After flying thousands of miles for what seemed like days (OK, two 8 hour flights) I have just arrived in Borneo.
I’m so excited to be surrounded by lush green trees, noisy nocturnal animals, and gloriously rich biodiversity – but also hyper-aware that Borneo is a country in the midst of an ecological crisis. Its rainforest is being destroyed at an alarming rate for palm oil, and recently it was suggested that the island’s most famous inhabitant, the orangutan, could be extinct in the wild by 2020.
All of this had me thinking about how, as a tourist, I can keep my negative impact on this place (and everywhere else I go for that matter) to a minimum. I’ve compiled a list of the five simple steps I take every time I travel, and some details on how you too can use them to enjoy a more eco-friendly travel experience every time you leave home.
1. I offset my carbon footprint
Almost every airline will let you pay an extra charge to offset the carbon footprint of your flight – the money goes toward an environmental charity or initiative thus ‘cancelling out’ the impact of your flight. If your carrier doesn’t offer this, you can visit a website like www.carbonfootprint.com and pick a scheme yourself.
2. I research / reconsider my bucket-list
Some once-in-a-lifetime activities on offer abroad aren’t exactly what they seem. Yes those elephant riding pictures look cool, but it’s widely understood that the process of ‘breaking in’ an elephant causes immeasurable suffering and that riding them is never a good idea. Ditto swimming with captive dolphins. You will also find that the ‘sanctuary’ term is also used widely by a variety of shady outfits abroad who are nothing more than zoos – if somewhere is letting you physically stroke a tiger, it sure as hell isn’t doing the tiger any favours. Check your facts by doing some digging around on google before you book: I tend to search for the name of the activity / venue, plus the word ‘ethical’ to see if any concerns have previously been raised in the press / by other visitors.
Most importantly, don’t go getting any selfies with that Slow Loris / Chimp / sad-looking parrot who can swear on demand. It’s not worth it.
3. I book with an eco-friendly, local company
My friend once went on a snorkelling trip where the guide said “don’t worry if you get in too deep, you can stand on the coral to get your balance, that’s fine”. Sound advice, seeing as standing on coral kills it, forever – as I’m sure you’re probably aware. Similarly I have been on a trip to a UNESCO world heritage site in Vietnam and watched the shipmate empty the trash-can directly overboard into the once pristine water. It’s shocking, but it highlighted the need to always search for ethical, environmentally-conscious tour providers who make money from their country and its resources in a sustainable way. Again, an hour spent on Google should be all you need to find the good guys.
4. If I wouldn’t do it at home…
…I don’t do it overseas. Be that dropping or leaving litter, killing animals for fun (I’m looking at you, Cambodia backpackers) or just behaving like a total moron (yes you, obnoxiously loud full-moon party crew). Try to be respectful and remember the fact that before us tourists turned up, this beach / island / forest was probably 1000 x nicer than it is now!
5. I drink smart
Bottled water is the worst invention ever. It eats up so much energy in the process of being produced, and then the leftover bottle itself more often than not ends up in landfill! Drink tap if you’re in a country where it’s safe, or if you need to drink bottled, buy giant ones (using less plastic over the duration of your stay) and decant each time you need it.
In a nutshell, say safe, think about the potential impact of what you’re getting up to and most importantly, enjoy your travels 🙂