Have you ever walked barefoot on smooth white sand, alongside azure waters so clear that you could savor the civilization beneath it, right from where you stood?
Have you ever conquered a mountain range and felt belittled by the majesty of its rock formations and the isolation of its snow-capped peaks?
Ten years from now, the sand will be pebbled, the waters will be colored a shade of brown, the snow-capped peaks will be reduced to road-blocking hurdles on a ruthlessly carved mountain road, the untouched paths you’ve tread will turn into the bustling next door neighborhood, and your travel memories will be someone’s travel disappointments. But you can change that, one trip and one tip at a time.
Know before you go
Even on a blind date, you’d try to gauge as much about a person as you can, before trying to woo them. Think of your travel destination, its ecology and its local people the same way. When you fit into their culture, you’ll always carry a part of it with you, and what better way of preserving something so fragile?
Pack, unpack, repack
The first time, pack as you always would. The second time, pack as though the environment is watching:
- Carry as little plastic as possible. You don’t want to regret it for 500 years, which is how long it takes for plastic to degenerate.
- Carry one good water bottle and try re-filling it wherever you go. The environment gives you clean water. Don’t return the favor with numerous plastic mineral water bottles.
- Use biodegradable detergents and soaps if you are visiting or camping near water bodies. You want to leave them better than you found them.
- Try to decrease the original weight of your baggage by half. That’s decreasing your carbon emissions by [half*the number of flights you take].
Eat, drink, breathe local
Support the local economy as much as possible. Order local dishes wherever you go, buy local raw materials for cooking instead of packaged foods, try the local alcohol if you must drink, and use water as though it’s a local luxury. The more you immerse yourself into everything local, the more you’ll make of your travels.
Remember that some things are priceless.
Your master card is just not good enough, when it comes to the natural or cultural heritage of the place you’re visiting. The locals might win you over with a beautiful fossil or an ancient artifact, but think twice before buying it. With each such transaction, you incentivize them to seek, pick and further commercialize such artifacts. The same goes for picking local medicinal plants and flowers; they could either decay in your living room or sustain the ecology of the region.
Many a times, we are floored by the attachment and laughter of the local children. At the cost of that twinkle in their eyes, refrain from giving them gifts or tempting them with your gizmos; consumerism breeds consumerism.
Volunteer as you travel
Touch-and-go travel is passé. To really travel is to experience a different lifestyle, adapt to a different culture, communicate in a different language, adopt a different dressing style, cook a different cuisine, and familiarize with a different geography.
Volunteer traveling could transform you from a tourist to a traveler, and gradually to a local. You don’t need to be a college graduate taking a gap year, or subject yourself to an extended period of isolation. All you need to do is find an organization in your region of travel, and spend a week or two on a project that could use your expertise. Be warned though, volunteer travel can be addictive on many levels!
Spill the secret
Whether it’s your best friend or a chance travel acquaintance, don’t lose the opportunity to play Fairy Godmother to the environment. Lead by example, and show everyone around you that responsible travel is not something that only environmentalists can dream of. It takes just an extra ounce of effort, and could be worth a decade of appreciation.
Together we can, and we will, save the planet with our travels.
Shivya is a volunteer at Ecosphere, a social enterprise dedicated to the cause of responsible travel in the Trans-Himalayas. Shivya loves to travel to offbeat, unexplored places that few have been to, and even fewer have written about. Follow her adventures at The Shooting Star and on Twitter @shivya.