Lets face it – the world is a really small place; more so in this age, the distance between people and places is growing smaller and smaller by the day! More and more people are calling themselves travelers, but in our quest to discover the bounties of nature, without realizing, we are impacting it negatively. As per Google, more than 1 billion people crossed international borders in the year 2013 on account of tourism! Imagine the size of the footprint left behind.
We have all heard and read about how many heritage sites are now no longer open to public on account of restoration – a part of me still gets angry when I see scribbles and love notes on many ancient ruins! Then there are others – groups and tour companies that allow the tourists to take with them a part of the ‘culture’ by distributing ancient geological rocks from many sites. Such incidents are a shame and should be avoided. Integrity of a place should be maintained and it is the responsibility of each and every traveler like us to maintain it.
Travel and tourism industries have started realizing that there are many more tangible benefits associated with sustainable tourism than just getting a pat on the back for doing the right thing for nature.On account of the extravagant use of natural resources by travelers (think: the luxurious shower heads that makes you feel you are dancing in the rain), the government has started many initiatives like lower taxes for hotels over green stay and in return hotels like the Westin provide extra room points for people who opt for (say) less laundry!
Hence, there is no doubt that the tourism industry can have a major impact on the environment if all 1 billion of us decide to follow the same path of sustainability. As travellers ourselves, we try to do our best possible without giving up on our comfort levels and here are a few things you can do.
- The Concept of sharing:
Sites like Airbnb and the concept of house sharing. You do not have to give up your luxurious hotel room while opting for this. In fact, you will find some even more charming rooms in various undiscovered corners of the countries. (Read: Shivya’s recommendation). This is sustainable and affordable while using the common utilities of the house along with the hosts.
Similarly you need not always have to rent a car for yourself while traveling; go explore a bit, use the local metro and other means of public transport. Think of it as an experience instead of giving up on comfort. You will get to the know the place a lot better and discover the people who make the place what it is. Of course, even I try to avoid sweaty, hot, long rides in a bus from point A to point B, but you get the point.
- Avoid disposable and reduce the use of hotel resources.
Travelers tend to buy the smaller bottles & sachet of utilities like shampoos and conditioners while traveling (thanks to the airline rules) and as a part of a major FMCG company, I know for a fact that the bigger demand for such consumer goods is for the smaller volumes. Replacing those small bottles and throwing plastic sachet after sachet increases the waste and your footprint. We then started carrying the reusable smaller bottles which we keep filling up right before a trip and I must say, this works just fine for us!
Another major source of plastic wastes are those mineral water bottles. Carry a reusable one that you can keep filling on the go! I have seen too many sad sights in the Himalayas of wandering plastic bottles and snack packets. Yes, it is disheartening.
Now if your luck runs out, and if there are no good Airbnb hosts in the location you want to go to, of course you end up staying in a hotel (choose a ‘green’ hotel if there is one in the area). A few things you can do here is reduce your laundry as hotels have an option of changing your sheets whenever you want them to! Stop opting for it and change the sheets just the same times you do at home! Avoid long and luxurious baths under the overflowing shower head. Be practical, be clean and get out.
Avoid using the hotel consumables and use your own bottles (2nd point); yes I understand it is free and the temptation is too much but just avoid it for the sake of reducing the plastic waste.
- Respect the place:
Be mindful and respectful of the place you are visiting. Kindly do not litter or tamper the place. Keep it clean and avoid taking souvenirs for yourself from the location. Always ask permission before you take photos and respect their decision, support the local craft artisans by buying souvenirs from them and eat at local restaurants.
- Do not handover gifts to the local children:
During our trip to Chakrata, a local hill station in India, we, being the urban folks, got lost in the mountains that had no proper tracks. After much wandering, we came across a boy who lead us through the mountains back on to the road. As we were expressing our gratitude to the kid, he showed us his palms and asked for money! Get it – ASKED for money!
This is what happens when tourists hand over money or food to the local children, probably with the best of intentions, but it inculcates in them a begging culture. The children then take this up and will by hook or crook, make sure they extract money from the visitors. If you wish to do something or donate to the kids, then do it through the proper channels by contacting a local NGO.
- Carbon footprint through the flights:
Choose direct flights as much as possible and the straightest route if possible. Make sure you combine a couple of trips together to avoid another flight. Fly economy because more people means less emission per person and pack light as lighter planes mean less fuel consumption and lastly, if possible, try to take a vacation closer to home.
These days almost every major airline has an option of donating some money to plant trees while making a booking; take it. There are also options of using your miles to buy carbon offset thus helping in reducing your footprint.
All these pointers are to ensure that all of the 1 billion people crossing international boundaries every year leave behind as little footprint as possible. Lesser the impact we create while travelling, longer the earth will remain prettier for us to enjoy it.