Most of us start the year eager to grab our passports and see the world. Yet, with much more awareness of sustainability and eco-friendly living, you might also have volunteering or doing your bit for the environment on your bucket list too.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways you can achieve both. Travelling in 2019 doesn’t have to harm the planet. It can offer plenty of opportunities to reduce your carbon footprint, help others and stick to eco-friendly principles. If you’re looking to pick up your backpack and give back this year, here are some ways to travel and help the world on your adventure of a lifetime.
1. Get travel-savvy
First up, consider your mode of transport. A long-haul flight might be unavoidable, but could shorter trips be taken by train, ferry or even car sharing? Car sharing apps can help connect you with fellow travellers: for example the app BlaBlaCar helps you find empty seats across Europe-helping you save pounds and the planet!
2. Opt for eco-friendly hostels
Sounds like a fancy buzzword but most of the time, booking eco-friendly hostels is a great way to support local businesses; as well as making a concerted effort to do your bit for the environment. For example, the Gill Meno Eco Hostel in Indonesia uses bamboo showers, compost toilets and open-air bamboo bungalows.
3. Shop local
The best way to support a country’s economy is to simply spend your hard-earned cash there. Get your coffee at a local restaurant, even if there’s a Starbucks around the corner. Buy your water and fruit from local sellers rather than big supermarkets and find local, knowledgeable guides for tours. A great site is Showaround: which connects travellers to local guides in their areas (who come with ratings and reviews).
4. Volunteer your time
Sadly, many volunteering holidays have a hefty mark-up and don’t have the community’s best interests at heart. Use sites that help you find legitimate, worthy causes such as GivingWay or Grassroot Volunteering, and get to know the locals who will tip you off to community projects in need of helping hands. If you haven’t got time to join a project, simply stopping to talk with locals, helping them practise their English and offering your skills temporarily can make a difference.
5. Always find ways to donate
There are many ways to donate to charity along your travels. For example, if you do find yourself on one flight too many, you can donate your accrued miles to charity. World Nomads also helps you donate to local causes when you purchase travel insurance.
6. Opt for ethical animal experiences
There’s no denying that animal exploitation is still rife, so take the time to research ethical animal experiences before you sign up for that tiger selfie. Being registered as NGOs (Non-Government Organisations) is a good sign they aren’t money-making schemes. And of course, be cautious of what’s on offer. Attractions that promise the chance to do things like ride elephants, see performing dolphins, take selfies with tigers or kissing snakes should ring alarm bells. Ethical animal experiences help support the local economy and local wildlife.
LAST has been engaged in research and conservation of endangered Costa Rican sea turtles for 30 years. Volunteers participate in nocturnal beach patrols, assist biologists in data collection, relocate eggs to a safe hatchery and monitor eggs and nests.
7. Aim for plastic-free travel
Being plastic-conscious goes beyond forking out 5p every time you need a carrier bag. Extend plastic-free principles to your travels too. Pack a reusable water bottle with you (metal ones are fantastic for keeping water ice cold); bring your own reusable cutlery to street food stalls (let’s face it, this is often more hygienic!) and consider the contents of your suitcase carefully.
8. Treat each country like it’s your own
We have a tendency to behave differently when we’re abroad. We’ll think nothing of only using a towel once before chucking it in the laundry or leaving our phone charger plugged in 24/7. After all, it’s not us who will be paying the electricity bill! But remember that all these actions do make a real difference to the planet. So, treat each destination as if it’s your own home: tidy up after yourself, make eco-friendly choices and don’t waste electricity unnecessarily.
9. Spread the word
There’s only one thing that can truly spread a message of giving back whilst you travel: talk about it! Find a local guide who you know should be supported? Recommend him to everyone in your hostel or leave a review online. Found the perfect eco-friendly, sustainable lodgings? Take a photo and tag them on Instagram. Go one step further and blog about community projects you’ve been involved with. It might sound pointless but small steps create change and using your voice to spread the word and share recommendations can be the most powerful thing you can offer.
About the author
Jenna Farmer is a freelance journalist from Warwickshire. Having spent several years working in China and travelling across South Asia, she’s now back in the UK. Jenna also runs A Balanced Belly, a blog all about living, eating and travelling with food intolerances.