Five years ago, the concept of eco-tourism was little more than a dream in a hippie’s eye. But the movement gained momentum, and has now passed through popularity and out the other side. Now, everyone wants to be seen to be green.
But appearance isn’t the same as genuinely good for the environment. Tour companies greenwash their tours so they seem eco-friendly when actually they are the same as they were last year, and consumers choose a “green holiday,” because it makes them feel better, not because it’s something they believe in. People throw money at schemes promising to “offset your carbon footprint”, but don’t investigate where that money is going, and airlines introduce such schemes to improve their image.
There are a lot of ways to make your trip a bit more eco-friendly, which will not only help the environment, but will increase your enjoyment and the enjoyment of others with you or following you. It doesn’t matter what sort of trip you’re taking, there’s something you can do — and not a carbon offset scheme in sight.
Camping is a great way to interact with the local environment. It’s cheap, it’s easy, and there’s often some fantastic views to be had just around the next corner. It isn’t difficult to minimise your impact on the often unspoiled natural beauty of popular camping spots, just take your rubbish with you and don’t light any fires — if you do light fires, use existing fire pits wherever possible and follow fire-safety procedures. Also, use biodegradable soap and go to the toilet away from water sources.
Backpacking/staying with people
If you’re backpacking, you’re sure to stay in a shared environment occasionally (or perhaps all the time). You can make this environment more pleasant for all concerned by thinking about the others around you — don’t just think about what’s good for you, consider how others might like to live. Most people don’t really enjoy having to wade through other people’s belongings, or to see a random stranger’s undies in the middle of the room.
Whether you’re staying with friends, family, or in a hostel, keep your belongings to yourself. Find a corner or some other suitable space, and make sure all your things are in that space unless you’re using them. Better yet, leave everything in your bag. And make sure you clean up after yourself — if you make a mess, sort it out immediately.
For hostel-dwellers, please don’t spray on your cheap deodorant in the dorm room — some of these “scents” are almost toxic, and can frustrate the efforts of people trying to breathe. On a similar note, be quiet when you come in late at night, so others can enjoy an uninterrupted night’s sleep.
It’s always worth offering to help, especially if you’re a guest, and shortening your showers will help too. Some cities have water restrictions, where you should use as little water as possible, but in other places using less water reduces electricity consumption too.
One of the biggest ways you can tread lightly in a hotel is to reduce the amount of laundry you create in terms of linen and towels requiring washing after you use them. So, stay longer. If you stay for one night, all your linen must be washed. But if you stay a little longer, they don’t need to wash everything.
Most hotels change the towels daily, but there’s a growing movement against this policy. You’ll often see a sign in the bathroom giving you the choice — if you want fresh towels, throw your old ones in the bath or shower, and if you’re happy to reuse, hang your towel on the rack. It goes without saying that choosing the latter is the greener option.
Before you even get to your hotel though, you can make a difference. Start by choosing a local hotel rather than a huge multi-national. You’ll get a more interesting experience and more of your money will stay in the local economy. Also, use public transport wherever feasible — why be the only person in a hire car or taxi when you can travel with the locals and reduce carbon emissions at the same time?
Tours can be a great way to see a country, but make sure you’re contributing to the place you’re seeing, and that the money you spend doesn’t just line some bigwig’s pockets. The easiest way to do this is to choose a local tour company – buy when you get there.
Tourism is often a large part of a nation’s income, but with huge tour companies, sometimes as little as 10% of the money you spend stays in the country. Plus, it’s cheaper to buy local. Or use Responsibletravel.com — they book the local tours for you.
Or you could try a volunteer holiday — donate some of your time into improving the place you’re visiting. There are a lot of options to choose from — teach English, work in an orphanage, or do farm work. It isn’t the complete solution, but you are helping local communities. Or work for your accommodation in schemes like WWOOF — Willing workers on organic farms.
Make sure you buy your souvenirs from local market stalls, and not at the airport where you’ll get charged triple the price and the producer will get even less of your money.
Keep an eye on the locals
The best way to avoid sticking out like a sore thumb is to emulate the locals. You don’t need to dress like them — though dressing with sensitivity to local customs will never go amiss. But keep an eye on the way they do things — be aware, be mindful, be alert.
Travel should not be concerned with branding; advertising; imported goods, materials or services; but with what is native, local and beneficial towards preserving the land, the environment, and the cultural identity of indigenous communities. Educated travellers are an extremely powerful force in helping to shape economies, environments and societies.Stephen Chapman from Maketravelfair.co.uk
There are a host of websites out there which uphold the idea of travelling responsibly, and have a lot more ideas than we could ever come up with. Check out Gogreentravelgreen.com, and these articles at Maketravelfair.com: Unconciously Responsible, Leaving Your Cubicle, and The Green Route: London To Dublin. And check out our guide to being a great guest from before you arrive.
Of course, feel free to give a donation to a carbon-offset scheme. But you might be better giving your donation to a local forest preservation group, who will keep you informed about the state of your personal source of air.