Can you travel without doing any harm to the planet? Is eco-travel a myth? How can you reduce your impact whilst living on the road? Read on for all the answers you are searching for!
When I was a little girl, I heard stories of these non-stop travellers that visited 100 countries in just 5 years. I fantasised about being like them. About flying to far flung places at a hundred miles an hour, soaking up every smell, sound and sight that I could possibly throw myself at.
Flash forward to the present day, and I am a full-time traveller too.
But my life on the road looks different to what you might expect. It doesn’t look like cocktails on a private beach, or jetting around the world with a list of long countries to ‘tick off.’
A Simple Life
My life is one of simple pleasures. Of hiking empty mountain trails and foraging for blackberries beneath an orange sky. A life where my carbon footprint has plummeted, because I refuse to damage the planet with short haul flights or unethical food consumption. A life where I power my van with solar, and know it would take a 100 years to even scratch the surface of a single country, let alone the rest of the world.
I prefer to describe myself as a nomad, rather than a traveller, and for me that makes all the difference. From my perspective, nomadism is a conscious choice to live a life that honours the earth and embraces a gentle life of freedom. It is a life that puts experiences and relationships before money or consumption and that helps us to return to what it really means to be human.
I still see people posting about their ‘awesome life of non-stop travel.’ The type of travel that means catching an endless stream of short-haul flights, and saying that they have ‘done’ a country, after they’ve bombed up and down the coast in a 4×4, without every stopping to soak up the view. A kind of travel that does not honour the earth that we live in, but chips away at the remaining wild places and clean air.
I understand that we are all just doing our best to muddle through this messy thing called life. We all have our own journeys to go on, and our own truths to live by. But, to voice a gentle side of travel that often gets lost in the shouts of modern tourism, I offer you my own inconvenient truth with love.
An Inconvenient Truth
The idea of ecological travel is often packaged up as a concept to sell to tourists for a huge amount of money. They will tell you that by spending $5000 to build a class room in Peru or bottle feed lion cubs in South Africa, you have become a conscious traveller.
The truth is, the fee that you are spending to go and plant some trees or pet some chimpanzees, could have employed a local person, who wouldn’t have taken the carbon intensive flight and who could really do with the money to support the local economy.
If we want to travel through this beautiful world, it is perfectly possible to make that journey one of kindness. But, we cannot make our behaviour more ethical just by buying a more expensive package holiday. We have to think about what we are really doing, and make a hundred choices every day to forge a kinder path. To choose not to hit the mall when there are warehouses full of perfectly good clothes going second hand. To choose to buy local food, and to drastically reduce our flights.
Travel is not intrinsically damaging to the planet, and it is perfectly possible to carve out a life where you can follow all of your dreams whilst reducing your ecological impact way more than the ordinary person living in the comfort of 4 walls.
But this can only be achieved, if we can slow the heck down.
To Slow The Heck Down
We live in a time where we want it all, and we want it NOW.
First came fast food, but now we have fast life. We don’t want to wait another two minutes for the tube, so we see people pushing past mothers and their pushchairs to get into the carriage. We don’t want to sit down and savour our coffee, so we put it in a disposable cup that will pollute the earth for a thousand years after we have finished our drink.
We know that air travel is deeply harmful, but instead of hitchhiking or taking a bus or train, we want to reach our next destination within the same amount of time it would take to watch a movie.
We keep our life as fast moving and streamlined as we possibly can, ignoring the fact that it is our own health and wellbeing that inevitably suffers. The truth is, we don’t need to move so quickly through this world. Our lives may be short and precious, but rushing around like there is no tomorrow is only a waste of that magical time which we do have. To learn to slow down, to savour each moment, and to enjoy arriving home in every breath. That is what life is all about.
If we allowed ourselves more time to travel, we could take buses to various towns and countries along the way, stopping to drink coffee from real china cups and striking up conversations with real local people. Instead, we convince ourselves that the adventure is not in the journey, but in the destination. We rush off to the airport before we ever had the chance to see the place where we just arrived.
In a hostel on Harris I met a man called Chris.
Deeply concerned about the environment, but eager to see more of the world, he was preparing for an imminent sailing voyage from Scotland to the USA. It would take him several months, and it would be really f%cking hard. But, I guarantee that he will have more stories to tell his grandchildren than the people that took an overnight flight and ate cheap reheated food at 38,000 feet.
We may not all be expert sailors, but we could all choose to reframe a life of travel from the destination to the journey. Yes, flying is cheap, and we might think we can’t afford to travel by train. But hitchhiking and wild camping are both completely free, and allow us to discover insights into our own souls that we probably would not have discovered whilst enjoying a happy meal at Stansted airport.
Whatever your budget or situation – there is always a way to travel the world without damaging it, so long as you want it enough!
Here are some awesome books to help you simplify your life and reduce your impact on the planet:
- How to Give Up Plastic: Simple steps to living consciously on our blue planet
- 101 Ways to Go Zero Waste
- The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis
I hope you enjoyed this blog post! Why not check out some more of my writing:
- The Inseparable Health Of People And The Earth
- Vegan Wild Camping Food
- How to Travel Without Any Money
- To Put A Price On Life (and other nonsense.)
Thanks to Florian Roquais for the photos.
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