth be told, coffee is not one of Mauritius’s fortes. I spent most of my time there experiencing caffeine withdrawal which meant some severe bouts of grumpiness.
I also like carrying a foldable reusable bag with me; regardless of whether I’m travelling or not. You never know when you’ll need to pop to the shops, and it’s my number one way of preventing unwanted carrier bag purchases.
I get it, aeroplane toilets are always occupied, and toilet facilities are pretty dire in some countries. Instead of carrying wipes to keep your hands clean, consider bringing some antibacterial gel or spray.
Carrying versatile makeup items with you is a great way to travel light. Lipstick that doubles as blusher and highlighter, and bronzer that doubles as eyeshadow are just a few makeup tricks that I like to use.
Instead of carrying cotton pads to remove your makeup, you can buy some reusable ones on Etsy or even make your own! They weigh about the same as cotton pads and therefore won’t add much to your luggage allowance.
Our sunscreen is killing the planet. There’s one fact that blew me away. As it turns out, most sunscreens contain an ingredient called Oxybenzone which is nefarious to coral reefs.
“It causes weird deformities in soft tissue and also causes the coral larvae to encase itself in its own skeleton, in its own coffin,” said Craig Downs a researcher in a study published in 2015.
So wearing just any sunscreen might be one of the cruellest things we’re doing to the planet. Not only is our sunscreen leading marine life to a torturous death, but coral reefs play an essential role in our ecosystem.
Coral reefs protect islands, like Mauritius, from life-threatening waves. Without coral reefs, Mauritius wouldn’t be the idyllic holiday sanctuary that it currently is.
Bigger fish also depend on plankton and smaller forms of life to survive. The danger to coral larvae represents a much larger danger to all forms of life.
Here is a list of coral reef-friendly sunscreen:
Bare Republic Mineral Body Lotion – SPF50
Loving Naturals Clear Body Non Nano 100% Natural Zinc Sunscreen
Raw Elements Certified Natural Sunscreen
Babo Botanicals SPF 30 Clear Zinc Lotion
Aveeno Mineral Sensitive Skin Sunscreen SPF 50
Alba Botanica Sensitive Fragrance Free Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30
Thinksport Sunscreen SPF 50+
All Good Sport Sunscreen Lotion
Badger SPF 30 Active Mineral Sunscreen Cream for Face and Body
Juice Beauty Sport Sunscreen SPF 30
Supporting Local Communities
You can make your trip a positive one by being mindful of where your money goes. Supporting local businesses is an excellent way of showing real appreciation to the country you’re visiting.
Buy and source locally. Shop in local markets and eat at locally-owned restaurants rather than at big chains. Mauritius is full of street vendors and markets called ‘bazaar’, and I genuinely think that the real culinary tastes of a country are on the streets.
A lot of the street food comes into plastic packaging, unfortunately, as it’s the cheapest way for vendors to sell their goods.
One amazing thing about Mauritius though, is that bringing your Tupperware to takeaway places is perfectly normal, and locals do it all the time. They had it right waaay before us.
Stay in locally-owned guesthouses, Airbnbs instead of big hotel chains.
I did stay at a hotel chain for a few days because that particular one had a great ‘zero tolerance to plastic’ culture. What can I say, no straws and recycled-cardboard pens drew me in.
Take the time to do your research and find somewhere to stay that reflects your values and ethics.
While supporting local businesses is a great initiative, be wary of locals offering elephant rides and monkey shows. These might seem fun, but you never know what kind of treatment the animals are subjected to.
Walking is, hands down (or should I say ‘feet down’?), the best way to take your body from one place to another. It helps you stay fit and has minimal impact on the environment. I know, not everything is feasible on foot, but public transport, like bus and train, also has a much lower carbon footprint than travelling by car.
However, the most significant polluting factor of your holiday will probably be the trip there, especially if you’re taking the plane.
One long-haul flight can emit more carbon emissions than what the average individual produces in a whole year.
“According to figures from German nonprofit Atmosfair, flying from London to New York and back generates about 986kg of CO2 per passenger. […]But even a relatively short return trip from London to Rome carries a carbon footprint of 234kg of CO2 per passenger – more than the average produced by citizens of 17 countries annually.”
As standards of living increase and holiday packages become more and more affordable, these alarming stats will only continue to rise. According to the Guardian, they would triple in the next three decades!
In the light of those statistics, using alternate methods of travelling such as the train and boat, might well be a smart choice. Unfortunately, this is not always feasible.
There is, however, still a ‘solution’. It’s called carbon-offsetting.
What is carbon-offsetting, you ask? Boy, I’m glad you asked.
Carbon-offsetting consists of making up for the carbon emissions that you have caused.
Say you eat a pizza worth 540 calories. You then go for a run that makes you lose exactly 540 calories. You’ve, essentially, brought the act of eating that pizza to a total impact of zero.
Carbon-offsetting acts in a similar way.
We can’t avoid the carbon emissions that a flight causes, but we can offset it. Travel agency, Intrepid travels, has been carbon neutral since 2010.
How do they do it?
“We offset our carbon emissions by purchasing carbon credits associated with a range of renewable energy projects. We have identified six key international projects that we will purchase carbon credits with from 2018-2020”
There are many brands out there that help you calculate the amount of carbon that you have emitted and then give you the opportunity to make up for them. It could be in the form of investing in environmental projects, research for renewable energy or small acts that you can do in your everyday life.
An innovative concept, don’t you think?
Going on adventures and soaking in the world’s beauty shouldn’t be at the detriment of our planet. Travelling reinforces that; it fosters my belief that our natural resources need to be preserved so that future generations can gaze with similar wonder on the same pastures and landscapes.
Taking the time to implement those little things in your lifestyle contributes towards the movement — the movement to preserve our planet.