Travelling has many benefits, in my opinion the world would be a better place if more people would embark on long journeys to discover it. Travelling broadens the mind, and transforms people into a real citizens of the world. It also helps to take a step back and understand your own country and culture better.
But unfortunately, travelling also has its downsides, and one of them is the negative impact it generates on the environment. As this is a concern for me, I now have a couple of rules I apply that could help you too.
Choose your transport wisely
By far the biggest carbon emmissions during your travels will come from your transport, so it is important to choose your means of transport responsibly.
Airplanes are responsible for 3% of global carbon emissions. A US return flight from coast to coast will emit as much CO2 emissions as the average frenchman in one year. And these emissions are the worst because they are at emitted at high altitude, going straight to the athmosphere. My first tip is to avoid planes as much as you can.
Now of course if you don’t have much time and plan to visit a far-away country, planes are difficult to avoid. But still, instead of taking several internal flights to try to see the whole country in two weeks, why not consider exploring only one part much more intensively and avoiding all the planes? The “highlights” mentioned in the guidebooks will only rarely be your own personal highlights. Trying to see them all at all costs is usually not a such good idea. You will be surrounded by tourists most of your time, harrassed by touts, and at a much higher risk of theft. By travelling overland instead, you will see the authentic local life, see changes occur softly and gradually and understand the country you are visiting much better.
Even for long-term travels, I would recommend not taking too many planes. Trying to see America, Europe, Asia and Africa all in one trip like many people do, will likely be too much. Adjusting to a different culture takes time, and starting from zero all over again is hard and can be tiring.
Instead of flying, I recommend taking the train when possible, or a boat or bus. For shorter distances, also consider bicycles if some are available for rent. If you try it first with the environment in mind, you will continue to do it for your own enjoyment, I guarantee!
Minimise the amount of plastic you use
Have you ever heard about a new “continent of waste” forming in the pacific ocean? It is made out of billions of small plastic particles that accumulate at this place because of a combination of currents. It is growing rapidly and is already twice the size of of the continental united states! Watch the youtube video for more information. One of the major waste problem we face today is due to plastic. Did you know that less than 3% of the plastic we use is recycled worldwide (according to a Helmut Kaiser Consultancy report, 2006)? And it takes about 500-1000 years for plastic to biodegrade, which means that we won’t get rid of that problem any time soon, even if we were to stop using it now.
In developing countries, the chances that they will recycle or dispose plastic responsibly are very low. So it is important to use it scarcely. I always refuse plastic bags and also explain briefly that I do so because of pollution. In South East Asia for example, they will put the single can of coke you just bought in a plastic bag!
Another big problem are the plastic bottles, and it is harder to deal with that one in countries with no drinking water on the tap. Two options though: when you can, you can boil your water (25 minutes and you’re safe!) and reuse your bottle, or filter your water.
Show the good example
Travelling is a great way to meet many people and interact with the locals. I use this opportunity to show the good example and be environmental friendly!
These are the few things I have learned on this journey, but I’d be curious to hear from you, do you have other tips or ideas to travel ecologically?