By now most people are aware of the myriad of ethical issues involved in anything we do, not least travelling, but how can we help this? What can we do to make travelling better for people and the planet? There’s a common misconception that being ethical is expensive, but I strongly believe this is mostly in its branding. Yes, big swaps and changes can be expensive, and no one is denying that, but people often undervalue the little actions that can make all the difference.
- Fly less. Most people shy away from the thought of this, preferring the speed of air transport and the comfort of all the airport facilities. But aviation is responsible for the biggest portion of the UK’s transport emissions, even though people drive daily. I’m not saying don’t ever get a plane again, I’m saying do you need to fly? Hiring a car and going on a road trip can often be a lot more fun; you get to blast your own tunes, pack a car full of snacks and stop at amazing places you never would’ve seen on a plane. And most likely the fuel and rental cost will be about equivalent to flying anyway. Another thing to consider when flying is carbon offset. Getting a plane is bad for the environment, but why not try an action to counteract that? Many airlines now include an optional carbon offset charge but paying more can be hard to swallow. Try going on a few beach cleans while abroad, or only eating the vegetarian delicacies in the aim to ‘cancel-out’ your airmiles.
- Stay local. Again, a contentious issue. Many people think that travelling in their home country is less fun, and while it can feel less immersive, by not even trying you’re missing out on plenty of opportunities! And it’s cheaper, meaning while you’re staying local you can be saving up for that once-in-a-lifetime trip somewhere more exotic. Short city breaks are the worst form of travelling for emissions. Taking two flights in three or four days is a ton of carbon being added to the atmosphere. A much eco-friendlier way of doing this is to interrail. While you will have to save a bit more, a longer trip with train transport and maybe only one set of flights is so much better.
- Be careful with cosmetics. While it’s amazing to jet off to the tropics or a beautiful beach, parts of your usual routine may be better off being left behind. Most people stock up on cheap sunscreen in Boots before their holidays, but have you ever thought about the abundance of chemicals you’re putting in the sea? Try opting for ‘reef-safe’ sunscreen so that the coral reefs you snorkel over are still there for others to see later. The same principle applies for makeup and hair products, so consider how much you really need to make yourself over before spending the day at the beach or pool.
- Reduce your waste. When travelling, many people opt for convenient ‘miniatures’ of their favourite brands to get through hand luggage restrictions or to save space. Consider buying your own refillable pots to make these up yourself, because the number of miniature containers thrown away is astonishing! Especially if you’re going to a nation less experienced with recycling, this container will almost definitely end up in landfill, or worsen the ocean. The same applies for bringing your own water bottle and coffee cup. It may take up a bit of space when packing, but the money saved will be worth it even without the reduction in waste!
- Buy locally. Many travellers crave the familiarity of snacks from home while abroad, opting for some Cadbury chocolate instead of the local delicacy, but this is something that’s worth thinking twice about. When you buy imported goods, you are not only increasing your carbon footprint, but also holding back on contributing to the local economy. Buying from local vendors often contributes directly to feeding their families, and when you’re travelling in developing countries that’s pretty important. You’re visiting their land, the least you could do is help them to have a slightly better life purely by choosing to buy their goods. And don’t forget the amazing cultural experiences that come with buying local! You get to find new favourite recipes and have souvenirs to tell stories about.
- Research animal activities. Activities involving animals are notorious for being cruel, but still millions of tourists can’t resist the opportunity for a cool selfie. While many people are aware of the atrocity of stroking drugged-up big cats, many still ride elephants and camels and visit zoos abroad. It’s worth noting that the UK has some of the world’s best animal protection laws in captivity, and you should be wary when going overseas, don’t assume that in somewhere even as close as Germany, for example, animals will be treated the same. In many European countries dolphins are kept in tiny tanks and subjected to ‘petting’, or as a human might put it ‘harassment’. There are ethical activities out there where you can observe amazing animals in their natural habitat, but do your research.
- Don’t ‘voluntour’. It’s become a popular marketing technique in recent years to sell ‘voluntours’ – tours of developing nations that include a few days of volunteering. But this is purely for appearances. Spending one day in an orphanage does not mean you have helped orphans, in fact it is quite the opposite. Exposing vulnerable people to a succession of tourists can seriously hinder their development, and make it more difficult for communities to thrive. If you seriously want to volunteer abroad, look to companies such as Global Visions International (GVI) which have the gold standard for ethical practice, but don’t be afraid of hard work, because real change doesn’t come easy.