Travel writer Evangeline Hunt discusses the importance of considering local businesses when travelling and shares her top tips on how to reduce your environmental footprint
Travel is such a whirlwind experience, and often when we travel we aren’t always thinking about the impact that we might be having on other people, or on the local community. We might pass through multiple countries and engage with hundreds of people, and sometimes we don’t always have their best interests at heart. Here are a few of the little things that I try to do in order to have a positive impact when on the road.
A friend of mine once told me that a smile transcends all languages, and this is something I try to implement when I’m in countries where I don’t speak the language. Having friendly mannerisms and body language are a universal way of being polite. Everyone knows what a smile means, and even things like holding open the door can contribute to brightening people’s day.
I guess this leads me to my next point – language. It’s not expected that we could learn the language of every country that we visit, but certainly learning a few basic words that we can use with the locals suggests that we are trying our best to embrace their culture. Learning how to say hello, please and thank you are the basic essentials you need to be polite – anything more would, of course, be appreciated.
In various corners of the globe that I’ve visited, mega-chains such as Starbucks and McDonalds always make an appearance. Instead of getting your morning coffee from one of these franchises, try supporting local independent businesses. Not only do you support the local community that you are visiting, but often you will get fresher and more local ingredients. There tends to be more thought and passion put into local businesses, and this will probably result in an overall better experience for tourists visiting. You can always try out a bit of the local language that you might have learnt!
“Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints” is a cliché phrase – but one that should be respected when travelling to new places. I don’t want to generalise all corners of the globe as having the same rules, but I think that we should try to be respectful of the habitats of various animals who live in the rocks, jungle or sand, and try not to take anything such as shells home with us. We might not realise that the pretty shell we pick up could house a hermit crab, or something similar. It’s best to leave everything as we found in, and that way we aren’t taking anything that might be significant to small animals or other lifeforms.
We should also try to be considerate when it comes to leaving things behind. The temptation to litter if we can’t find any rubbish bins around might be strong, but not only does it ruin the landscape, but there are terrible consequences for the animals that might encounter it. Photos of turtles caught in plastic bags are no stranger to the internet and can have a detrimental impact on their survival. Holding onto our rubbish until we are able to throw it into the bin will help to ensure that it doesn’t end up in a place that might be harmful to animals.
On the topic of litter, travelling often means a lot of food and drink on-the-go in disposable food containers, and they aren’t always environmentally friendly. Even if food is given to us in a cardboard container, the chances are that it will have food residue on the inside anyway, meaning we can’t really recycle it. This also goes for things such as coffee cups, plastic knives and forks, and straws. A lot of coffee shops will now offer a small discount if you bring your own reusable cup – say 50p off. I have a S’well bottle, which can be used for both hot drinks and cold water. This way you only need to carry around one bottle, and you’re reducing the number of plastic water bottles and coffee cups that you use. Another thing I like to do when I’m on longer trips is carry a reusable spork around with me – it’s got a fork on one end and a spoon on the other. Not only does this reduce the amount of plastic cutlery that you use, but it also just means that whenever you buy say a yoghurt from a supermarket, you always have a way to eat it. You could take this a step further and carry around a small Tupperware, and ask for any takeaway food to be put into your container. Reducing the amount of unrecyclable material we use on a daily basis is one of the easiest ways we can have a real impact on the environment.
While these are of course only small changes to our daily habits, if everyone was considerate of them, it could make a substantial impact to the places that we love to travel to, and the people that live there. Travel is a time when convenience is a high propriety, but sometimes convenience can have consequences for our surroundings. By being thoughtful of the ways in which we can be kind to our environment, we are able to have a positive impact on the world around us, informing everyone that travellers are the best kinds of people, and encouraging them to welcome us with open arms.