Let’s be honest is a Food Circle’s project with the aim to open up the conversation about the challenges when being or becoming a member of the SC (Sustainability Club). This series will shine a light on the different approaches to make life more sustainable, as well as the step-backs and difficulties that arise. Being more kind and understanding, instead of critical, will hopefully help to encourage us to try, instead of giving up when facing a step-back or failure. This is made possible thanks to Sapient, the mother company of Food Circle, which every year offers internships to students from all around the world creating a uniquely multicultural environment.
Let’s celebrate the achievements and give room for honesty and struggles!
Our juicy topic (hence the lemons and oranges) today, is travelling.
Travelling and sustainability seem uncombinable. Flying is the source of all evil, it seems. However, we live in a globalized world where a lot of people are used to a certain level of luxury. One of these luxuries is travelling. I often struggle to combine my desire to travel and experience new with my mission to live sustainably.
Let’s be real here. As a student aiming to achieve good, I don’t belong to the people with bricks of gold, which makes travelling sustainably difficult.
Of course, this is a privileged base to argue from. I have the time, energy and financial resources to travel. Also, my country and ID enable me, especially as a woman, to travel and mostly on my own as well. I am very grateful to have this opportunity and do not take it for granted. I want to use the freedom I am given. I am not starting a whole feminist discussion about why women should be free in their will and choose wherever they want to be. You can imagine my opinion on this anyways. My intention is to acknowledge a privileged situation. I aim to do good for others and our planet but also me.
In Germany, there is a word for the feeling of forcing people to desire new things: Fernweh. It hurts thinking of the far. It is the opposite of feeling homesick. Translated it means something like far pain or far sickness.
Having experienced this pain often, I can say that not travelling is not a solution.
Meeting new people, experiencing new countries and cultures is what I live for. It makes life worth living and guarantees personal growth. I do not want to and could not miss this.
Travelling is not only enriching but educating as well. You learn to be more tolerant towards differences and step back from the arrogance of national superiority. These soft skills, in my opinion, justify a social need to travel, in addition to a personal one. I strongly believe that our society would be way kinder and more understanding if all people learned the importance of socialization, tolerance and perspective.
After this passionate plea for the need and importance of leaving what’s home, there should also be one for the importance of sustainability.
“Tourism relies on burning fossil fuels, which contributes to climate change. It’s predicted that 40% of the world’s carbon emissions will be generated by tourism by 2050. To break this down, right now 72% of tourism’s CO2 emissions come from transportation, a further 24% from the accommodation, and 4% from tourism activities. The environmental issues caused by tourism cannot be overlooked.“ (Marchant, 2019; Higham et al., 2014)
We need to take care of our home- the earth- while seeking what’s far. Sustainable travelling is my aim. I want to combine my desire of travelling with the mission to reduce my harmful impact to the minimum. In this episode, I hope to convince you that a balance is possible.
The idea behind sustainable travelling is to maintain tourism that does not harm environmentally or culturally, and at best is beneficial. In addition to environmental damage, local businesses, native cultures and people are often negatively influenced.
How can we reduce our negative impact, you wonder?
The most common approaches for sustainable travelling are the three sustainability pillars.
The first one focuses on the environment. The environment and wildlife should not be harmed through travelling. This means for the major part, to reduce our carbon footprint through e.g. not disturbing wildlife, travelling with zero or minimal waste and limiting packaging, especially plastic.
We as tourists have way more influence than you would expect. Let me exemplify this. When travelling through Asia, Thailand often advertised their elephant sanctuaries stating not to use chains or tools and not offering elephant riding. Laos on the other hand, had many sanctuaries proudly advertising their elephant riding.
Two countries next to each other advertise so differently, why?
The demand in Thailand encourages focus on animals’ well-being and sustainability. Tourists seek out the sanctuaries not harming elephants. By visiting a sanctuary, they do not want to harm the animals or the wildlife. Laos’ tourists demand action, spectacle and ‘fun’ when visiting an elephant sanctuary. The consequence is offers of harmful elephant riding in Laos and fewer such offers in Thailand.
The second social pillar requires a limitation of the negative impact on local people and communities. Again, who and what you support has power. Supporting fair working conditions, local businesses and NGOs, as well as charities reduces our negative social impact.
The last economic pillar is connected to the second: Use your money to positively contribute to the local economy, not negatively (Marchant, 2019).
How can you take care of yourself and follow your desires with a good conscience?
I have not found the perfect solution either but I am trying and improving continuously.
Here are some guidelines I try to follow, to travel more sustainably.
The first step is of course the means of transport. I try to consider the most sustainable form of transportation, this can even be flying. In some cases, if I travel on my own, taking a car would cause more harm. Depending on the route and destination, different means of transport offer the greenest option.
One of my aims, for instance, is that if I do take a flight, I will try to stay abroad as long as possible instead of coming back multiple times. This is called slow travelling. If you have to fly, make that flight count.
In addition, taking direct and the shortest possible flight are the greenest options. Lay-overs, because of the take-off and landing, cause the most carbon emission during the whole flight.
To be honest, I would not feel like I belonged there anyway, but I never take business or first class. Flying economy rather than business or first class can reduce the carbon footprint up to five times. You need way more space and fewer people can fly in business class.
When reaching my destination, considering the greenest transportation does not stop (Marchant, 2019). In Asia, instead of taking a scooter, I always walked or took a bicycle. It is safer, more environmentally friendly, as well as better for your health. You are not inhaling emissions all the time and, in my opinion, it is a better way to experience a country. There are many scooter accidents amongst tourists in South-East-Asia. In addition to trying to avoid this, I exercised and felt closer to nature and surroundings.
Funny story: one time in Pai, Thailand, I took a bicycle to the canyon. I was told that there were almost no mountains. Spoiler alert: There were! It started with a huge one. I had to push my bike up because they are not made for driving hills. Not having a talent for orientation, I drove twice the miles I had to and ended up somewhere in the mountains with locals, water buffalos and rice fields.
Instead of having my lunch at the canyon, I was right in time to observe the, I have to admit, beautiful sunset.
I was the only one taking a bicycle to the canyon that day (for a reason!) but honestly, it got me a funny story and a lot of exercising. Why not take a bicycle?
I also try to explore what’s around me, rather than always desiring far and beyond.
I am a huge fan of road trips with friends or taking the train. I know that taking the train is often more expensive and takes way longer. It makes your travel worth it though, right? You experience the change of places while driving. Nature, architecture, language, culture and much more are changing while you drive. When flying, you get on the plane in one setting and get off in a different setting.
While we are on the matter of travel by trains: The power of us as an individual when enough individuals come together can be observed again. People try to find other ways than flying and the result is for example traivelling. They are concerned with making every trip possible just by train and offer what common travel agencies offer but with the aim not to fly.
Of course, more factors make up your impact while travelling. Try to apply the three pillars of sustainability while you are at your destination as well, through e.g. supporting sustainable accommodations.
While we are on the matter of making your travels (and possible flights) worthwhile and therefore staying longer periods, why not volunteer? Following the sustainability pillars, consider supporting places that need tourism and support. Travels and tourism are a big factor for helping places recover after a crisis (Albeck & Gibbs, n.d.).
There is only so much you can do as an individual and even if you apply all the changes and suggestions, collectively there should still be change as well. Flying should be more expensive than sustainable means of traffic, in my opinion. Nevertheless, there is only so much I can do on a political collective level. I try to do what I can on an individual basis.
When travelling, remember your impact and power: You vote with your feet and wallet. Vote sustainably.
Author and Editor: Lea Annikki Kaiser
Suggestions for planning more sustainable travels:
Blablacar (there are carsharing offers almost everywhere, check where you are going and what’s offered)
Traivelling. (n.d.). Retrieved January 10, 2022, from https://www.traivelling.com/
Albeck, L., & Gibbs, J. (n.d.). Be a More Sustainable Traveler - Travel Guides. The New York Times. Retrieved January 11, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/guides/travel/how-to-travel-sustainably
Higham, J. E. S., Cohen, S. A., Gössling, S., & Peeters, P. (Eds.). (2014). Understanding and Governing Sustainable Tourism Mobility: Psychological and Behavioural Approaches. Routledge.
Marchant, C. (2019, March 26). What is Sustainable Travel & How to Travel Better. Charlie on Travel. Retrieved January 10, 2022, from https://charlieontravel.com/what-is-sustainable-travel/