Travel, as we say in our intro, is one of life’s great pleasures. But with visiting other countries comes waste we generate and impact as guests. As more and more people have the means to travel, the stress on communities and countries is growing. If destinations are to remain pristine, beautiful and worth visiting, travelers and those working in tourism are going to have to make some adjustments to preserve the places we love. On this episode we’ll chat about practical travel issues and ways you as a traveler can reduce your footprint and impact.
Lets chat about some of the most pressing travel challenges and how travelers can reduce the stress they put on the areas they visit.
Avoid using single use plastic bottles. Bring your own refillable canteen. I’ve recently purchased a Aquasana water bottle with built-in filtration. I drink tap water and havent had any problems. The filter is good for 3 months and 800 gallons of water. Otherwise, in certain areas, Refill Not Landfill began operations in Siem Reap Cambodia where they have over 100 free water refill stations, and Trash Hero, which operates in numerous countries around Asia, also offers refillable bottles and a small, but growing number of refill stations in locations including Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Straws are a tougher challenge. If you bring your own, you’ll need to remember to tell waitstaff that you don’t wish to have a straw. A growing number of restaurants are becoming more aware of the problem. Some areas of Asia are more conscious of the problem (and offer better solutions) than others. Bali is one destination that typically features paper straws. It’s also quite easy to find bamboo straws for sale. To buy your own bamboo straw in Thailand, you can contact Bamboo Sisters, who even produce and distribute their straws with sustainability in mind.
The anti-straw movement is seriously gaining traction in parts of Asia. Minor Group, who owns the Anantara brand of hotels, among others, announced all their hotels would stop using straws as of January 1, 2018, which is very cool. More and more brands and restaurants will get on board, but it takes people asking and informing. Do you part to spread the good word.
Also, you rarely use a straw in your day-to-life, so why do you need one with a glass of Coke or a cocktail? Just drink from the glass.
Orphanages – Schools
The consensus nowadays is that you should not visit orphanages or schools. You are more of a disruption than doing good and in fact, a high percentage of ‘orphans’ in Cambodian orphanages are not. They have family but have been sent there to reduce financial burden on their families. In many cases orphanages are money-making centers. It’s incredible to think that this happens but it can be the case.
Two great organizations, Childsafe and Friends International, both based in Cambodia have great guidelines about such visits, can provide alternatives and have some good tips on how to make your visit responsible. Well worth a look at their websites before a visit. ChildSafe has 7 Tips for Travelers which are good. See the link in our show notes.
Friends International is one of the most respected NGOs in Cambodia and now have operations in neighboring countries. You can buy goods that their people in training make, visit one of their many restaurants, where people working there are being trained in restaurant arts, etc. They even have a nail-bar in Phnom Penh and a shop to fix motorbikes. Basically, if you spend money at one of their businesses you are helping to train people in life skills – a great – travel light step.
Flying is without a doubt the fastest and usually most cost-effective way to get from A to B. That said the carbon created is pretty sizeable. There are a number of carbon offsetting schemes out there and many large travel agents offer the option to offset the carbon of your flight tickets when you book international air tickets. If your agent or website doesn’t offer such an option, check for some online. We are not endorsing any particular site or service, but here are some that a search turned up:
You can also find out what your carbon footprint is by using a Carbon Calculator. There are many out there such as Carbon Footprint or MyClimate. There are many out there so please do a search and some research on your own to find a partner that’s best.
If you’re going to fly, stay awhile and make it worthwhile… I like to fly in and ground out… Luang Prabang was always one of those kind of destinations for me.
A small step can also be doing a search and some research about the bus companies you travel with regionally while in a country. Many companies use old buses that burn dirty, while others use newer buses that are cleaner, often with better drivers and safety record. Again, we can’t vouch for a particular site or driving companies, but it’s not too hard find ones that are better than others.
Instead of taking a taxi or motorbike taxi at times, for short journeys, walk. You can cover 5km/hour if you keep up a pace. Therefore, if you take it slow, check things you, you can cover 3km or a bit more. See what’s happening around you in a spot, take in the smells, sites, trade smiles and cover some ground by foot. You’ll be fitter for it, not waste fuel or contribute to traffic.
Be cautious of not damaging plants, stick to paths, etc. If going somewhere you don’t know, get a guide to add value, support local work and not end up damaging the environment. Don’t give candy and presents to kids as you hike – don’t turn kids into beggars with tollways along the way.
For multi-day treks, ensure you stay with communities who are managing garbage properly, know how to cook safely and funds are definitely benefiting communities. There are local tourism organizations who license such operators and lead courses to educate. Some include PATA and the PDA in Thailand. If you really care about the area you’re traveling, do a bit of research before heading out!
Showering, Bathing and Swimming
Think about the water you use when traveling. Most hotels will have signs in rooms about using towels again, not changing your bed sheets, and such to save water. Do it. Don’t have your towels changed every day or your sheets – you wouldn’t do it at home. Such small steps can really reduce your impact.
When showering you can save many liters of water per shower. Get wet, turn off the water, lather up, rinse off. You can save a ton of water this way. Don’t use bathtubs – hugely wasteful. Tell hotels they should get rid of bathtubs and plunge-pools. Don’t get rooms with a plunge-pool and tell the GM that they should not have them. When you’re snorkeling, clearly don’t touch coral and don’t wear sunblock in the water.
This could be an entire episode on it’s own, and was, on Ep. 66: Animal Tourism in Asia but is worth a listen and mention here. Everyone loves animals, wants to ‘help’ them, but it’s quite tricky to know if what you’re doing is disruptive or helping. Do some research, read-up and ensure the animal activity you’re taking part in helps the animals, rather than just getting you some nice photos with the animals.
– ChildSafe: http://thinkchildsafe.org/travelers/
– Friends-International: https://friends-international.org/
– Angkor Hospital for Children: http://angkorhospital.org/
– Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital: http://www.beatrichner.ch/Assets/richner_appearence.html – Refill Not Landfill: https://refillcambodia.com/
– Ep. 66: Animal Tourism in Asia: https://talktravelasia.com/2017/08/01/episode-66-animal-tourism-in-asia/
– Ep 51: Volunteering While Traveling with James Sutherland of Friends-International: https://talktravelasia.com/2016/08/15/episode-51-volunteering-while-traveling-with-james-sutherland-of-friends-international/
– All Thai Taxi: http://www.allthaitaxi.com/website/th/home/
– Carbon Footprint: https://www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx
– MyClimate: http://www.myclimate.org/private-clients/
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