Want to be a better traveller? Ecotourism educator Paul Taylor from William Angliss Institute has some expert tips.
TAKE THE TRAIN No one can argue with the convenience of plane travel, but unfortunately being flown through the air at 1000km/h brings with it a sizable carbon debt. The best way to cut down on your ecological footprint is by rediscovering the romance of the train. Not only will you see a whole lot more of the country you're visiting, you'll also enjoy comfortable seats, a relaxed atmosphere and the chance to tell others, "Why, yes, I am a slow traveller.” But if you do have to travel by air – because let's face it: it's hard to get from Australia to Europe by bus – make sure you fly with a responsible airline that lets you tick a little box to offset your carbon emissions.
DO SOME RESEARCH Though it might be tempting, don't always go straight for the cheapest or best-reviewed hotel or tourist experience. In lots of places, these will be mass-produced, foreign-owned and ethically suspect offerings that stomp all over the local environment. Burrow a little deeper to find locally owned hotels and tour operators who know the area, community and ecosystem and are proud to trumpet their sustainability credentials. If they have independent, third-party eco-certification, all the better.
PACK A WATER BOTTLE Or maybe two. You can never be too hydrated, and it'll save you from churning through plastic water bottles in countries whose recycling programs leave something to be desired. If you're worried about the bottles taking up too much luggage room, invest in a collapsible or foldable version instead. Whatever your vessel, just make sure to empty it before heading through airport security, or you may find yourself having to skol a full bottle of H2O while a queue of irate travellers bunches up behind you.
RESPECT THE ANIMALS Exotic animals hold a powerful fascination for travellers, and unscrupulous tour operators know it. But with biodiversity collapsing and animal populations in severe decline, it's more important than ever that we choose ethically when it comes to animal tourism. That means no photos with animals on the street, and making sure any safaris or sanctuaries you visit are independently accredited by an organisation like the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries.
REUSE EVERYTHING If you think about the sheer quantity of plastic bags, straws and cutlery you go through on any given day in a foreign city, it can be quite horrifying – especially given that in most countries, especially developing ones, all that waste is going straight into an incinerator. Pack a few reusable shopping bags, a set of cutlery, a mug, a tupperware container and a metal straw, and you'll go a long way to lightening your tread upon the world. (This is also excellent advice for your day-to-day life.)
CONSIDER YOUR COSMETICS We're blessed with high-quality water treatment facilities in Australia, but large swathes of the world aren't so lucky. Untreated water can be hugely harmful to the marine environment, and when we're coating ourselves in harsh chemical cosmetics, sunscreens, moisturisers and deodorants, those chemicals are making their way straight into the nearest ocean. Invest in some natural skincare products before you leave and try and find a sunscreen that's oxybenzone-free – research has shown that products containing that ingredient can be hugely damaging to coral reefs.
FOREGO CLEANLINESS While the hotel room turndown can make you feel like a rockstar, sending all those towels and sheets through the wash day after day is, well, a little wasteful. When you head out in the morning, make sure to hang the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door handle so the cleaners know to leave your room alone. And while we're on the topic of cleanliness: water is a scarce resource in much of the world. Show your respect for the local environment by keeping showers to a sensible length.
BE A ‘VOLUNTOURIST’ Wonderful as it can be, travelling is a fundamentally selfish act. Fortunately, you can ease your conscience by finding a community organisation to give back to. While donations will always be welcome – look for reputable NGOs, schools or health clinics – an even better option is to find a program you can spend a few hours, days or weeks volunteering for. The key to good ‘voluntourism’ is doing your research, asking plenty of questions and being deeply suspicious of any organisation charging you thousands of dollars to help out at an orphanage. Go local, go independent and you'll have a much better chance of actually doing some good.
This nifty guide was created in collaboration with William Angliss Institute, who have just launched a Bachelor of Tourism (Ecotourism) course. If you’re keen to learn even more about travelling sustainably, visit angliss.edu.au