I struggle with the state of the world sometimes. The way we've used it and exploited it and the people on it, and continue to do so. It can be hard to know what to do with that information, how to make a difference, or at least, not make it worse. As we bumble around the country on our bus, one thing is becoming more and more evident to me: I love travel, and I want people to be able to do it for generations to come. It's still a new endeavor, but as I travel and learn, I become more invested in eco-travel and sustainable living.
What is Eco-Travel?
Eco-travel simply means traveling with the earth and it’s inhabitants in mind. The International Eco-Tourism Society defines it as : “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.” The principles of Eco-Travel are intended to “unite conservation, communities, and sustainable travel”
While traveling to natural areas is definitely a big part of why we converted to Bus Life, we also do a lot of our work in urban areas. I believe that being an eco-traveler is important no matter your destination. Many eco-tourism blogs focus on wildlife trips to Africa and oceanic adventures in the Caribbean. I’d LOVE to be able to bring you tips and trips for that kind of travel, but that’s not what my life looks like right now, and chances are, it’s probably not what yours looks like either. Instead, I’m focusing on local eco-travel, here in the US. Don’t get me wrong though, the steps we take in our own country have global impact.
Why is Eco-Travel Important?
The benefits of Eco-Travel are numerous. A few of the main reasons to be mindful of eco-travel practices are to
- Reduce waste - It’s no secret that Americans produce A TON of waste. An eco-travel mindset easily translates to reduced waste even when you’re not traveling.
- Respect other’s environment - Have you ever left a music festival at the end of the day, and looked at the ground? Have you ever seen photos of what the beaches in Miami look like after spring break is over? It’s garbage - literally - and it’s devastating. It’s reported that Coachella alone generates 107 tons of solid waste PER DAY of their 15 days of annual festivities, totaling 1,1605 tons of trash. That’s 3,210,000 pounds of trash in a little over 2 weeks. Three. Million. Pounds. Coachella is not a landfill, it’s a home to people and animals for the other 350 days per year.
- Learn about local culture - Whether you’re destined for one of the countries larges music festivals, headed to a State Park, or bouncing from city to city in your mobile home, every corner of this country has local culture to serve up. Our most recent trip from Detroit, MI to Charlottesville, VA offered us a ton of opportunities to connect with local business people, farmers, neighbors, fellow travelers and even get to know my own family a bit better. While America is still a young country - relatively speaking - it’s a melting pot of thousands of cultures, each with stories to tell and lessons we can learn.
- Offset carbon emissions - Traveling often involves plane, train, or bus travel, taxis, hotel stays, etc, which make carbon emissions unavoidable even for those who are ultra conscientious about their carbon footprint. Offsetting your emissions restores balance by allowing trees to be planted, and funding renewable energy efforts.
- Enjoy travel more - When you’re conscious of the way you’re treating the earth, you enjoy yourself more. You’re more in-the-moment, and focused on your travels. Much of our waste and non-sustainable living sprouts from convenience, and while I don’t believe eco-travel is inconvenient, I do believe it forces you to slow down a bit. The things we care about are the things we take the most joy in, and traveling is no different.
What Are Some Easy Ways You Can Be An Eco-Traveler?
There are so many ways to participate in sustainable travel, many of which start at or carry over to sustainable living at home.
- Pack eco-friendly - Before you even leave your house, have eco-travel in mind. Use re-usable items wherever possible. This includes shampoo and conditioner bottles (or opt for a shampoo bar!) lotion, water bottles, rain jackets, shopping bags, re-usable straws, etc. Also, be mindful of the energy your home uses while you’re away. Turn down AC/Heat and unplug appliances to reduce unnecessary energy consumption and save money!
- Live like a local - often tourist traps are rife with chinsy trinkets and oversized, over priced bad-for-you foods that come packaged in harmful, non-biodegradable materials. living like a local - shopping for food at farmers markets, eating at locally owned restaurants, and shopping at small businesses (bonus points if they’re second hand!) not only often reduces waste, but also feeds into the local economy and introduces you to local culture. After all, what’s the point of travel if you aren’t exposing yourself to new ways of life?
- Bike, walk, or use public transit. I feel a little funny writing that at this time as I still don’t have a bike, but in my experience, walking is one of the best possible ways to take in a new environment. When you walk, be it through a city or through the woods, you notice all of the little things you would otherwise zoom right past.
- Offset your emissions usage. This is something I hadn’t really thought about when I lived in a stationary home, even though both Kyle and I had our own cars and our commutes were long (I have some carbon footprint atoning to do, just like everyone else). Now that we live in the bus, we undoubtedly produce fewer emissions (we share a vehicle, for one, and park for a few weeks at a time) but it’s also not like we’re driving an electric bus around the country. We still definitely have a carbon footprint, so to offset that, I subscribe to Terrapass. You can calculate your monthly, weekly, or one time emissions, and pay to offset your carbon footprint. They use donations to fund renewable energy efforts and projects which capture methane gas emissions from landfills and convert them to energy. I personally do a monthly offset subscription, which is less than $2/month and is the equivalent to planting 34 trees. It took less than 5 minutes to subscribe, and makes a serious difference.
- I try to live by one rule in all facets of my life - the campsite rule. That is: Leave things in as good a state or better as you found them in. That applies to travel destinations just as much as it applies to interactions with people and nature. If you can, enrich it. If you can’t, leave no trace that you were ever there.
Questions? Suggestions? Want to geek out about something? I love hearing from you! Leave a comment below!