“When we heal the earth, we heal ourselves."
- David Orr
It’s a good quote from David Orr. He should know; he’s a well-known environmentalist, a professor, and generally a guy who knows what he’s talking about. Any traveller will know what he’s getting at. But how much are we actually healing? How about this:
“My world, my Earth is a ruin. A planet spoiled by the human species. We multiplied and fought and gobbled until there was nothing left, and then we died”.
That’s Ursula Guin, a Californian sci-fi writer. She’s shelved out dozens of books on fantasy, but we can’t doubt she knows what’s real here. Perhaps we need to be hit harder. It just doesn’t seem to be sinking in.
But we've been residents here for the blink of an eye. If we're gone tomorrow, we won’t be missed. This planet lives and breathes on a scale that dwarfs anything we could ever hope to create, or understand.
Travelling opens up this realisation.
Those who do not travel read the first page of earth’s book, while those who do fly through the pages. Instead of thinking how things may be, travellers see things as they are- so you could say we’re pretty conscious. You know the rules, but do you follow them? Embracing what Mother Nature provides is one thing, but being conscious of our impact on the areas that we visit and being cautious of what we take from them is another, and it is becoming more and more vital that we remember our place here. Humans live, and humans observe, but travellers must do their best to sustain.
Of course, there’s the obvious. If we keep our group small, we keep our footprint smaller. They say a journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles, but less people means less of just about everything- less food, smaller fires, and smaller sites. To return to your favourite spot next year and find it just as you left it is one of the greatest feelings you can get on the road. If we leave what we find, we leave it for others to experience as well.
Little things will make bigger differences, expecially on the road, when your minds are elsewhere and it can be easy to forget the simple rules. Taking public transport is one of the best things you can do for the environment when traveling. It means you're not creating any additional carbon emissions from private transport and will probably add to your travel experience, providing you with opportunities to interact with locals.
Local interaction is one of the most important elements to travelling- there are no foreign places; it is just you that is foreign when you venture into someone else’s home!
However, local areas can be hectic, and again it’s often easy to forget the basics. Shopping, finding a roof for the night, catching that last bus- you can get washed away in reaching your destination. Re-usability and efficiency is key- you want memories of your holiday to last for years but 500 years is way too long. Plastic bags can take up to 500 years to biodegrade so take a re-useable shopping bag with you when you go to local markets, or just use your travel bag. Taking the time to explore locally can have even more great benefits for yourself, and your environment. Drink a locally brewed beer and not only will you probably enjoy some high quality ale, but your drink can be low-carbon by cutting down on 'beer mileage'. This applies to eating local produce too.
It can easily become carbon-friendly to step outside the norm and try something new once in a while. After all, isn’t that why we travel?
Experienced travellers will know that plane travel brings with it a whole new set of things to take into account. Every kilo counts when flying. The more a plane weighs the more carbon emissions it produces, so we’re always encouraged to pack only what we need - the environment will thank us for it. Neale Walsch once said that life begins at the end of your comfort zone, and we can agree- there’s no denying that the most unique travel experiences are found the furthest away from where we’re comfortable, but we don’t always have to lug our stuff through the air. You can make the miles by travelling overland-
Leave out just one five-hour flight and your carbon footprint will be a tonne lighter. You'll get to see more of the countryside too.
Of course these are only quick tips. The International Eco-tourism Society defines eco-tourism as being ‘responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.’ It really does sound like a better way to do things for others, and definitely for ourselves. The rules that we’ve talked about apply to short trips in your homeland to far-off voyages overseas, although there are certain places if you’d like to make a heavy trip that have higher rankings in terms of environmental protection. The editorial board at the online site Ethical Travel rates highly countries including Costa Rica, Palau, Poland, Uruguay and Dominica. More and more travellers are ditching mass tourism for small groups, conservation and community involvement, with an estimated 100,000 of us choosing trips that involve conservation or volunteering each year.
While it doesn’t compare to the numbers heading off on package trips to Magaluf and Benidorm, it’s definitely a positive start.