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How to Travel the World Without Ruining it

by Kate Gibbs
Posted: February 03, 2016

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**Open Colleges does not currently offer any Travel courses**

There’s an inherent irony in travel: that in getting to see the planet, in exploring its natural wonders and exploring its boundaries, you’re slowing ruining it, writes Travel and Tourism Writer, Kate Gibbs.

Carbon emissions, animal exploitation, water waste, turning a dynamic and even ancient culture into one that relies heavily on you, tourists, for its very survival. It’s a thought depressing enough to make you keep travel to the armchair variety involving only a remote control and a decent snack.

But cut down your eco blunders and travel with a lighter foot and you don’t need to give up your favourite life experience. A few tweaks to the way you travel can make sure you only leave footprints in the sand behind. 

Stop buying plastic bottles

Sustainable tourism - how to travel without ruining the planet - plastic bottles - garbage dump in nature

Drinking the local water in some countries is not advisable – in fact, it can lead to unwanted days spent locked in the bathroom! But, if you can’t rely on the local water, you don’t always need to resort to disposable water bottles to get your hydration – there are other alternatives.

Beaches, oceans and once-pristine destinations, streets, mountains and valleys are filled with the plastic bottles that tourists and locals leave behind. Plastic bottles usually end up in landfill instead of being recycled, plus they take hundreds of years to decompose.

They’re toxic to the environment and are never reused. Don’t add to this natural disaster (there’s a strong case for shunning them at home, too). Travel instead with a portable filter and reusable bottle that’s BPA free. You can purify water wherever you go, you won’t risk dehydration, and it’s better for your health as well. 

Avoid the zoo and aquarium

sad baby monkey in a cage - sustainable tourism - how to travel without ruining the planet

Penguins marching up and down their hot stone pathways, killer whales in tanks, monkeys doing tricks in cages. Cute! You wouldn’t think so if you knew what their environment was supposed to look like, how they thrive naturally, and the misery and physical and mental anguish these beings fall victim to in their lives as human entertainers.

Not all animal parks are bad. Sanctuaries for animals that can’t survive in the wild held preserve a population and often rescue animals under threat. But the majority are not great. If the animals are performing shows, if there is nowhere for them to hide from view, if they can’t dig and scratch and dive freely as they would in their natural environment, boycott the place.

Top offenders include places that let you pet or touch the animals, particularly large, naturally dangerous animals which have to be drugged into submission, elephant rides, and dolphin and orca shows, at aquariums where these mammals live in too-small environments (think how large the ocean is, where they’d rather be). 

Skip the tourist traps

Panama - Chagre River - Boatman - locals- culture - sustainable tourism

The more people with their cigarette butts and cola cans, demand for hotels that then spring up and obliterate the way things were, the harder hit a place is by tourism. Instead of heading down the well-travelled routes, embrace sustainable tourism and tread lightly in places you haven’t been, in places not everyone else is.

Skip the large hotels and embrace homestays instead, eat in small local restaurants, explore by foot or bike, meet locals, and generally avoid the big tourist spots. Your travels will be richer for it, and so will the local environment. 

Consider your mode of transport

Sustainable tourism - exploring the coast - walking - travelling

Carbon emissions are a huge ramification of travel, and it’s hard to get around that. But even the smallest tweaks to your travel help. Skip the cabs if you can and go for public transport, a clever world-saving rule at home as well.

There’s not much you can do about air travel, a large greenhouse emitter, especially if you’re short on time. But you can pay it back to the planet through carbon offsetting. Look online to calculate how much CO2 emissions you’ve released, and give a relative dollar donation that will go back to forest restoration and recycling programs.

If you can’t afford the emission offsets, maybe it’s time to rethink of whether you can afford the trip, and whether the planet can. 

**Open Colleges does not currently offer any Travel courses**


Kate Gibbs

Kate is a Sydney-based food writer, author, photographer and cook. She is known for her passionate stories about food, writing three cookbooks and hosting food events including Taste of Sydney, Regional Flavours Brisbane, and Tourism Australia’s recent food trade event.

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