How to become a Green Traveller

Is it possible to travel and be respectful of the environment at the same time? Tourism, and especially mass tourism is often a problem for fragile ecosystems and today while Amazonia is burning we can’t deny that our planet is in danger. But there are some ways to reduce your carbon footprint and your impact on your environment while you’re on holidays. Here are 8 things to do that will help you become a Green Traveller!

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January 2018. A couple of days before, I was celebrating New Year’s Eve in Albany, Western Australia, and I was now about to explore Cape le Grand National Park next to Esperance, a stunning place famous for the white-sand beach of Lucky Bay on which kangaroos can often be spotted. Instead of kangaroos, what I saw that day on this gorgeous beach were almost 100 4×4 cars of people too lazy to walk and who chose to drive on the sand instead, not caring a single second about their environment.

I will never forget that day and the mix of sadness and anger I felt that almost brought me tears. But at the same time, it also awakened my ecological consciousness. First, I wrote an article about it, condemning this terrible situation and hoping that someday, the beaches of Cape le Grand National Park would be forbidden to cars. Then I started to question myself and my own behaviour: was I making enough efforts? Was it possible to be respectful of the environment while travelling? I still don’t have a real answer to that question, but all the thoughts I had about it finally led me to writing this article, with the conviction that if every traveller was only a little bit more careful, it would already make a big difference.

1/ Walk more, drive less

Pinnacles

That day when I saw all these cars on the beach of Lucky Bay was unfortunately not the only moment I got upset by other people’s behaviour, and it’s by far not the only beach of Australia on which vehicles are allowed… Still in Western Australia, North of Perth, there’s a place called the Pinnacles desert: hundreds of vertical rock formations next to each other in the middle of the desert. It’s a beautiful place, magical at sunset and very easy to explore by foot. There’s a short and easy trail circling the area and leading to a couple of lookouts with a great view all over the place, but apparently that was not enough for some people: there’s also a driving track right in the middle of this unique landscape for those who prefer to explore it without leaving their vehicle! Why can’t they just walk to slowly and quietly enjoy the gorgeous sight?

Cars, Pinnacles

Other example, the only way to explore the extraordinary site of Monument Valley in the United States is… to drive on a track around the mesas, the name of these amazing hills. I’m not blaming the people who took this path; it was the only option and I did it myself too, even if I regretted it. No, I’m blaming the owners of the land who are managing the touristic exploitation of this place… but a lot of tourists seemed perfectly happy with this situation and thought it “very cool” that they were allowed to drive there. I would have loved to hike instead, and I was really disappointed when I saw that this iconic view of Monument Valley was spoiled by the presence of a track and cars in the foreground (even though I tried to take the picture below when there were as few vehicles as possible!).

Monument Valley

Of course, I’m not talking here about disabled persons or people who have difficulties to walk, but I’m describing these perfectly healthy persons that just don’t want to use their legs because they’re too lazy. So, if you’re fit enough to walk at least a couple of miles, leave your car behind as much as possible and start walking instead.

2/ Take the plane as little as possible

You might have heard of the Swedish word “flygskam”; it literally means “flight shame” and this concept is becoming more and more popular in the country since it appeared for the first time by the end of 2018. The air traffic already dropped by a non-negligible part in Sweden! Instead of flying, more and more people decide now to take the train or other public transports. They also travel more often within their own country instead of flying overseas. A good example for the rest of us?

Plane above the mountains, Queenstown

Well, of course it would be good for the planet to choose an alternative to flying to go from one place to another. But is it really possible? It would be hypocritical for me who travelled to Australia and New Zealand to encourage other people to stop flying to their next destination… And even though it would be great to use different means of transport in the future, as long as other options such as the train will remain as expensive as they are now, it will be hard to convince people. One random example? A one-hour flight from Nantes in France to Geneva in Switzerland on the 7th of September 2019 costs 35€. The same itinerary on the same day by train costs more than 80€ and lasts more than 7 hours…

That being said, it is still possible to make some efforts. There are nowadays more and more long-distance buses between main cities, especially in Europe or in North America. Yes, it takes much longer than a plane but these buses are often cheap and if you travel at night time you might even save the price of a hotel. And finally, why not use your weekends and some of your holidays to explore the local area next to where you live instead of flying away to popular destinations?

3/ Pick up other people’s trash

I’m not going to ask you to stop throwing your rubbish in the nature. I hope that you were already not doing it and if you need someone else to tell you to stop littering, then you’re probably at the wrong place here. We now live in a world where taking care of our own garbage isn’t enough, and as depressing as it might seem, we just can’t keep complaining without doing anything when we see piles of trash left around by disrespectful people: we need to act.

trash-in-forest

cigarette-buttsThere are a few different options. You can join a group of volunteers who meet up regularly to clean a specific area. The popularity of this type of activity is growing so you might be able to do it during your vacation if you’re in a touristic area or even at home. You can also take part in a social media challenge. These kinds of challenges are often stupid and sometimes dangerous but the last trend in France is really Earth-friendly: it consists in picking up as much cigarette butts as possible and putting them in plastic bottles before throwing them away in a bin. Up to you to post a picture of it on Instagram or not… And finally, why not just bring a garbage bag with you every time you go for a stroll or a hike and fill it with all the rubbish that you’ll find on your way? That’s what I’m starting to do now, and even though it’s sad to see how fast a bag gets filled up, at least I know that I’m a little bit contributing in making our parks, rivers or hiking paths cleaner.

trash-bag

4/ Avoid some unnecessary and polluting activities

When you’re on holidays, you’re often spoilt with choice of things to do, but a lot of them aren’t exactly compatible with the respect of the environment. Once again, it would be hypocritical for me to tell you to stop doing any sort of activities; among many other things, I skydived in Australia, went on a whale-watching cruise in Canada and took a scenic flight over the Great Barrier Reef. But I believe that there are a lot of things that you can avoid without taking all the fun out of your vacation: do you really need to take a super-fast (and super-polluting) jet boat on Wakatipu Lake in Queenstown, New Zealand? Do you really need to ride a Segway to go around Uluru in Australia? Do you really need to get on a boat to sail as close as possible to icebergs in Jökulsarlon lagoon in Iceland, when you see them perfectly from the shore?

Uluru in Australia, Lake Wakatipu in New Zealand

If you’d like to do something for the planet, just ask yourself these three questions before booking your next activity. Are you really going to miss it if you don’t do it? Does it seem to be harmful for the environment and if yes is there a more ecological alternative? I’m positively sure that your holiday stories won’t be less memorable if they don’t include riding a jet ski or surfing an artificial wave in an amusement park.

5/ Be a respectful hiker

If your main activity during your holidays is hiking, very well, it’s already a great point considering what I said before! But if you want to be a respectful hiker, remember to always stay on the existing tracks and to never leave them. And of course, I shouldn’t have to say that but don’t ever step over fences. It’s not just a question of safety, it’s also a question of respect: respect of the rules, respect of other people and respect of the environment. If you’re hiking off the tracks, you will contribute to accelerate the erosion of the soil, which means that plants won’t grow there anymore. You might also disturb birds or animals who live there, causing them stress and eventually forcing them to flee.

Hiking, Tasmania

cairn-rocks-canadaThere are a few more things that you shouldn’t do while you’re out in the nature. Don’t pick up flowers, no matter how beautiful they are. Once you take them, they will wilt anyway. Don’t build up cairns. This ancestral tradition can have different meanings but its recent popularity is mostly due to social media, and rock stacking might have an impact on the fauna (it degrades the environment where animals live) and on the soil (it increases the effects of erosion). Don’t feed wild animals. The food you will give them might not be appropriate to their diet, even if they seem to like it. Broadly speaking, don’t touch anything, don’t leave traces of your passage and don’t take anything but pictures.

Being a hiker is great, being a respectful hiker is better!

6/Make sure your “local souvenir” is really local

Going on holidays often means bringing back souvenirs for your friends, for your family, or just for yourself. But you have to be cautious with the “typical” gifts that you might find during your stay: are they really local, or are they “Made in China”? Is there really a point in buying a souvenir that has been manufactured hundreds or thousands of kilometers away and shipped to tourist shops in a place where the people who made it will never go in their entire life? Try to be careful about it and to buy things from local producers, even if it means spending a little bit more money.

souvenirs-shetland

7/ Try local food

okonomiyaki-kyotoThis point is quite similar to the previous one, except that it’s about food. Is there a point of going to McDonald’s if you’re visiting Japan or drinking a coffee at Starbucks in Sydney? Travelling is not just discovering new places, new cities and new landscapes, it’s also embracing a different culture, which includes the food. Trying to go to local cafes and restaurants as much as possible will significantly reduce the carbon footprint of what you’re eating! And you might taste some delicious dishes, like the yummy Okonomiyaki that I discovered in Kyoto.

Here’s one example of something that shouldn’t exist anymore. When I was in Melbourne, I worked for a few months in a French tea-room that just opened its first store there, but which is world-famous for its (expensive) macarons. I found out during this period that these macarons were all made in one factory in Switzerland, then frozen and shipped all around the world! Is the taste of one little biscuit really worth this terrible environmental cost?

8/ Spread the good word!

Finally, the easiest thing you could do for our planet is to explain to other people all the little things that you do to preserve the environment. Tell you friends about the efforts that you’re making, encourage your family to do the same as you and slowly, one step at a time, it will contribute to make our world a better place. And why not start with sharing this article?

And you, what are the things you do for the environment when you’re on holidays? Share them in the comments!

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