When will we travel again and how? – A chance for sustainability?
We talked to many fellow travelers and friends these past weeks and months, most were complaining that they felt stuck, they missed travelling and the feeling of freedom that travelling gives to many of us….We feel them and are definitely part of that group too.
For 2020 we had planned a backpacking trip to South-East-Asia (especially Myanmar) and summer vacation in the US, visiting family. As travelling out of Europe is off limits this year, due to the global virus crisis, we had to stick to doing trips through our home countries Italy and Germany. While this didn’t really sound that intriguing to us at first, after spending last year in South America, we actually really enjoyed it so far. Some weeks ago we visited for example Langhe, a wine region in Piemont/Italy that we hadn’t considered before. The region is actually Unesco world heritage and we totally get why, the medieval towns, countless vineyards and the surrounding nature are just a stunning site. If you ever happen to be close by, then go there, it’s so, so worth it. So we might not be backpacking at the moment, but we still try to travel as much as possible in our own country, while respecting social distancing and not crossing too many borders. Like this we are also helping the local industry to recover a bit.
We know that we don’t have to go too far to see beautiful nature, beaches, mountains and lakes, Italy actually has it all, we can count ourselves very fortunate. But we still miss our preferred way of travelling: backpacking and we miss exploring countries and regions that are off the beaten path. When will this be possible again? Is 2021 the year? Well, we guess there is no certain answer to that, we probably have to wait for the vaccination and hope that the virus doesn’t mutate any further. Is this uncertainty annoying you? We get it, we also would love to pack our bags and just go. We also understand the frustration that many people are feeling because of the lockdowns. Countless people lost their jobs, businesses or even whole business sectors are facing hard times, probably “lockdown” or “social-distancing” will be nominated as the “most hated words of the year”. Compared to financial struggle, the lack of traveling is obviously not important, what is important though and in our opinion has to stand above the economic welfare of a country is health. Therefore we cannot agree with the protests going on in many countries, the lockdowns and restrictions, hated or not, are a necessity. We simply will have to wait and focus on seeing the beauty in what we can actually do at the moment.
To cut it short, nobody knows when things are going to go back to “normal” again, or if what we used to know as “normal” will ever exist again, because the world is changing, rapidly. The virus can also be a chance, it can be a chance for applying some changes, changes that might have taken us many years to implement. Workwise we already experienced a revolution, many companies switched to remote working and they realized that it actually works, costs can be decreased and efficiency increased, if done right. Many industries are suffering, many businesses are close to bankruptcy which means many people have or will loose their jobs, which is horrible. But don’t forget that there are also some sectors that are actually booming, just take a look at the digital world and the businesses that adapted fast. And most important during the strict lockdowns many countries actually saw a big drop in Co2 emissions, which is great, obviously this can change as quickly as we go back to “normal”, but does it really have to? In terms of sustainability, the virus is actually giving the planet some recovery from us. The current travel restrictions should also give passionate travelers the time to reflect on how we travel. Do we always need to take a plane? Well definitely not inland and not for every border crossing. Travelers can do more though than just consider the transportation method, it is important to also reflect on our behavior once we are in the country of our choice. The tourism industry is suffering, businesses are having a hard time? Well then let’s support, but let’s support the right organizations, the ones that actually try to go for sustainable, local solutions. Eat local food, not imported stuff, don’t sleep in hostels or hotels that are harming nature (sometimes hard to find out, but with some research it’s possible) and don’t support exploitation, for example avoid tours that are harmful to nature or ethically just not okay.
These are small changes that won’t consume much of your time and if done right it can actually be wallet-friendly. If we all make a little effort we can actually make a difference and have a positive impact on sustainability. Just think about it, our decisions, if done by many, will force industries to adapt and therefore make countries more aware of the importance of going “greener”.
That most of us cannot build a sailing boat and travel the oceans is probably clear. So if you travel intercontinental you will probably be forced to take a plane. Isn’t flying one of the worst things you can do for our planet? Yes, it is. Calculating our carbon footprint for our flight from Europe to Latin America leads us to a shocking emission result of 5.2 tons of CO2. Even if a flight cannot be avoided, there are still things you can do for the health of our planet. For example you can offset your emissions via various pages. While paying off your emissions you donate money for international projects that support sustainable development worldwide. That is definitely a start. If you are already in the continent of your choice then try to travel countries slower (if time permits). First of all you will experience a country way better, the more time you stay in it, second of all you don’t always need to fly from country to country, there will often be other possibilities. Even if a bus doesn’t work on green fuels, it is less harmful using a bus than a plane. Sometimes you will even have the chance to take a boat (crossing borders in between Colombia/Brazil/Peru is doable via boat). You are already getting it, having no carbon footprint while traveling is a mission that you will probably be failing at, but that does not mean that you cannot do anything about it. There are many ways to pollute less and to do better. What other things can you do in order to be more sustainable while travelling? Change your alimentation. Why? The meat and dairy industry is one of the biggest contributors and polluters. We are now since over a year meat-free and our alimentation is mainly plant-based (a change that was not easy, especially while travelling). We try to only buy fresh food from markets, which especially in South America is a very affordable option. Limit your plastic usage/waste to a minimum. Use a refillable water bottle. You’ll be able to refill in most hostels worldwide. Don’t buy food wrapped in plastic and don’t go for take-away, simply eat fresh food. Again markets will be your best option. Don’t support harmful tourism organizations even if they are the only tour operator for a must see attraction. For example don’t go with tour guides into the rainforest if they cannot treat nature, animals and indigenous with the right amount of respect they deserve. But how can I know that in advance? Google the operator, scroll through comments or better: ask them specific questions. Of course sometimes you simply don’t know it in advance, but you will learn from your experiences. We care a lot about sustainability and are eager to reduce our ecological footprint as much as possible. On our Instagram-feed Naked_travelers we don’t only share our travel experiences, but also discuss sustainable traveling options. Check it out if you like to know more.