Joao Mendes of NoFootprintNomads shares how to travel the world with a better impact with these ethical travel tips.
Travelling is such a devastating force that I don’t understand why the subject is not on the main agenda of all elections and public discussions around the world.
When you look at the number of people crossing borders now compared to the previous century it is astounding.
1.6 billion people will be traveling in 2020, compared to 25 million in the 1950s and that number is rising quickly.
For example, the Chinese are already the biggest tourism spender in the world (source WTO) and with the growing wealth and population in China, that number is expected to rise.”
The sheer numbers that tourism is bringing to the most looked for destinations is having a huge impact on local life, the environment and infrastructures.
The Art of Ethical Travel
There are already destinations that literally closing down to tourism, like the famous Maya Beach in Thailand (from the movie: The Beach) and Boracay in the Philippines.
Other destinations like Venice are imposing fines for simple behaviors like sitting down in non designated areas and Komodo Island will be closed to tourists in 2020 for at least one year in effort to rejuvinate the island and improve the conservation of the Komodo Dragon.
But, travel is good for our society, if everyone in the world at some point in life had the chance to travel the world I have no doubt our society would be much better.
Even the famous travel guru Rick Steves wants all Americans to leave US.
Part 1 – How to Reduce Your Travel Footprint
We need to “learn” how to travel and create a positive impact or otherwise the benefits of traveling will be overshadowed by the negative effects.
How travel can be socially good and not that bad to our planet
Hopefully in the future, integrated in our basic education we will see “a how-to travel” course for all students.
Until then, we can do our part and learn and share with others best practices for a healthy travelling society. And for that, one need to think on both sides: the environment (reduce impact) and on the society (be neutral or positive)
With today’s information age there is no excuse for heading to a location plagued by over-tourism consequences without knowing it.
Many destinations are being battered by just too many people.
Our visit to Ha Long Bay through Cat Ba Island was depressing, to say the least.
One could easily see the island infrastructures were not able to deal with so much waste created.
These are the reasons why Boracay closed down to tourism and recently reopened full of restrictions.
Waste Because of Overtourism
A great business idea would be to create an online website that could monitor these effects and direct people to less overwhelmed areas.
Amsterdam is already trying something like this. It’s the same concept when you are facing countless cues at your supermarket cashiers and you opt for the smaller one.
This kind of resource would anger most of capital driven governments, but it would help the planet and local populations that just want to continue with their lives in a sustainable way.
Research your potential destinations and see the red flags of excessive tourist activity. (locals complaining, waste management issues, skyrocketing prices, etc)
If you want to really mitigate your footprint, then transportation is by far the most impactful decision you can make.
The main reason for this is the carbon footprint of flights which we normally use for our travels.
If you have a week of two week holidays and you want to travel to another continent, there is not much you can do to avoid a flight.
But there are some considerations to have when deciding on your flight connections and airlines.
- If your trip is less than 1000 miles, consider train/bus instead
- Use direct flights as much as possible
- Look for airlines that have carbon offset add-ons
- In case 3 fails, buy carbon offset credits from providers
Another important decision you can make is where you are spending your nights.
Eco-logding is now everywhere but we need to be careful with greenwashing.
There are some lodging search engines specialized in carbon-conscious businesses like Book Different.
Another option is to use AirBnb’s feature called Unique Houses and look for more friendly options.
Green Key certification is one of the most important certifications that provides some confidence you are making a better decision, look for their stamp.
Book eco-friendly lodging options, but do check their claims as much as you can look into it
When choosing you activities in your destination there are some considerations you can have that could be less impactful:
- Choose nature outdoor activities to promote good care of natural reserves (good for health too)
- Look for eco tour operators (double check claims)
- Use non pollutant transportation (electric or just bikes)
Part 2 – How to travel and have a positive impact
Just like slow food movement, slow travel is to give yourself enough time to deeply enjoy your travel experience, allowing you that extra time to plan ahead and mitigate your impact.
A good example is when you travel just for a few days you might need to buy food from a supermarket because you are in a rush, but if you are slow traveling you can go to a local market and explore the local food and people in their most pure environment.
Slow travel is a mindset, it is to change the way you look at your trip, and it will allow you to better plan and actively do the next set of recommendations.
Eating local can be decided in two sections: your own food or in restaurants.
The more you eat the local dishes the more you learn about the local culture and the more you support the local economy.
I know you may miss comfort food from back home when you are travelling for long periods, but by not having to source food ingredients from abroad you will be helping the local people.
Thailand, for example, does not grow wheat. Bread is far away from their staple food, so if you find one it was probably done with imported ingredients. Do you really need that bread now?
When you buy your own food to cook at home, eat street food and stay for longer periods of time, you are really helping the local producers and you are “traveling” on their cuisine.
Plus, it is a lot of fun to go to local markets, get that special crazy looking fruit or dark looking vegetable and try it out.
Buy Direct to Local Businesses
Middlemen are needed in our society, you couldn’t have the delivery of essential or urgent items all around the world without them.
But there are middlemen that take advantage and use and abuse the local producers.
That’s why we need entities like Fair Trade or BCorp that try to make sure this does not happen.
To us, as consumers we have a powerful tool to help local businesses, and that is to access them directly.
This is something that may not be as easy when using pre-planned tours, but you can speak with the organizers about that.
Plus, if you travel slow and stay in one place for a longer time, it is easier to find local guides and operators.
Going directly to the source is the single best action you can do to help the local economies to thrive and to meet at the same time the real local cultures.
RESPECT LOCAL CULTURE
One of the most exciting consequences of traveling is the cultural shock, which doesn’t mean it’s always going to be fun.
Local cultures can be so different that we may be tempted not to follow or even disrespect them. But this is a big mistake.
We have to remember we are their guests, we are visiting their country and we should follow their local customs and dress.
The best way to understand your hosts is to observe, look at what they do, do research online and check the etiquette for each country your visit.
An interesting but simple example I had while living in Thailand was while playing football with locals.
Besides always laughing with each other there are no faults or penalties. I mean faults exist, but instead of free kicks you just send the ball back and start the play again, same goes with penalties.
It made me insane for the first games, but I made the effort to understand their customs and now it’s natural.
Awareness and Making Informed Decisions
We don’t live in a perfect world, and there are not perfect solutions, but we live in the sharing information age and hence the benefit of this article.
Maybe we touched some points here that you never considered and now you will always be aware before committing for something.
Traveling involves making many important decisions and other smaller ones while you are on the road.
Be conscious of what you decide and accept the situations where the perfect option is just not possible for you.
Enjoy traveling and doing good.
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Joao has been on the road for 8 years now, and a lot has changed in his life. What started with a simple round the world trip, with no special plans or purpose became now a lifestyle.
He is committed to becoming a greenpreneur and has already co-founded a startup in Brazil to promote ethical products, just like a green Amazon, and is now creating his own online zero waste travel brand at www.nofootprintnomads.com.
Becoming a digital nomad and being able to travel the world with a no footprint approach became his new reality, and when he is not researching new ways to travel with less impact you can find him harvesting greens from his garden to do his beloved green juice just after morning yoga.