Eco friendly travel is easier (and cheaper) than you might think.
Forget spending hundreds of pounds offsetting carbon miles and having to sleep in a Central American treetop eco lodge (although this can definitely be an exciting experience and a great green travel option for the more adventurous). Instead, going green when you travel is more about being mindful of the communities you visit, having more meaningful experiences, and generally not being an obnoxious visitor—it’s pretty easy, in fact.
Where can I go?
Eco-friendly travel is less about a specific destination (although more on those below) and more about the way that you travel: going green by choosing your tour operator carefully, cutting your carbon footprint by avoiding unnecessary plane travel and being respectful of the people and the environment that you encounter. Because going green when you travel is a journey and not a destination, there’s no reason that a trip to France can’t be as eco-friendly as a life-changing year spent travelling through South America.
Gap year green travel
A gap year has traditionally been a time for young people to go abroad and make a difference somewhere—whether that’s teaching English in Borneo or helping to build a school in Malawi. So being eco-friendly is entirely compatible with the gap year spirit. NGO The Ethical Traveler produces a list each year of the earth’s most eco-friendly destinations, and for 2016 that includes countries as varied as Mongolia, Panama, Uruguay, Samoa, and Cabo Verde. The site is always worth checking out when you’re in the planning stages for your next travel destination.
Don’t dump your stuff
Developing countries (and even fancy hotels in developed nations) don’t always have the infrastructure for recycling that you might be used to back home. Take steps to reduce your waste before you even produce it, by taking a cotton tote bag and a reusable (non-plastic) water bottle with you. If you’ve had an extended gap year trip and are planning on heading back home after months away, try to donate any unwanted items to individuals, charities, or institutions such as schools who will put them to good use.
This tenet of green travel is not only ethical but, likely to save you money, too. Rather than opting to stay with international hotel chains, go local. Whether it’s a small local business, a host family, an independent B&B or even an Airbnb, when you choose to stay with a local accommodation provider you know that profits are more likely to stay in the local community. Travelling this way is much more fun, too—and you’re guaranteed a more interesting trip.
Again, cheaper and more ethically sound. Everyone knows that the inter-city trains in India are an experience in themselves, but similarly inter-railing within Europe, taking buses with the locals or even hiring a bike are not only better for the environment but, will get you interacting with the locals and having less sanitised (i.e. boring) trips. Cutting down on your flight time is also a good way of reducing your carbon footprint – so think about trains rather than planes if you’re planning on taking several shorter trips.
Be a smart volunteer
If your travel plans include some voluntourism, good for you. But make sure you do your research before you go away. If your gap year is going to be centred around some voluntary work, make sure you thoroughly check out any organisation before you leave home. If in doubt, go with a respected organisation such as VSL (Voluntary Service Overseas). VSL has a volunteer programme for 18-25-year-olds, as well as another for older people who are qualified professionals (doctors, nurses, teachers, etc.) to lend their skills to really make a difference in countries such as Mozambique, Tanzania and Ethiopia.
Let us know if you know any other ways to be an eco-friendly traveller in the comments below.