Traveling is awesome. You learn a lot, it provides you with unforgettable memories and it is just a great overall experience. Unfortunately, there’s also a less positive side to traveling: it has a huge impact on the environment and local life. With a world trip coming up next year, we wanted to learn about what the consequences of our trip are, besides us having fun. The things we found, really made us think about the way we travel and our ‘footprint’. That’s why we’re looking into options for responsible travel.
Fact is that traveling is damaging the environment. And flying is at the top of the ‘most harmful way to travel’ list. This may not be new to you, nor the fact that (mass) tourism causes lots of damage and exploitation. But when we started to connect the dots and add up all the facts, it was quite confronting. It made us think about our world trip and what we can do to travel responsibly.
Responsible travel: why?
Why we choose responsible travel is perhaps simple and obvious: to do something for the environment and support the local communities of the countries we’re visiting. We are committed to the environment and society and especially in the last year, we have started working on this more actively. We take into account the products we buy, cycle a lot, use public transportation and we also do our best to opt for small initiatives as much as possible instead of large, commercial companies.
We are planning a world trip without an end date and besides having fun, we also want to be responsible for the damage we’re doing. Especially after studying the consequences of travel/flying and the effects of tourism is on the local communities and the environment. We want to do what we can to take this into account and at the same time, we want to give something back while we are traveling. With our blog, we are a growing platform, reaching more and more people each month. So this gives us the opportunity to share our learnings, knowledge, and experiences with our readers. We don’t want to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do, because we understand most people just want to enjoy themselves while traveling. But if you could do responsible travel and have fun at the same time, it’s a win-win! So take out the things you like and are able to do and do your part.
Picture: By Mountain People
Tourism’s side effects
Popular commercial companies often have the upper hand at popular destinations. Large (mass) tour operators and investors channel huge parts of their profits to their own pockets, out of the country and the people living in it. Most of these profits are largely dependent on, among other things, using cheap local workers who work hard and get disproportionately little in return. This way, the big companies can keep their prices low. Local businesses can’t compete and therefore don’t profit from tourism. Very weird right? As it are the locals who can make good use of the money generated by tourists, benefiting the local life and the environment. Usually, the governments, project developers, and the bigger hotels determine the course of tourism in a country. The local population has little to no say, while they have quite different interests.
Mass tourism also has a massive impact on the environment of busy destinations. It damages nature and causes overloading of sewer systems. Complete villages or nature reserves are being destroyed to make way for luxury resorts. In Thailand and the Philippines, it was even necessary to close down several islands for tourists because nature had suffered too much damage from tourists. Some islands are closed every year during the rainy season and the southern islands in Thailand are bound to strict rules to protect nature. The very popular Koh Phi Phi is even closed for four months due to mass tourism. Fortunately, more and more attention is being given to this in various ways, but something is still nagging us… We want to travel, but not be part of this destruction.
Before you can enjoy a holiday, you still have to get to your destination. In many cases, you need the airplane for this. We have looked for figures on emissions and have watched a lot of documentaries and reports; something that was shocking us, to say the least! If anything, these documentaries made us more convinced that responsible travel is the way to go.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the greenhouse gas that is most well known. This is the gas people are often talking about when discussing polluting emissions, ozone depletion, and climate change. But also methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) have a huge impact! All these gases are emitted in large quantities during a flight, with take-off and landing being by far the most damaging. In order to be able to compare the emissions of these gases more easily, the emissions are converted into (CO2) equivalents. Sounds complicated, I know, but it isn’t. One (CO2) equivalent is equal to the effect of the emissions of 1 kg of (CO2). The emissions of 1 kg nitrous oxide equals 310 (CO2) equivalents and 1 kg methane to 21 (CO2) equivalents. In other words: nitrous oxide is 310 times and methane 21 times as harmful as (CO2)!
Based on the average long-haul flight (literature tells us this is 6,482 km), an average of 0.09635 (CO2) equivalents per person per kilometer is emitted. Because most emissions happen during take-off and landing, the average emissions per kilometer is lower for longer flights.
Let’s use an example to clarify this. Many people fly to Bangkok from Europe. The distance from Schiphol (Amsterdam) to Bangkok is 9,202 km. During that flight, you emit an average of 872 (CO2) equivalents per person. Or, to put it in other words, you are damaging the environment to the same effect as 872 kg (CO2)!
These figures are all based on averages for a direct flight in economy class. Things like weather conditions, loading of the aircraft and the type of aircraft play an important role in this. And don’t even get me started on flying business class…
Responsible travel: how do we do it?
Designing responsible travel in a way that suits us is quite a challenge. Where do we draw the line? How far are we willing to go? Eventually (almost) everything is harming the environment. Electricity must also be generated, and 93% of this is done by the use of fossil fuels. You just can’t escape hurting the environment in everyday life and having fun is also important, especially when traveling! We are not going to improve the world by paying attention to this, nor do we have that illusion. For real change to happen, governments and big companies have to really do something. But that doesn’t mean regular people like us can just sit back and do nothing, or at least that’s our opinion. We want to do what we can and inform you about this so that you can decide for yourself what you can and want to do. So you can make decisions between alternatives to travel as responsibly as possible while having fun as well! Traveling is cool, educational, and unfortunately also damaging the environment. Something we feel everybody can take a bit of responsibility for; big or small.
We are currently looking for ways to compensate for the (CO2) emissions of our flights. There are various initiatives for this and some airlines also have an option to compensate the emission. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of greenwashing (making something more environmentally friendly than it actually is) happening right now. The attention for the environment is growing (which we can only applaud), people are increasingly willing to invest in it, making it commercially appealing for some companies… Partly because of this we are very critical of the initiative we want to support. In addition, it must of course also fit us and our way of traveling. In addition to compensation, we will choose direct flights if possible, instead of a stopover. As taking off and landing is as bad as it gets, pollution wise. If possible, we will avoid the aircraft altogether and opt for alternatives, such as a train, bus or boat.
Traveling by train isn’t as fast as flying, but you’ll see way more!
In addition to compensating for emissions, we also focus on using local initiatives where the working conditions are good, where the money ends up in the right pockets and the importance of the personnel and the preservation of the environment play a major role. That is why we recently started working together with By Mountain People. A local travel specialist specialized in trekkings in Nepal. On their website, they are already completely transparent about what is and isn’t included in the packages they offer. The working conditions of the guides and the porters have high priority, they pay a lot of attention to nature conservation, respectfully deal with the local culture in the various areas and highly value supporting Nepalese tourism and local prosperity. And of course, their trips are also awesome 😉
Do you ever think about responsible travel? Tell us! We are still looking for more ways to travel as responsibly as possible. We’re searching organizations that can come up with more facts and figures, without being all about making money. Do you have additions yourself? Leave a comment down below or shoot us an email 🙂
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Sources used: Fair Tourism, International Civil Aviation Organization, Ecomatrica, MilieuCentraal, Greenwashing Index