Its interesting to see how people travel. Even people with the strongest opinion about environmental and social impacts can be the worst example while traveling. Frankly, we can all do better at reducing our impacts on the places we visit, and people we encounter, while traveling. So here are 7 suggestions on reducing your impact:
We can all get caught off-guard ocassionally, but far too many travelers fail to bring clothing appropriate for the
common possibilities. Sure, the freak Texas snowstorm in July is excusable, but not knowing ahead of time that thunderstorms are likely, and they can cause temperatures below 50F (10C). A perfect scenario for hypothermia and that’s being ill-prepared.
Not having long pants and long sleeve shirts for a vacation in Yellowstone, would also be ill-prepared. Those cooler temps and biting insects can ruin your day!
There are a hundred ways you can miss the boat on preparedness. But here are some things to think about on travel preparations:
- Redundant documents
- Advising others of your travel plans
- Expected and Possible weather conditions
- Laws and policies of your destination
- Plan B such as cancelling or extrication if needed
It seems hypocritical to be “Green” and also be a traveler, however there are many ways to reduce your impact while traveling. Some of these have to do with environmental impacts, and others address social impacts.
The biggest way to reduce your environmental impacts, is to travel under your own power, or in vehicles that greatly reduce emissions, or maximize their output by their capacity. For example, you and 11 friends want to go on a roadtrip to a game in a distant state. You plan on taking two SUV’s. Do you know that modern motorcoaches have the same efficiency as one SUV, and far less emissions? True, and that efficiency is effectively the same with 6 passengers or 56. Flying on a private jet ok? Not so much, but traveling on an aircraft where you can fill the capacity is much better.
Other environmental impacts to think about: Do you stay on approved walkways, paths and trails? Or do you trample your way to the best vantage point for that world-class photo? (Nor actually being a world class photographer)
Social impacts are the things many of us don’t think about intuitively. We talk loudly in places that its uncouth, or even disrespectful. We stand directly in places that others wait patiently to take a photo with our backsides in the frame. No regard is given to the local customs, and have no clue why they don’t like tourists. I hear Americans constantly complain about Chinese Tourists, yet our actions are equally disturbing in other countries. Don’t be that tourist – be better.
- Use mass modes, highly efficient, or non combustion modes of travel
- Limit your travel to established roadways, marked trails, and approved paths
- Learn the customs of your destination and try to adhere to them
- Become aware of your surroundings, and the needs of those around you
- Lose the personal entitlement attitude, consider your visit as being a guest
I find it particularly annoying when someone is all political about saving the earth, and stopping greenhouse gasses, then finishes their cigarette and flicks the butt. Do it in a national park, and I’m likely to pick it up, and flick it back – even if you are in your car. Seriously!
While butt flicking smokers are a peeve, we can all do our part to effect change in managing our waste, and where it ends up. The easiest way to think about it, is if you didn’t just harvest it on-sight, and use or consume it – it doesn’t belong in that place. Pick and eat an apple in an orchard, and leave the core, I’m ok with that (although many growers are not – so ask.) Eat an apple anywhere else, it doesn’t belong on the ground, no matter how biodegradable you think it is. Best would be a compost bin, however regular trash may be the only available solution.
Consider the “R’s” of waste – Reduce, ReUse, Recycle. Even if you are visiting a destination where its not commonly practiced is no excuse for you to not be proactive in your personal behavior. Once as a Wilderness Ranger, I was brought to a backcountry campsite by an angry backpacker who wished to show me what the “Boy Scouts” had done to the campsite he had just hiked 6 miles to enjoy. As I assessed the scene, and took inventory of the damage and litter, the liquor bottles, empty canned food, microwave dinners, and tobacco butts and evidence of drug use, was clearly cause for concern – but it wasn’t caused by boy scouts – and I would bet my reputation on it. By reducing your waste, and practicing other sound waste management principles, you too leave it so nobody can accuse you of negative impacts; even if left by others
- Use appropriate containers for any waste
- Recycle whenever possible. If in doubt- ask
- Consider donating items to those in need, before departing
- Buy hygiene supplies like soap, on arrival, and don’t use the small bottles in the hotel
- Biodegradable is no excuse for littering – Use a receptacle.
- Reduce water related waste. Consider no water running while lathering, reusing towels and bringing your own water bottle to refill.
- Consider your own filtering system instead of bottled water purchases.
Robbing the Romance
I’m not thinking of romance in terms of affection, but the romance of being outdoors, traveling abroad, discovering new things. You can rob it by what you leave behind, and what you take.
Look, there is something magical about finding something, you are sure nobody has discovered. Its exciting! It can be personally moving. Yet removing that item destroys any opportunity of someone else having that same
experience. Likewise if it is altered or destroyed from its original state. Nature has a way of gradually doing this without our help, such the iconic hoodoo that collapsed in Bryce Canyon National Park; or with our help like the thoughtless adults in Goblin State Park toppling rock formations.
I have taken thousands of people, small groups at a time, to see some amazing natural things in this world. I get the privilege of reliving my initial experience through their own. Everytime. I’m glad I already had the sense to not pocket the arrowheads, remove the petroglyph, cut down the tree, or kill off the wildlife. Because I, and now thousands of others, have left them for others to discover. So don’t rob the romance from others.
- Leave what you find for others to discover
- Be an advocate that others do the same
- Don’t alter, move, graffiti, or destroy
- Take it with you, in a picture or drawing (Oh share with us – we’ll put it here too!)
- Its ok not to share the location of things you think others would destroy. Like my favorite fishing spots
- Selfies – Just Don’t
Live and Let Live
Most of us have at least a passive interest in wild creatures. Some a fascination. Others just lose their minds! The bigger the creature, the more likely it will draw out crazy mindless people willing to die to get a photo, or touch the animal.
Look, wild animals can be habituated to human influence, and it can be dangerous. Despite the warnings at National Parks, people still feed squirrels and other rodents. Its quite obvious when they approach you practically begging. Feed one, then stick out your hand without food to pet it and see what happens; I’d be most interested in how many stitches you receive – as 32 is the record I’m personally familiar (Not me – just saw it happen) Larger animals might seem fine one minute, and then decide they don’t like the situation, and you are wearing horns, teeth, or antlers in a non-fashionable way.
This might seem all terrible to you – but it usually means that animal will get dispatched. That’s polite code for killed. We really don’t want that to happen. And you certainly don’t want to be the cause or on the receiving end of the debacle either.
More importantly, getting too close puts the animal out of its natural state, and the entire reason you probably came to that destination is to see it IN its natural state. If the animal has to stop what it is doing, alter its actions, or move away, you are too close. That even means if you are legally allowed to be that close, you shouldn’t – we are talking about reducing impacts, and ethics – not policies and ever-changing rules.
- If the animal alters behavior due to your presence – put more distance between you and it
- Don’t feed wild animals
- Learn about behavior specific to the animals you are likely to encounter
- Interface with wildlife can be very rewarding with guides and naturalists
Travelers have a way of attracting the scorn of locals, and those who prey on them; such as pickpocketers, scammers, etc. If you are the traveler that needs to file a police report, or is getting in confrontations with other travelers and the locals, you have some work to do!
Being a tourist at the All Inclusive Resort is one thing. Its entirely different when truly traveling. You don’t want to stand out, or be targeted. You certainly don’t want the ire of the locals heaped on you, before you have earned it ( and hopefully you won’t.)
- When possible & appropriate, where attire that is similar to locals
- Don’t wear clothing that is imprinted with phrases that offend.
- Wear and/or remove hats and head coverings as custom dictates
- Safeguard your money, and avoid large, easy to steal handbags
- Learn local phrases, even if in a foreign language. Particularly for bathroom, roads, etc.
- Minimize the need to ask for directions. Each time makes you stand out as a tourist.
- Follow local customs and practices. Become part of the local culture, and not a foreigner.