If you’re someone who loves travelling but worries that one day your bucket list destinations will have been destroyed by – you guessed it – travellers, then look no further. I often find myself conflicted about backpacking when looking at flight emissions, watching heartbreaking nature documentaries and listening to local tour guides discuss the amount they’re paid. Most of us are familiar with the term overtourism, but it’s only in recent years that human impact across the globe has become obvious to the untrained eye.
So here it is; your ultimate ethical travel checklist that goes a bit deeper than ‘carry a metal straw!’. Not that I’m against metal straws. If you’re a frequent straw user, please do pop one in your rucksack!
Don’t buy a whole new wardrobe to go backpacking. I guarantee you’ll return home without some of the stuff you started with. Things get misplaced in hostels, or get so filthy they simply have to be binned, or get shrunk in the laundry (handing your clothes over to a laundrette that promises to have it washed and dried within two hours isn’t for the faint-hearted). So use what you have. Pack clothing you can mix and match – my personal rule is every top must match at least three bottoms and vice versa. Minimalism over consumerism is part of ethical travel too. For the kit you do have to buy, consider purchasing second hand. Ebay is filled with rucksacks in great condition, and they’re cheaper, too!.
Top eco-friendly items to buy:
- Water bottle with filter
- Metal razor & replaceable blades
- Menstrual cup
Learn the lingo
Being able to speak some of the language when you’re travelling is a big help. I appreciate the ease of this is dependent on the area. You can travel most of Latin America with Spanish, but South East Asia has a different language and alphabet in almost every country. If you’re able to learn even a little bit, this will go a long way in your ethical travel adventure. You can make friends with locals and get recommendations for family-run restaurants and tour companies, which will supports the local economy and give you a more enriching experience. You’ll also have the ability to make small changes like refusing plastic bags at the supermarket.
- Before – download a language learning app
- During – do an intensive course whilst abroad
- After – sign up to online language exchanges to keep your skills fresh for next time
Take the bus
Or any public transport for that matter! I bet lots of you reading this have some nail-biting stories from chicken buses in Central America or overnight sleepers in Asia. But I think we can all agree that the dodgiest travel moments make for the best stories. Choosing a bus over a private shuttle is all part of experiencing the authentic culture of a place, plus it’s cheaper and environmentally favourable. I know it can be daunting though, boarding a bus in a foreign land and watching your rucksack be flung onto the roof (anyone else feel sick to their stomach when they’re separated from their belongings abroad? Yep, me too).
- Get the lowdown on the journey from hostel receptionists
- Learn some language basics (numbers, ‘how many stops?’ etc.)
- Have the name of your destination written down
- Download a map so you can check you’re en route once the bus is moving
- Arrive at a new place in daylight whenever possible
Make mindful choices
Did you know that hostels produce 75% less carbon emissions than hotels?! So you can rest easy in your dorm bed knowing that your choice to stay somewhere sociable is a green one too.
Another thing lots of us like to dabble in is volunteering. It’s a great way to save money whilst giving back to a community you’re visiting. Keeping our ethical travel checklist in mind, why not look at small scale projects – run by locals – instead of paying thousands to a large company? Skip the middleman and find somewhere recommended by your hostel, a cafe owner or fellow traveller.
Lastly, be mindful about why you’re going somewhere. Has that travel hot spot been on your bucket list for years? Excellent, go enjoy it! Are you not that fussed but want the famous photo for Instagram? Maybe pause here and think about whether you’re respecting the place and community by simply going to queue for a photo. Could you get a more unique picture in a quieter spot?
Leave no trace principles
You may have heard of the seven principles that were created to minimise impact on outdoor spaces. For those who are new to this, they are:
- Plan ahead & prepare
- Travel & camp on durable surfaces
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave what you find
- Minimise campfire impacts
- Respect wildlife
- Be considerate of others
“But I don’t camp or do serious hiking” I hear you cry! Let’s remember these concepts can be applied to any type of backpacking. They just mean you should leave a place as you found it. A good example for hostels is respecting signs telling you not to flush toilet paper. Many sewage systems aren’t set up for paper waste and if you dispose of it in that way, you’re negatively impacting the local community by possibly damaging their drains. Remember we travel to positively impact both our lives and the lives of those in the places we visit.
I hope this list has both assured you that ethical travel is possible, and has also sparked a desire to make your next trip that bit more planet-conscious! Do you have any ethical travel go-to’s when you hit the road? Let us know in the comments!