Beyond the pretty words, what kind of daily choices do I make while travelling? What are my main ideas and principles on how to travel more ethically -or less unethically? (Also based on the most common misconceptions people have on how I travel).
1) I travel by land as much as possible, using my feet and thumbs (as hitchhiking does not increase the number of cars on the road or the number of KM- in general- but simply takes advantage of cars already on the road, see here for a detailed explanation of the impact of hitchhiking), as these methods are the greenest possible (except cycling). To cross water, I will try hoping on a sailboat heading my way. Otherwise, I use ferries for the shortest distance possible.
2) I avoid hotels, hostels and other institutions that are built or exist for the main purpose of receiving tourists, as these often generate unnecessary pollution. In many countries, the construction of the buildings themselves might be an issues. For example, in Albania, booming tourism has brought major investments in construction, leading to empty buildings everywhere or skyscrappers cutting the horizon on the coast. The maintenance of these buildings is often quite consuming, with constant lighting, everyday cleaning and massive laundries. Unfortunately, these institutions rarely bring a lot of money to the locals themselves, the vast majority being owned by wealthy foreigners, and high paying jobs being occupied by foreigners. Therefore, I would rather support the local economy and not damage the local environment by only using resources that are already there, and if an exchange of money is needed, making sure it is given directly to the locals receiving me. Camping outside (respectfully), or staying with locals, in the space they have, can reduce the impact on the communities and the environment to almost zero, and actually have a positive impact by sharing and exchanging with the local communities.
3) Local is the key. Whether it’s for food, clothes or to sleep somewhere, the priority should always be to promote local products and economy, or even better (to me) establishing exchanges with the communities that are not based on money. For me, it is often about carrying and sharing food with the people I meet. This can be a great way to give back, while keeping expenses to a minimum and focused on something essential, the need to eat. No matter the culture, no matter the language, sharing a meal has a beautiful unifying power. You’d be surprised by the generosity of people who have less than us (privileged westerners), such as the time Vincent and I offered bread to someone, who refused, and proudly showing his only possessions (a few fruits and a piece of bread), invited us to join him later to share our food, if we didn’t find a ride out.
4) Giving back. This being said, it is also essential to find ways to give back to the countries or communities we encounter. Giving back is a very general phrase. It can mean a lot of things, and can be done a lot of ways. The important part is finding the best way for you, with your capacities and limitations, to have a positive impact on the people and land you cross. Whether it’s cooking and buying food for the people who host you, getting involved in some of the multiple projects that inspire you, taking the time to speak and have a real interaction with a local or even buying (although not my favorite way) a handmade, local item, if you feel it is right. When we get stuck and have to use public transportation, or when we are in cities, we also see paying for public transportation as giving back and encouraging something positive –just a little cognitive restructuration to see this occasional necessity as a good thing.