Sustainable Travel: Mending Ways Post Coronavirus Lockdown
7th May 2020
Note:This piece is loaded with a lot of facts, and links to articles. I request you to please take your time to go through these, and read with an open mind.
It’s May 2020 and we’re living in a pandemic. Amongst the many other things, the travel industry has come to an absolute halt with no respite in the near future. The Internet is full of content that is trying to capitalize engagement during this crisis (including this blog) but there are also about a gazillion posts that in some form or the other say, “I can’t wait to walk down the aisle of a flight once this is all over” or “Where will you’re first flight be to, after the coronavirus?” It’s nice that we cannot wait to be up and moving with our bags packed and the smell of fresh air filling our lungs but can we not…go back to exactly the way we were before?
Open Twitter or Instagram any time of the day and you are flooded with news like the Indian Gangetic Dolphins returning to the River Ganga or the massive ozone hole over the Antarctic closing up. Residents of Jallandhar and Saharanpur woke up to the mighty Himalayas visible from their balconies after 50 years and Delhi’s air quality index has been under 100 after a very long time. Spotted deer could be seen galloping the streets of Mumbai without a care in the world and a massive fleet of the Greater Flamingoes put on quite a show as they gathered in lakhs at a creek in Navi Mumbai. In fact, two days into the lockdown and I witnessed a nilgai or a blue bull standing by the road in Delhi, near the Southern Ridge.
Some opine that the human race is a bane to this planet and must be eradicated completely for the planet to heal. I, for one, firmly believe it is our capitalistic world that has led to the disaster that we are facing today. The complete loss of an Icelandic glacier, the Brazil Amazonian fires and the recent approval of the Dibang hydro project in Arunachal Pradesh are just very few of the many examples where capitalistic gains have resulted in severe, irreparable environmental degradation.
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It is then but obvious that capitalism must fall for this planet to heal. But that is not to say that we, at an individual level, cannot make simple lifestyle changes to start towards a better future. So here are some practical ways you and I can contribute to a good change by focusing on responsible and sustainable travel options, once the coronavirus lockdown ends.
The modern-day need for equating efficiency with quickness has made our lifestyle such that it harms our environment severely. INot many may know, but flying as a means of transport produces 2% of the total carbon emissions in the world today. Production of the jet fuel, burning of jet fuel and usage of energy to run an airport all contribute to these emissions. So what can we, as frequent travellers do? Opt for trains and buses instead of planes and taxis/ self-driven cars and cross international borders overland wherever possible (like Bhutan amongst other countries). Not only is that good for the environment, but is also much cheaper and makes for quite an experience.
Big hotel and hostel chains have ruined hospitality prospects for a lot of locally run hotels and lodges, across the country. Not only do they take over the local economy, but they also put a huge brunt on the environment through the vast amount of energy they consume. Instead, you can choose to stay with local hotels and homestays. The upside- they’re far cheaper and help you get a deeper insight into the local customs and traditions. And for those who like to stay luxuriously while also making sure their choice of stay adheres to environment-friendly standards, there are plenty of sustainable options to choose from that don’t compromise on luxury while remaining true to roots. One of the first examples that come to my mind is Vaatalya near Shimla.
Carry a reusable cloth bag around for shopping
Whether you’re shopping for fruits while travelling to long-term, or looking for souvenirs to take back home, the use of single-use bags must be eradicated. It doesn’t matter if they’re made of cloth, paper or plastic, ultimately they end up in trash amounting to waste management problems. The best alternative is to carry a simple cloth bag that can be folded and kept to save space and used whenever you go out buying. It really isn’t that difficult.
Eat local and seasonal
The way big hotel chains have ruined the local economy, fast-food chains have done much the same. Eating local and seasonal is a huge part of sustainable travel. Eating in local dhabas, cafes and restaurants help you save money and contribute to the local economy. This also lets you understand the relationship of a certain place and its traditions to its food. On the other hand, eating seasonal helps put lesser pressure on the environment. To produce vegetable and fruits that are not natural to a particular season, puts immense burden, throwing off the natural balance of the planet. So go back to your 8th-grade geography textbook and re-learn about kharif and rabi crops to east sustainably!
Ditch pre-packaged food
We need to ditch munching on pre-packaged snacks. Not only are they terrible for your body, but they also are terrible for the environment and amount to mass waste generation. In remote regions, waste management is a huge problem and locals often end up burning the waste that is produced- which lets toxins from the plastic release into the air. So while eating “Maggi in mountains” might be trendy and Insta-worthy, let’s think sustainable travel and switch to freshly made food like parathas and bread-omelette that are as readily available.
Reusable water bottles are the new trend
This has been said enough, yet not heard enough. If you still buy packaged water wherever you go, it’s a shameful thing. Replace this habit with a better one- carrying along a reusable water bottle with you everywhere. When travelling to cities and towns, filtered water is readily available in cafes and restaurants that can be filled into your bottle, while remote areas have fresh spring or river water that is as good as (if not better than) your RO-UV capitalistic gibberish. A lot of people have started using Lifestraw bottles, which have a filter inside for the water, but I don’t think it’s any good since it’s made of plastic and needs to be replaced every 1000 refills. So go old school and take out your Milton thermos or Tupperware bottles for a better tomorrow!
Responsible wildlife tourism is important
For those of us living in cities and far removed from the jungles, to be up close to wildlife can be a far-fetched dream. Cue, wildlife tourism. Visiting nature reserves, wildlife sanctuaries and national parks are the best way to get your dose of being close to nature. However, zoos and circuses are known to keep wild animals in captivity, often far removed from their suitable climate which is unethical and degrading. If you’re a true animal lover or have a child who is curious about animals, make sure you teach yourself and them to also respect the wild in its natural form. Moreover, there are some places that have capitalised on this interest of urban dwellers by captivating wild animals for photo opportunities at exorbitant fees. If you’re able to touch, cuddle and take selfies with the animals, that’s a red flag and you must stay away and actively speak against this system, and advocate sustainable travel.
Walk more, ride less
Religious tourism more than anything else has given a huge boom to mules being used to carry pilgrims. I have seen this at Vaishno Devi temple in Jammu, Paro Taktsang in Bhutan and Humkund Sahib in Uttarakhand. These animals are more often than not treated like inanimate objects, beaten ruthlessly to follow instructions and their spirits are absolutely crushed. They are not looked after well, with lacerations on their skins being a usual sight. If you physically cannot walk and trek long distances, please stay at home because participating in the torture of an animal is not going to please your gods. Similarly, while visiting nature reserves, ditch animal safaris for cycles and walking tours and don’t participate in camel rides while visiting places like Ladakh, Pushkar and Jaisalmer
Plastic cutlery is not ok
…and if you’re still using single-use plastic straws, spoons and forks, well… Needless to say, these one time use plastic things either end up getting burnt or end up being dumped in the oceans and rivers where they are consumed by marine life, causing them to die. Instead, carry a reusable bamboo or steel straw and a set of foldable steel cutlery. Both these can be bought online easily, my favourite site being Bare Necessities. And don’t forget to specifically ask your server to not put a plastic straw in your drink, or plastic fork in your pasta.
Switch to menstrual cups
This is one change I have been advocating for, ever since I made the switch 2 years ago, and it absolutely changed my life! I have written about the benefits and FAQs of using menstrual cups extensively in this article, but the key takeaways are that they don’t generate waste and are SUPER comfortable (once you get the hang of it). Take the plunge, ladies!
I hope I’ve covered everything possible about sustainable travel and motivated you to take these simple yet life-changing steps as well, the way I did. It greatly impacts the way you travel and rids you of eco guilt. On that note, I would love to hear how you’ve made changes to travel sustainably, and if there are any points I missed out on, please add them in the comments below! Happy eco travelling 🙂
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A twenty-something solo adventurer, Avantika finds comfort in learning about various cultures, its people and listening to age-old folk tales. When not on the road, she can be found cuddled up with her dog in her room, with a book in her hand.