Angela Dollar (author of the Travel with a Purpose blog on Wanderlust and Lipstick) shares her tips for making your travels more eco-friendly. With 14 years of traveling the globe and as an employee of Crooked Trails, Angela is well aware of the effects of travel on local communities and on the planet.
1. Treat your own water — Buying bottled water when you travel amounts to a trail of trash in your wake, as few countries in the world are capable of recycling them. Add to that the lack of health standards for bottled water the world over (tap water has stricter testing standards here in the U.S. than bottled water does, for example). Treating your own water on the road is easier than you may think. Just bring along a reusable water bottle and a purifier (such as the SteriPen), filter or iodine tablets. You’ll be safer from water-bourne illnesses while keeping water bottles out of landfills all over the world.
2. Use re-chargeable batteries — Another culprit in garbage heaps around the world, disposable batteries are especially noxious as they leach toxic chemicals into the earth. The more responsible (and conveniently, more economical) option is to bring a charger and re-chargeable batteries. If you also pack an electric voltage converter plug and a roll of duct tape (to secure the whole set-up into the socket), you’ll be able to juice up anywhere you go. When selecting a charger, look for a “quick charge” feature so you aren’t still waiting for them to top off the next morning. Opt for Nickel Metal Hydride batteries as they have the best environmental record.
3. Avoid plastic bags – It is only since the arrival of non-biodegradable consumer items from the western world that the concept of litter has begun to take hold in developing countries. The ubiquitous plastic bag is everywhere you go these days! When you first arrive in a new place, go to a local market and buy a re-usable shopping bag, whether it’s a simple canvas bag like the ones you may use at home or a colorful hand-painted shoulder bag. When you go shopping you’ll be able to politely eschew the plastic bag and become a part of the solution!
4. Stay on the main trail — When hiking or following the local footpath, avoid taking shortcuts on steep sections of trail: your footsteps will be followed by many others. Although your actions may seem minuscule in comparison to the natural processes of weather and erosion, when they are multiplied by several thousand trekkers each year they become rather significant. If you happen to damage walls or irrigation channels when walking about, make sure you repair them as someone’s livelihood may be at stake.
5. Use biodegradable soap — Bring an environmentally friendly soap such as Dr. Bronner’s. It’s multi-purpose (good for hands, body, even laundry) and is gentle on the local water system. In rural areas, greywater typically drains right back into local water sources. And, if you’ve ever had an allergic reaction to any kind of hygienic product, you’ll know the peace of mind that comes with using a friendly version of soap.
6. Buy local products —The most unique gifts you can find when traveling are those made by local artisans. Contribute to the local economy and handicraft traditions, and buy locally. This will reduce the effects of pollution and greenhouse gasses as mass-produced “souvenirs” are shipped internationally from industrial countries.
7. Consider carbon offsets – Carbon offsetting is an attempt to counter-balance the effect of your carbon emissions. A carbon offset negates the release of CO2e (Co2 or carbon dioxide equivalent) by avoiding the release of, or removing from the atmosphere the same amount of, CO2e somewhere else. Now you can calculate the amount of carbon emission being generated by your air travel and purchase carbon credits to offset it. Your carbon credits fund various renewable energy projects, such as wind farms and reforestation.
8. Use mass transit and your feet — Instead of renting a car, utilize the myriad of public transit options available around the world, such as trains, buses, and subways. It’s less stressful than driving in an unfamiliar place and will put you in closer contact with the scenery and the locals. Also, consider guided walking tours, renting a bike, or just hitting the pavement yourself — you’ll be a part of the scene, not just an observer!
9. Choose eco-friendly lodging — The world wide web has put the power of choice into our hands. Do a little research before you go and try booking accommodations that adhere to eco-friendly policies.
10. Lend a helping hand — Lessen your impact as a tourist by giving back to the people and environment during your stay. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms matches travelers with organic farms where they can volunteer in exchange for room and board. Crooked Trails brings travelers to indigenous villages where they participate in community development projects, such as building a school during a cultural-immersion home stay. Or check out Stuff Your Rucksack which allows schools and charities worldwide to post “wish lists” of supplies, such as pencils and books, for travelers to bring during their visit.
Angela Dollar was born with a severe case of wanderlust. A Washington native, she has also lived in Hawaii and Alaska, and her travels have taken her through wonderful places such as Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Peru and France. Her educational background began with lessons in empowerment at an all-girls high school, continued at Western Washington University in Bellingham and is sustained today by her travels and experiences. Prior to her current position as Client Relations/Events Coordinator for Seattle-based non-profit , she spent six years as a marine naturalist working with the resident killer whale population of Washington’s San Juan Islands. Angela is passionate about cultural preservation and sustainable travel, two movements she feels are gaining momentum and validity. She blogs about sustainable travel on the Travel with a Purpose blog.