By Ritu Goyal Harish
Taking a vacation, going on an exploratory trip or simply taking a weekend off is no longer difficult; there are opportunities and deals galore that make every travel wish or bucket-list dream come true. But there is an underbelly to the travel industry that no one talks about.
Apart from the personal gratification, travellers are aware that when we travel, we help the local economy flourish. But no one talks about how travellers add to the degradation of local systems such as garbage, water management, disposal of plastic waste and so on.
You may ask: why bring the words ‘responsible travelling’ or ‘eco-travel’ into the equation and make travel sound like a mommy activity? Doesn’t the mere idea of heading to a foreign location, resort or destination imply that you are ‘getting away’ and want to be free of responsibilities?
Yes, but travelling responsibly is not only the need of the hour; it is also very simple – all you need to do is follow some simple rules and few acts of mindfulness.
You may ask: don’t hotels or properties that are certified eco-friendly do the needful on our behalf?
Well, yes and no. Very few large properties undertake environment-saving procedures; most of them are confined to recycling the linen a guest uses (sheets and towels) and some may even ask you if drinking water bottles could be refilled with potable, filtered water.
But you will notice that even though you may have used just a quarter of the moisturiser that was part of the hotel’s toiletry kit, when you return to the room, they’ve all been replaced with fresh bottles.
Housekeeping staff does not have the luxury of time to replenish the bottles individually; the old ones are simply thrown and the room is replenished with new ones. One can only imagine the number of bottles being dispensed in hotels that have 100 rooms or more.
This is sheer plastic waste. Most hotels don’t wish to inconvenience their guests and tend to indulge in small wastages that can cause a significant impact on the local environment.
Another important thing to remember is that most of the virgin places you visit are not equipped to deal with mass tourism once discovered. It could be the mangroves in Sundarbans, high-altitude treks in the Himalayas or the ocean in Andamans; the moment visitors start thronging to them, their delicate ecological balance is disturbed.
One of the major differences between eco-tourism and eco-travel is that in the former, you rely on someone else to be responsible for the ecology and environment, but as an eco-traveller you take up the responsibility yourself. You go the mile to make a difference.
Here are a few tips that you can adopt to be a responsible, low-impact traveller that will make your travels more satisfying:
- Carry a 500 ml sturdy, empty bottle along when you leave home. In most hotels, a kettle for tea or coffee is a given. Heat water before sleeping at night and by the time you’re up, it is cool enough to be filled into your bottle. Carry two bottles if you’re accustomed to drinking a lot of water.
- Ask for regular filtered water at restaurants and eateries to avoid buying bottled water, which requires exhaustive fresh water resources to make.
- Carry your toiletries from home – shampoos, conditioners – in little bottles. This way you can avoid dispensing plastic sachets by the dozen and adding to the plastic waste of the location you are visiting.
- Similarly, bring back the empty bottles and reduce the pressure of recycling on the host destination.
- On treks, disposal of garbage is often a problem and it is best to bring back every single thing – candy-bar wrappers, bottles, tissue paper, cigarette stubs and so on.
- A solar charger to recharge mobile phones is an excellent way to conserve electricity.
- Take shorter showers even though you’re on vacation – many smaller, family owned properties lack the provision to recycle water and either use underground water or municipal water as their main source. Either source puts immense pressure on water supply.
- Hire a bicycle in places it is safe to ride in or take public transport instead of a taxi.
- Carry a foldable tote that can be put away in your backpack to avoid taking plastic bags from stores.
- Enlist a local tour operator and hire people who understand the destination and are conscious of sustainable tourist activity.
These simple tips can help make a huge difference to the city or country you’re visiting, especially one that does not have the facility or the wherewithal to handle the garbage that tourists create or keep up with the high demand of fresh water.
Lead photo credit: Sayan Nath on Unsplash. First published in the September 2017 issue of eShe magazine
Ritu Goyal Harish runs Ease India Travel and specialises in holidays to Bhutan, parts of Himachal, Coorg and Kerala