We all want to make a positive impact on the places we visit, so what are our top tips for sustainable travel? Packing plastic-free items, staying in hostels and avoiding planes are all good for the environment. Supporting family-run cafes and tour companies makes a difference to local communities. But what are the best sustainable activities to do on a backpacking trip? Look no further because we’ve put together a great bunch of ideas for the next time you head out on an adventure…
We all love a free walking tour. It’s a solid start to your time in a city; having someone that knows their way around the winding alleys, the best hidden food spots and can give information on local customs. The downside to travelling by foot is the distance you’re able to cover! So next time you’re exploring somewhere new, consider joining a bike tour – or just hiring one yourself. It’s a zero-waste, easy way to get around and it even helps you stay fit whilst on the road.
I’ll be honest, cycling isn’t an activity in my comfort zone, having done very little of it in my adult life. However the group cycling tour run by a hostel in Vietnam, and hiring a bicycle with some fellow backpackers to explore Isabela Island in the Galapagos, are two of my favourite memories. If you’re nervous, let the people you’re with know and I guarantee they’ll be kind and give you a hand! Usually the pace is slow as you’re taking in your surroundings and making stops along the way. Hiring a bicycle is possible in a ton of places and needless to say, that includes the top five sustainable countries.
Coral reef restoration
If you’re anything like me, the documentary Chasing Coral made you sob. Our planet’s coral reefs play a key role in climate regulation and they’re disappearing at a rapid rate. As well as donning your reef-safe suncream this summer, why not be a supreme sustainable traveller and get involved with restoring some reefs?
You may be surprised to hear you don’t need a diving qualification for all of these projects; both Roatan Marine Park and the Coral Restoration Foundation accept volunteers to assist with land-based activities too. Caribbean Reef Buddy even offers programs that include dive training to bump up your skills! Anse le Raie Lagoon Ecological Restoration project in Mauritius is a community based initiative that involves multiple NGOs and tourism operators so simply opting to stay at one of the participating properties, such as Attitude Lagoon Hotel, makes it easy to get involved with reef monitoring.
Donating your time is a brilliant way to give back whilst you’re backpacking. When we hear about conservation volunteering, wildlife and rainforests often spring to mind, but there are a huge variety of ways you can support sustainability abroad. First up, where to find free or low-cost volunteering? Volunteer South America has a comprehensive list of programmes throughout Central and South America. Getting in touch with a grassroots organisation instead of going through a large third party company generally gives you more flexibility – and is better for your wallet too!
You can get involved with all sorts of sustainable activities; natural disaster relief, permaculture farming, environmental education and development of sustainable communities.
Stay at an eco lodge
You know that we think hostels rock and we know that most of you choose to stay at them. They’re better for your budget and the ultimate place to meet fellow travellers. Hostels are a more sustainable travel accommodation option than hotels so you’re already doing your bit. But if you fancy switching things up for a few nights, or are in a remote spot that isn’t the most hostel friendly, consider checking out an eco lodge.
The Chai Lai Orchid in Chiang Mai offers the opportunity to stay in a bamboo bungalow in a retreat shared by a herd of elephants. I think it’s safe to say waking up to an elephant at your window is an unrivalled backpacking experience?!
Lots of wildlife conservation projects offer accommodation as part of the deal too so that could be a cheeky way to get yourself into an eco lodge on a budget too.
Beach litter picking
I realise the idea of picking up other people’s rubbish may not sound too appealing, but hear me out on this one. You get to spend a chunk of time on a beautiful beach, you get to feel good about the fact you’re helping creatures like turtles (who aren’t able to litter pick themselves) and a group activity with a bunch of like-minded people is always a laugh too.
This sustainable activity can in theory be done anywhere – take a bag along to your next beach day and grab a few pieces of rubbish along the way. However Australia is our favourite spot for an organised version of this. Check out the event calendars on Tangaroa Blue and Sea Shepherd’s websites to find clean ups that line up with your Aussie travel itinerary.
It can be easy to fall into the trap of doing the same activities and seeing the same old sights in every country you visit. So whether you’re looking to be a more planet-friendly traveller, or just seeking inspiration for new activities, let us know if you try any of these out. Sustainable travel doesn’t have to be about sacrificing things you enjoy. It can also be about adding in fun things to do that just so happen to have a positive impact too!
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