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Sustainable Travel: Mending Ways Post Coronavirus Lockdown

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?

flamingoes flock to navi mumbai during coronavirus lockdown
Source: Euronews

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.

practical ways to travel sustainably

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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.

Also read: “Travel Shows to Watch at Home During Coronavirus Lockdown”.

slow travel equals Sustainable travel

trains and buses for sustainable travel

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.

Stay local

sustainable travel : help local run businesses. stay in homestay

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
eat local and seasonal to travel sustainably
Traditional tandoor found across Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh

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

use reusable water bottles instead of single use plastic bottles

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
animal rides are cruel and unethical
Ditch riding animals…get to know them better instead!

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 LadakhPushkar and Jaisalmer

Plastic cutlery is not ok
plastic straws and cutlery are bad for the environment, switch to reusable straws instead
Reusable steel straws all the way!

…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 ๐Ÿ™‚

practical ways for sustainable travel

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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.

48 Comments

  • sunehri jain

    1st of all Very useful information. & 2nd one I want to say It inspires our youth. We have to take this kind of approach.

  • Debjani Lahiri

    I have switched to moon cups two year ago and really feel atleast one part of sustainability been justified well to self.. yes we should adopt to slow travel indeed..

    • Avantika

      Even i made the switch about 2 years ago and aren’t they just fantastic!? And yeah slow and sustainable travel is here to stay once the lockdown gets over. We really do need to be more mindful of the way we travel from hereon.

  • Shraddha

    Very well written and inspiring article. You can also include that zoo culture should come to an end. And a point for sustainable shopping when we are in a new place. Many times we end up buying souvenirs that harm the nature or wildlife of that tourist place. Also, you could change the theme/ layout of the blog, here half the screen is occupied. Just a suggestion.

    • Avantika

      Hi Shraddha, glad you liked the article! I’ve already including the zoo culture bit under responsible wildlife tourism.

      The souvenirs bit is a great suggestion. Souvenirs made of animal products like leather or ivory are found very commonly but are terrible for the planet! Will definitely include this.

      As for the blog, could you please tell me what was the screen occupied with? Did you read it on laptop or phone?

      Thanks ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Avantika

      Travelling slow is definitely rewarding- both in terms of sustainability and experiences! My longest was the month I spent in Nagaland with 10 days in one village. Beautiful experience!

  • Diana & Donald

    Absolutely agree with what you have penned down Avantika. We need to be very cautious when we start travelling back again and also try to go more local in order to help our fellow countrymen and boost our economy together taking into consideration all the sustainable ways of traveling.

  • Rajni & Yogesh

    This is first time we came through your blog and damn the first article we’ve read is so informative and powerful. Consider us regular readers of your blog from now on.

  • Arnav Mathur

    These are some really practical and helpful tips Avantika. It’s high time that tourists started adopting these sustainable habits, specially in the post COVID 19 World. Going Local is going to be a trend for sure, which includes not only staying local and eating local, but also supporting the locals in every way possible, but mainly by not bargaining much.

  • Parita

    Being a sustainable traveller myself, I’m following almost all these hacks too! I’d do anything and everything that I can to protect our Mother Earth!

    Also, check out LifeStaw which is a better alternative for usable water bottle ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Avantika

      Good to know there are others trying to be more conscious of their actions too! ๐Ÿ™‚

      I do have the LifeStraw bottle and have used it several times but I’m not completely sold by it for two reasons: 1. The filter that needs to be changed is plastic itself. So the bottle isn’t completely reusable. 2. Drinking filtered water would make my body used to it and if I end up drinking straight from a stream or a spring (which I often do), I might get sick.

  • Raksha

    Yes it is very important to be sustainable and take it easy. If we donโ€™t take these steps now, we will get into bigger pandemics in future. Good read.

  • Indrani

    Well written article. I am for slow travel always but plans fail and I am hopping from place to place. As travelers we must contribute to this.

  • The Untourists

    Totally agree with you. We also follow as much sustainability as possible. Worst was on a wildlife safari I noticed some people carried potato chips packets and munching as everybody waited for the hidden tiger in the grass. Wanted to slap them. I hope they carried the packets back to your hotel rooms.

    • Avantika

      uhhh packaged food is my biggest pet peeve! taking it back to your hotel rooms is not enough- since most remote regions do not have proper waste disposal and they end up being dumped into rivers. if at all there’s plastic usage, we must carry it back to our cities!

  • Amrita

    I have always felt that Maggin in mountains is such a fad! Why would I want to eat Maggi somewhere else? I would always prefer eating local food. These are some great tips for sustainable travel, Avantika. I hope travellers and tourists follow at least a few of them.

    • Avantika

      I feeeel you, Amrita! The biggest problem is travel pages endorsing this trend of mountain maggi while also endorsing sustainable travel…I mean, come on! Thanks for reading, I’m glad you could resonate ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Pamela Mukherjee

    Hi Avantika, all are points are very valid and I too believe travel and living sustainability can save the mother nature and Earth. I’m too trying to reduce carbon footprint and using other sources of ecosystems. Plastic reduction, usage of bamboo and jute, eat like locals etc points I always follow while travel. Nice awakening post dear.

  • Raksha

    I have started to think a lot about the way I was traveling and how I can improve it now b being responsible. There are some of the things that I have started to plan out like I want to spend more time and effort on regional tourism. And buy products from the local artisans.

  • Lancelot Quadras

    Hey Avantika, this is such an amazing article. I have made it a point to keep all trash I create in my bag. But with these tips, I can make a better difference. Also, thank you for letting me know about Bare necessities!

  • Nidhi Gupta

    A very comprehensive article on Sustainable travel post lockdown era… just need to be careful about covid-security and we can get back to normal lives sooner.
    Working on covid security programs has been such an eye-opener and I have realised if we dont panic and take care of basic hygiene and follow social distancing, we are sorted.

  • Sundeep

    Sustainable tourism is the way to go… it has always been but more so in the post Covid world. The guide is worth a bookmark.

  • Rajat Kumar

    I like visiting places which are offbeat and are secluded, away from commercial tourism. Ther I keep in mind to maintain the sanity, purity of that place and most important cut down unwanted plastic use as much as it can be, like buying water bottles, packaged food, etc.

    This is a nice article on this subject.

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