How to travel sustainably post Covid-19
Updated: Oct 13
Covid 19 has changed our world forever. We have all been stuck at home for the better part of a year now, and it looks like we will be home bound for the near future. So when we do venture out, how can we do so responsibly. This great pause that was enforced upon us by a virus, should have had a positive impact on all of us, and our world views- I think that’s what we should take back from this experience.
When we do travel again, let it be sustainably, consciously, & responsibly.
If you aren’t sure of how you can start travelling sustainably, check out the following suggestions I have put together.
Read about the difference between Responsible & Sustainable travel
1. Choose your transport wisely.
It is true that you will have to fly into most destinations, and there is no way around that, but choose to fly direct (i know most of us will choose a direct flight, I do all the time, and that’s even before I knew that it was the greener option)
Most carbon emissions are made during takeoff and landing, which is why it is best to choose a direct flight, over a connecting flight.
Check out my video on Sustainable travel, & subscribe to my YouTube Channel! :)
Once you have reached your destination, choose to travel via public transport. Now this may be difficult for most people to do, but this switch can make a difference even in your daily budget!
You could also rent bicycles to explore the destination you are at- many cities now have electric bicycles for rent, making green travel easier!
Else, my all time favourite way of seeing a place-WALKING!
I walk everywhere! I enjoy walking around a new place, and I don’t mind even if it is under the sun! It is my absolute favourite way of seeing a new city. It helps me discover things I wouldn’t have if I were on public transport & I talk to more people on the road (because I invariably get lost).
Did you know that packing light can help reduce your carbon footprint?
A lighter bag means lesser weight for the aeroplane to carry, which reduces carbon emissions!
I pack light and carry only what fits in my cabin baggage, which helps me save on my ticket as well!
If you are thinking of making the switch to a backpack to travel, check out my suggestions!
My backpack is affordable, and has served me well, if you are purchasing from India, you can buy it here!
If you are purchasing from outside India, you can buy it here!
The pandemic has put serious strains on the people working in the tourism sector. According to statistics, 1 in 8 people in India are employed in the tourism sector (12.38% of the population), this was according to a report published in 2019.
How can we help people on the grassroots level when we travel?
This should be a high priority when we start travelling again. If our time on holiday, can help families sustain themselves, put their kids through school, and help local livelihoods to flourish once again, I think we have achieved far more than what we hoped to, by going on holiday.
2. Buy Local
It is important that one takes the time to assess whether them being in this new place is positively impacting someone’s life. If the answer to that is YES, then you are already doing a lot more than you think you are. What I mean by this is, when you are anywhere, choose to buy locally made handicrafts, so that the demand for those handicrafts increases, and the indigenous population of that place can continue honing their craft and teaching their next generation the craft as well. If you are to buy the cheaper China made versions of the local craft, then what you are doing is reducing the market for the original handcrafted product, and putting a strain on the livelihood of the people who make it. (Also, the original will be better in quality than the knockoff anyway)
3. Eat Local
Eat from street vendors, or eat at restaurants that are locally owned, so that your money goes directly back into the local community. You are also going to get a much more immersive travel experience by dining at the street vendor, or at restaurant that is locally owned, versus a McDonalds or Pizza Hut.
4. Stay at a homestay or locally owned property
When you stay at a homestay you are contributing directly to a local family’s income. Staying at a homestay gives the traveller a more immersive travel experience- a chance to try home cooked food, and an insight into the way the locals live their lives. Most homestay hosts are happy to converse with the guests to share life experiences, or stories about their culture & heritage.
If you choose to stay at a hotel chain, check what their sustainability practices are, and their local CSR practices, and if you see that they can improve on it, leave them feedback saying so. (yes, all hotels check guest feedback, so your voice/opinion will be heard.)
Read the story of a tribal woman in Wayand, and my encounter with her.
5. Do not put a strain on the natural resources of the destination
When you travel to a places like Ladakh & Spiti Valley, be aware that water is a scarce resource in these places. The indigenous population of these places have adapted to living a life that conserves water at every step. For example, in Spiti, local homes are fitted with dry composting toilets which use no water, the waste collected is then used as manure for agriculture.
But with the onset of tourism, and the demands that tourists make to feel comfortable during their stay, have led to the construction of showers, & flushing toilets, which lead to a strain on the precious resource-water. Hotels in Kaza (a bustling town in Spiti), bring in tankers of water from other parts of Himachal Pradesh to sustain their modern shower & toilet fittings.
The same is the case in Ladakh, and will be the case in any place where there is a shortage of water.
So, when you do go to villages that employ the use of dry composting toilets-USE THEM! isn't that the point of travel? to experience a place like a local would? You will come out of an experience as such with a new found appreciation for the life you lead in the city.
In South Africa, due to water shortage, hotels/homestays suggest you flush only when you HAVE to (if you get what I mean).
In Jodhpur, hostels/hotels remind you that you are in a desert, and so, to use the water available wisely, & to have quick showers.
6. See animals only in the wild-that’s the way that it is supposed to be!
Be wary of activities involving wildlife- as a rule of thumb, if the activity promises close encounters with wildlife, like petting a tiger, or even riding elephants. Elephants are taken from their mothers when they are very young to train them to submit to a human, and allow humans to ride them. The training process is often cruel-beating with a billhook, withholding of food, and chaining. This activity, should not be encouraged, and the only way it can be stopped, is by refusing to be a part of it, and not normalising or making it seem an exotic activity that one must do.
Why you should not engage in animal tourism
In Thailand, Tiger tourism is extremely popular, and this popularity means the existence of at least 17 Tiger housing facilities, where at least 830 tigers are kept in chains for the entertainment of tourists. (to pet, hug, and take selfies with).
Holding sea turtles is another popular wildlife attraction- being handled by a human causes the turtle a lot of stress, and in the event of a tourist dropping them, they are sometimes fatally injured.
The same goes for taking part in ‘swimming with dolphins’, or watching them perform tricks, and paying money to watch a killer whale splash the audience and do acrobatics for human entertainment.
Studies have shown that captivity & training to perform at shows for human entertainment have caused these beautiful creatures immense amount of stress, due to which some display change in behaviour (violent & neurotic behaviour), and sometimes have also caused death.
So what should you do to see or get up close & personal with wildlife?
Go on safaris! Safaris at national parks are run by the government, with the help of the indigenous population, in the effort to conserve the rich wildlife we have. Go on safari to see animals in the wild, the money that you pay, goes towards the maintenance of the national park. (This is the case at most national parks I’ve been to)
There are many whale watching/dolphin watching tours in every country-but this is a bit more sketchy, as this isn’t closely regulated, as there are many private enterprises organising it. Some try chasing dolphins, and try to get too close to the orcas. So when you do choose your tour into the ocean, do some research, and find a company that you feel is ethical in its practices.
Read about my wildlife safari into Nagarhole National Park in Karnataka!
7. Be respectful of local customs
You may be on holiday, but you are also in someone else’s home, so respect the local culture, traditions, and sentiments. For example, dress modestly when entering a place of worship-most places worship that are accustomed to tourist visits, now have dressing guidelines on signage outside the door-so follow them.
A rule of thumb to follow when you plan on visiting a place of worship is to have your shoulders and knees covered. Mosques in India require women to have their ankles covered too- and they provide abayas to all women who aren’t dressed appropriately (you have to return them upon departure). Temples in Kerala have similar rules as well-some temples require women to be dressed in the local set mundu attire, and men to be in mundu as well. Goan churches have a dress code as well.
8. Do NOT buy bottled water!
Carry a reusable bottle with you (I ALWAYS have mine). When I travel, I refill my bottle at restaurants or at the hostel/homestay I’m staying at. If you are at a place where you feel the water available may not be safe to drink, you could buy Lifestraw Go- it is a reusable water bottle with an inbuilt filtration system that traps 99.9999% of all waterborne bacteria, making water clean to drink. This is ideal if you are going camping, trekking, or traveling to places where water quality may not be great.
The LifeStraw Go Bottle if you are buying from India can be purchased here!
The LifeStraw Go Bottle if you are buying from outside India can be purchased here!
But, if you are in a situation where you have to buy bottled water, you can still use your reusable bottle-buy large bottles of water-2l & 5l, and then refill your reusable bottle as and when needed. This reduces the number of plastic bottles & caps in the landfills, saves you a little money, and saves you the hassle of having to rush out to buy bottled water so often!
9. Travel slow!
Now more than ever, we should travel slow, and courtesy of the coronavirus restrictions, slow travel will be the norm for the near future.
This just means, that when you go somewhere, stay there for as long as possible, explore that place fully, immerse yourself in the local culture, savour the local food, enjoy local music & cinema, and just enjoy being at that place, without hurrying to the next destination that you have to tick off your list.
Slow travel helps the local economy of the destination, as you are staying in one place for that long. Slow travel also means that you are not going to contribute to carbon emissions for flight out to your next destination.
10. Be wary of Voluntourism
This is a tricky one-if you wish to spend time volunteering in the country that you are visiting, do in depth research on the organisation, and its practices. Most voluntourism projects have proved to do more harm than good, to the same people it is trying to help.
(For example, volunteering at and donating to orphanages have led to an increase in the number of children at orphanages globally.(most of the kids at orphanages aren’t orphans, but from lower income households. According to A report by Save the Children in 2009, 4 out of 5 children in orphanages have at least 1 living parent
Donations that orphanages bring in, are leveraged to promise a better life for children from disadvantaged homes, and are taken away from their parents, others are leased from their parents. There are reported cases of children being refused food and medication, so that they can gain the sympathy of visitors, and garner more donations.)
Leave me a comment below to discuss what sustainable travel means to you.
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