Have fun and save the world, all at the same time as an ethical traveler.
It can be quite refreshing and fantastic when you set foot in a new country, and it’s a natural reaction to want to splurge on every second whim. It’s not easy at first to be as responsible and ethical as you can. But start small and, as you keep traveling, you’ll see things that were so effortful to you have become mere habits in no time. Here are four tips to keep in mind as you have the time of your life:
1. Conserve power.
I lived in Lagos, Nigeria for awhile, and its climate was humid and hot so staying indoors in my house was pure bliss. Utility costs were included in the rent, which meant that no one in the house ever gave a care about how much air-con was being used.
I was ignorant of this at the time, but nothing in this world is ever free. Our electricity actually came from two giant generators situated by the side of the apartment, which not only emitted their fair share of carbon, but also produced much noise and air pollution for the family of five living right next-door. Their only protection from the outside environment was one sheet of steel used as a roof.
Saving power is, at least immediately, not about saving the world or the future generation. It’s about the here and now. The people living beside you, the people who are serving you as cooks, housekeepers, grocers, and bellhops — they are the ones who will suffer the direct local impact of your actions and inactions.
If you’re staying in a hotel or other residence that includes all utility costs, it’s all too easy to become dangerously out of hand. Constantly check your power usage during your stay and treat your hotel room as your own home.
2. Stay away from single-use plastics.
Point #2 is important anywhere, but it’s especially crucial if your city does not have a reliable recycling system. It will be inconvenient, of course, to prepare water filters for your five-day vacation when you have perfect access to cheap bottled water in the shop downstairs. It will be a hassle every time to insist on using your reusable bag (perhaps in a foreign language) when the cashier is impatiently packing your groceries in a plastic bag.
But these small things count. Yes, your city may appear to have plastic recycling bins. But recycling systems are often misleading — less than 10% of all plastic film generated to date (including plastic bags) has been recycled. Un-recycled plastics will most likely end up in the nearest landfills, affecting local communities and eco-systems.
“All plastic ever manufactured is still on this planet. Whether it is in use, recycled, landfilled, or in micro pieces in the environment, there is no “away” when we throw out plastic.” — Andrea Tineo on Ecology Center
Save the planet and the local community by keeping your hands off of plastic.
3. Carbon offset your flights.
This one-time trip cost the Earth about 2,700 additional kilograms (or nearly three tons) of carbon dioxide. This is well over the average yearly emission of a middle-class car. And, it’s almost five times the emission of an average person in Ethiopia over the span of a year. As someone who can afford a $1,000 flight ticket, you are directly responsible for the global imbalance of carbon emissions. Specifically speaking, you are responsible for paying back 62 Euro (75 USD) for a trip to Paris from NYC.
Consider offsetting your flights (using websites like Atmosfair) or jotting down the sums so you can pay them off after your next paycheck. If it’s a little harsh on your wallet (I wouldn’t be surprised,) you might reassess how you want your trip to look. This leads me to my next and final point…
4. Travel on land whenever possible.
Once you consider carbon offsetting, your flights seem to get much more expensive. Consider traveling shorter distances and on land (such as by use of trains and buses.) While Instagram may tell you otherwise, I promise you that there are millions of hidden gems scattered in your country or even in your city that you don’t even know about. You don’t always have to go to Switzerland to have an awesome time.
Whenever possible, consider taking the land route: For example in Europe or in the U.S., you can travel to pretty much all corners by rail or bus, and for much cheaper than flying. Traveling on land also has the added benefit of enjoying the passing scenery, whether through the pine forest or the yawning desert. You can even make short stops at charming small towns, which existence you wouldn’t even know of if you just flew over it.