How to Travel Light

Footprints in sand

Credit: iStockphoto

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On The Road

Minimise your personal environmental impact:

  • If you're travelling in the developing world, be mindful that the infrastructure for dealing with waste is probably poor to non-existent.
  • Try to leave any excess packaging at home and take used batteries and other potentially toxic waste back home with you.
  • In places where the drinking water is dodgy, rather than buying plastic-bottled water which (no matter how carefully you dispose of it) is likely to end up littering the landscape, carry some means of purifying water - e.g. boiling, treating with iodine or filtering.
  • Be conservative with resources such as water and fuel - in parts of the Himalaya, for example, the demand from western trekkers for hot showers has led to severe deforestation problems, because the water is heated by wood-fired stoves.
  • Use local public transport where possible - not only does it reduce your impact and put some money into the local economy, it's a great way to meet people.
  • Even better, walk or ride a bicycle. Hiking, biking or paddling are low-impact ways of travelling at a pace that facilitates both a better appreciation of the landscape around you and getting to know your fellow - local - travellers, since you're travelling at a similar speed to them.

Of course, these principles don't just apply overseas. Seeing Sydney from a sea kayak, for example, is a low impact way to get the best views of the Opera House, the prime foreshore real estate, paddle under the Harbour Bridge and have breakfast on a bush beach in view of Kirribilli House.

Camping is a fabulous low-impact form of accommodation, just remember to 'take only pictures, leave only footprints'.

Try the local eating establishments (instead of the international fast food outlets) and stay at locally-owned hotels and lodges (instead of foreign-owned establishments). That way your money will benefit the local economy, rather than returning to head office in a western capital city.

The Big Picture

There's probably no such thing as truly sustainable tourism.

As soon as you enter a wilderness area or meet someone who's never before met a Westerner, you've made an impact, but sustainability is a point of perfection to strive for and, as such, becomes a question of degree and intent.

The aim is to make your environmental impact negligible and temporary, and your cultural impact as positive as possible.

While not the full or only answer for the future sustainability of tourism, responsible travel is one of the most direct and personal ways to make a difference to some of the biggest issues facing our world. Through greater cross-cultural assistance and understanding, and minimising environmental impact poverty, peace and damage to our planet are addressed.

By adopting the responsible travel ethos, you can be part of the solution - and you'll have the time of your life.

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