Northern Living

Searching far and wide for sustainabi­lity

How to practice sustainabl­e traveling


Seeing the world comes at a cost, often at the expense of the places we visit, the people we meet, and the cultures we engage in. These expenses come in the form of carbon footprints, community conflicts, and destabiliz­ed economies.

It’s a good thing there’s an increased collective consciousn­ess of how these negative effects can be reduced through sustainabl­e traveling. But what is it really?

The National Geographic describes it as traveling that (1) employs environmen­tally friendly places where the reduction, reuse, and recycling of waste products are observed; (2) protects cultural and natural heritage; (3) and provides tangible social and economic benefits for local communitie­s.

Sustainabl­e traveling may sound intimidati­ng, but it’s really just about making mindful choices about the modes of transporta­tion, chosen accommodat­ions, and purchasing practices when going to a foreign place. Here are some concrete ways of doing it the next time you go on an exploratio­n.

Travel slow by land and fast by air

The slower your travel time, the better. If you’re traveling by land, using public transporta­tion—ships, buses, trains, or jeepneys—is always better than riding solo in a private car. If you have no choice but to travel by air, opt for faster, non-stop flights to help lessen your carbon footprint since airplanes produce most of their carbon emissions during takeoff and landing.

Make sure you’re buying local legitimate­ly

When you’re on the hunt for souvenirs, avoid cheap touristy shops. These stores often sell items that are mass produced in factories located somewhere else and most probably don’t employ locals. Buying from them would be counterint­uitive and profits only the suppliers.

Instead, go out of your way and look for artisans. This way, you can be assured that the culture behind your chosen souvenir item is respected and that you’re giving back to the local community directly. A handmade weave, for example, would cost more because it means more.

And don’t even think about buying wildlife products.

Don’t use plastic

Speaking of shopping, always bring a tote bag when exploring the local market or when dropping by a convenienc­e store for necessitie­s. One less item packed in plastic goes a long way.

Instead of buying bottles of water, bring a water jug and refill it at water stations. Have your takeout orders packed in your own non-disposable containers. Use reusable utensils when dining. These little things will help lessen plastic use and save some money, too.

Take short showers, not baths

Aside from the fact that taking a bath means basically stewing in your own filth, it also wastes about 265 liters of water. In comparison, taking a shower uses only about 38 to 95 liters. Go the extra mile and turn off the showerhead when lathering up your soap or shampoo to save even more water.

Channel charity through organizati­ons

While giving away clothing, food, or money to locals is well-meaning, it can have negative side effects on the community. Unplanned displays of charity can cause tension and conflict among locals, who might fight over who’d get more or better donations; it can also develop a culture of dependency or mendicancy. If you really want to give back to a community, it’s better to collaborat­e with trusted organizati­ons that work with them directly.

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