This is a guest post by an expert in conservation and explains how we can help travel better with our environment, something we should all try to do, and something I believe in strongly.
Traveling should be a memorable and fun experience, but it can be stressful for those of us actively working to reduce our environmental impact. Back at home you’ve already developed an eco-friendly routine, but it’s much more difficult to maintain on the road.
For westerners Asia can be an especially difficult place to go green. When you’re on the go, trying to coordinate plans, hurdle communications barriers, or navigate the transportation system, managing your environmental footprint can quickly fall to the wayside. But, if you go prepared and know what to expect you can be green(er) and you won’t have to feel as guilty about your impact.
Here are five ways you can prepare yourself to reduce your environmental footprint when traveling in Asia.
1 Plan Ahead
I’m a big fan of getting up and going with the flow, but I’ve also traveled enough to know there’s a happy medium when it comes to planning and doing. If you’re going to reduce your environmental impact while traveling you have to be prepared. Plan an efficient route, take the right supplies, and know what your biggest challenges will be.
I recommend picking a general route and some main attractions you want to see. The rest will fall into place along the way and you can enjoy some spontaneity. If you’re traveling to multiple countries in one trip, try to make a logical path instead of zigzagging around. You’ll save time, money, and carbon.
When traveling within a country there are a few ways to minimize your carbon footprint.
2 Travel Smart
Opt for a train or bus ride over domestic flights. Short flights are fuel intensive and considerably less efficient than buses and trains.
Ground travel is more eco-friendly than flying and you’ll also get to see much more of the country, save some money, and have a chance to slow the pace down. A multiple-hour bus or train ride will give you some time think about your next move, organize all those photos you’ve taken, and/or recover from a hangover. Enjoy the journey, not just the destination!
For getting around town, don’t rule out biking. Scooters are a great alternative to the bus, but bikes are readily available and relatively cheap alternative. Depending on how far you have to go, traveling by bike be faster and less frustrating than the bus, but be careful in the summer when temperatures hover around 28 °C (83 °F).
3 BYO (Bring Your Own)
Small things add up over time and it’s apparent when you walk the streets or peer into garbage cans in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, etc. Bottles and wrappers of all kinds dominate the waste bins and rustle along the sidewalks of most urban areas.
Packaging in many Asian countries is more excessive than I had imagined. For a simple box meal you’ll often get a rigid plastic box holding your meal which is then wrapped in a thin plastic seal. Your napkin (if you get one) and chopsticks will also be wrapped separately, and the whole package will be handed to you in a plastic bag.
You can probably eliminate at least half of the plastic you’ll encounter by simply bringing your own stuff.
Chopsticks – All the meals you order to go and almost half of the meals you eat in will come with disposable chop sticks. Carrying your own will eliminate the waste and can be your memento from traveling if you like.
Handkerchief – In many Asian countries napkins at restaurants and towels in bathrooms are not standard. A handkerchief won’t eliminate that much waste, but it will definitely come in handy throughout your travels and every bit matters.
Water Bottle – Every time you fill up that Nalgene you’re saving a plastic bottle and a little bit of $$. Most airports and hotels provide purified water that’s safe to drink so if you fill up whenever you can it won’t be necessary to buy bottled water.
Toiletries – Most hotels (and some hostels) provide those lovely travel-size soaps, shampoos, tooth brushes, and toothpaste. These cheap, mass produced products wrapped in plastic don’t add value to your hotel room or your trip. It’s tempting to snag them, but you can leave them for the next guest.
4 Buy Local when you can
In almost every city you can find a traditional market where locals sell a variety of dishes and produce. Avoid relying on the supermarket chains and international convenience stores for food. These chains import goods from all over while local restaurants and markets source the majority of their ingredients from their own province. Along with being greener, shopping local will usually be healthier and give you a better cultural experience.
I also recommend dining in. Save the Styrofoam to-go box and plastic bag that’s accompanied with a meal to-go. As convenient as it is to grab some dumplings or a rice bowl to go, I prefer to enjoy the atmosphere that comes with the meal and surround myself with locals so I can see how they enjoy their local food.
5 Make National Parks a priority
When you visit protected areas such as national parks and nature preserves you’re showing your support for eco-tourism which increases the demand for these types of areas. The more people that travel for eco-centric activities, the more governments will value those areas and invest in them.
Similarly, avoid tours that aren’t eco-friendly. If the tour involves motorized vehicles or unofficial guides it’s probably not respecting or benefitting the local ecology. Eco-friendly tours should be advertised as such and offer some level of education to visitors about the preservation of local habitats. Make sure you do your research before signing up for a tour!
Let’s Help Protect Our Environment
Lowering your environmental impact when traveling isn’t easy but it’s much more attainable with proper planning. I enjoy my travels more when I know I’m making an effort to be environmentally and social conscious, even it means going out of my way to do so. If you have more tips for travelers to be green, feel free to reach out via Facebook or Twitter.
About The Author
David Evans – Dave is a minimalist, environmentalist, and conscious consumer. He has a degree in environmental studies and several years’ experience in conservation and tech. He founded prch in 2015 to help others be more sustainable and realize an alternative to consumerism.
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