Many of us dream of a gap year adventure, but these days we know a lot more about the side-effects of travel. For starters, one of the worst things you can do for the environment is jump on a plane. But if you want to explore, that’s unavoidable. However, short of taking the very long land and water route to South East Asia or Australia, there are some other ways you can make your trip as eco-friendly and ethical. We’ve put together a few tips for your adventures so you can reduce that carbon footprint, even by just a tiny amount. Because every little helps…
Carbon Offset Your Flight
There’s no getting around it – air travel is really not very good for the environment at all. But there are some steps you can take to lessen the impact in your own corner. We’re going to go ahead and assume you’ll be travelling economy rather than first class, but that in itself can make a difference – the more passengers each flight can carry, the better. But once you’ve booked your flight, there is another thing you can do to help: offset the carbon footprint of your journey. There’s nothing you can do about the actual plane fumes, but sites like MyClimate can help you calculate your carbon offset as a total sum. They then let you choose great environmental causes around the world to donate it to.
Ethical Holiday Planning
We’ve gone into a bit more detail below about some ethical tourist steps you can take once you reach your gap year destination. But planning a backpacking adventure means arranging quite a few things before you leave. You’ll be spending your hard-earned money with a number of companies, so do your research and make sure they have ethical credentials. For example, Alpha Travel insurance supports the sustainable tourist industry, and they also rather helpfully specialise in offering policies designed for backpackers.So that's a win-win situation!
This thinking can be applied to anything and everything involved in your pre-trip planning. Consider where you buy your luggage from, the banks that arrange your foreign currency, and how you’re going to get to and from the airport terminal.
Putting together your list of travel essentials? For anyone who wants to backpack, then travelling light is always good advice, even more so when you’re taking the environment into account. The heavier a plane is, the more fuel it is going to get through, and the more impact that flight is going to have on the environment. So if you can keep your bits and bobs well below the baggage allowance, then you’re going some way to reduce that.
Think carefully about the things you are going to take with you as well. When travelling as light as possible, it might be tempting to go for throwaway items that you can easily replace with more throwaway items when you’re on the road. But this in itself is bad for the environment. Opt for fewer, better quality, versatile garments that will see you through until the end of your trip.
Take Public Transport
We’ve already established that flights are unavoidable when actually getting to your far-flung destination of dreams. But what about once you’ve arrived? Backpacking adventures rarely involve staying in one place for too long, so you will want to consider how you’re going to get from A to B. Instead of booking short haul flights to cover your distances, go via bus or train instead, because as well as helping the planet, this can even be an adventure in itself! And if you plan on booking a tour or two at some point, consider going with a company that arranges them in smaller groups. These are proven to have less impact on the environment and you could make some great friendships on the way too.
Avoid Bottled Water
This is a good habit from home that you can take with you, so don’t forget to pack your reusable water bottle along with your other essentials. However, this gets a bit more complicated if you’re travelling through countries that may not have sanitary drinking water. So in addition to your bottle, ensure you have a good supply of water purification tablets too and perhaps even invest in a portable water filter.
Eat and Drink Local
It might sound like an obvious thing to say, because of course you’re going to eat and drink in the vicinity of where you are staying, right? But we don’t necessarily mean just giving your business to local eateries. We mean making sure the things you consume don’t come form a million miles away either. Support local producers such as breweries and reduce those food and drink air miles further. This also supports the local economy too which is also an incredibly important consideration when travelling.
Ethical Tourist Behaviour
The last point about food and drink also comes under this heading, but you can expand your responsible tourism in so many ways. For starters, one of the most important things you can avoid is giving your business to tourist attractions that use animals. They may look cute and make for nice Instagram posts, but in many cases these animals are horribly mistreated.
‘Leave no trace’ is a mantra you can take with you throughout your trip, but especially if you are planning treks, walks or camping trips. Pick up after yourself as you would if you were doing the same thing at home, and perhaps don’t take the phrase ‘off the beaten path’ literally either. Exploring unknown territory can be an experience, but it might also mean you are unintentionally trampling on local wildlife habitats. So if you find yourself in this sort of situation, please do stick to the well beaten path. It might not be as as 'adventurous', but there's a reason it's there in the first place.
And lastly, there is one very small thing you can do that will help reduce your carbon footprint further – stick a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on your door. The chances are you’re not going to mind if your room isn’t vacuumed every single day, right? And even though it may not seem like much, saving on that electricity will go some way to reducing the environmental impact of your stay.
Basically, being a more ethical traveller just means taking a bit more time to plan and think about your adventure. And a more conscientious approach doesn’t always have to mean spending more money. You can find great deals on backpacker cover with our Alpha Travel Insurance voucher codes, including 25% off all their policies until 8th December 2019. And for those who want to research and book small group tours in advance, you can also find lots of discounts on our travel pages. Careful planning, thoughtful actions and enjoyable, affordable adventures can still go hand in hand if you put your mind to it.
By Anna Scott, 27th November 2019