Climbers ascending a ridge in Itogon, Benguet. Remember, climbing single-file minimizes impacts.
Great adventures come with great responsibility.
With mounting ecological concerns, today’s smart travellers must be more mindful of their impacts on the places and people they wish to visit.
Eco-travelling is about experiencing destinations with minimal environmental impacts – to bring out the best in both you and your hosts.
So if you’re struck with wanderlust but wish to tread light, here are a few steps to ensure you’re in with the green routine.
Chart smart – All great trips follow at least a rough plan. Given time, weather and budget limitations, chart the most efficient itinerary to take you from point A to point B. The web is your best friend in determining the most cost-effective routes, rates and events. Twenty minutes of research can avert hilarious – but time-consuming – trip detours.
Everything needed to run for a day up and down mountains totally fit into this small bag!
Pack light. A basic backpackers’ kit consists of a mobile phone, power bank, quick-dry apparel, rations, a Swiss-knife, compass, sleeping bag, umbrella, toiletry kit, binoculars and a non-disposable water bottle. Consider the probability of actually using something enough times to necessitate hauling it about. Must you really lug that laptop just to check email if you can do it over your phone? Would you even want to check work mail on your vacation? When packing, remember to weigh all your options, literally. The less weight, the less fuel you’ll burn up during those butt-banging commercial flights.
Make the most of mass transportation systems like ferries, trains and buses. Choose trains over airplanes, buses over taxis and bicycles over scooters. This not only lowers costs – it significantly reduces carbon emissions. The best part? Being able to bond and interact with local people. For one of our Palawan trips we took the cheapest (I mean the cheapest) ferry accommodations – and loved the novelty of it. How many can say they slept soundly beside some giddy goats and a drugged-out fighting cock?
Remember that an inefficient itinerary wastes both time and money – and contributes loads of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. A great plan kicks ass.
Travel during the low season – Ever been to Puerto Galera on Holy Week? You know you’ve got it bad when every square foot of ivory sand is covered with drunken people, garbage, or dog shit (could be worse though).
Travelling during the low season pays dividends: lodges which would otherwise gut you for P2000 will suddenly offer rooms for P500. There will be less people and far more opportunities to find interesting side trips. Your hosts will not be as pressured so your trip will be more laid-back. Best of all, your impacts will not tally along with the milling herds of tourists.
When possible, become more than a mere sightseer – hundreds of millions have already gone down this path. Would you want to experience the usual or something uniquely yours?
Eco-travellers shy away from tourist hubs to wholly immerse themselves in the culture and traditions of the communities they visit. In college we had the honour of living with a river-bound Dumagat community, who taught us how to fish, how to ford raging waters and how to ride the gentle currents of life. These are the lessons that will stick with you forever.
Minimize your impacts – When trekking, exploring or diving, always abide by Leave No Trace (LNT) standards: Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time.
Why do you think ninjas are so hard to track in the bush? Because they tread fast, tramp light and travel in small packs. Similarly, travel in a manageable group when visiting wild areas. Split a large team into subgroups spaced several days apart to allow trails, forests and coral reefs some time to recover.
Real travellers know that preserving a destination is the best gift they can bestow upon others. They do not litter, vandalize nor show disrespect for sites, be it misty mountain trails or venerable Shinto shrines. When visiting ancient structures, resist the urge to take tiny mementos. If every gung-ho traveller took a brick from Ayutthaya’s temples, there’d be nothing left but Buddha’s blessings.
When in forested areas, never veer off-trail unless an emergency arises. Your impacts should be confined to as small an area as possible. Large portions of Mt. Pulag in Benguet have trails made of stones. Though unsightly, it forces climbers to keep to established trails. If paths are overgrown, refrain from hacking down harmless, innocent shrubs and trees. If a path must be blazed, remove the minimum amount of foliage needed to clear the trail and return rocks and stones as before. Never light a bonfire and go Kumbaya – you might just light up the entire mountain, like what happened several times this year.
Ideally, we want to leave an area in the same condition as when we found it. If you want to further heed the green call, convert all your trips into cleanups. Beach, reef and mountain cleanups are some of our greatest gifts to Mother Earth.
Now this monkey will always associate hikers with food … maybe not the best idea.
Respect wildlife – Feeding animals distorts their natural behaviour. When a well-meaning but unmindful tourist spoiled some macaque monkeys along Mt. Bongao in Tawi-Tawi some years back, the monkey trail was never the same.
Within years the devious rascals transformed into professional simian snatchers, stealing what they can from visitors by ripping open bags and making off with food, wallets and the occasional iPhone. This is what your binoculars are for – to observe animals from afar. More than a tool for bird watching, binoculars are also great for chick watching!
When at the beach, never touch marine life – especially corals. Often this destroys vital tissue and leaves animals open to disease. Besides, sea urchins, crown-of-thorns starfish, jellyfish and fire corals can pack a serious punch when handled. Think responsibly. Lookie, but no touchie.
Respect the locals – Always remember that you are a guest in your hosts’ territory. Be at your best behaviour at all times and pretty soon, your kindness will be reciprocated.
Strive to be culturally sensitive: before departing, check the regulations and special concerns for the areas you’ll visit. Particularly in religious sites, it always pays to dress conservatively as a sign of deference. When in doubt, bring backup wear. Don’t just snap, snap, snap photos. Along the forested slopes of Mt. Iglit-Baco in Mindoro we encountered true wild people – Tau Buid Mangyan tribesfolk, clad only in loincloths. Before I raised my camera, I asked our Mangyan guide if it was cool to snap pictures. He said that some Mangyan people believed that cameras wrought harm. Respectfully, I re-holstered my Nikon.
Try to make the best of all situations. In Thailand we overheard a tourist loudly ranting about how dirty Bangkok was compared with home. If you have to vent, do so in private. You represent your entire race whenever you leave home.
Some locals in major tourist hubs suffer from visitor fatigue and are prone to prey on the unwary – never take advantage of others but don’t allow your team to be gypped either. Be firm yet polite – let them know that mutual respect is the one medium you deal in.
Learn what you can from the locals and teach them in turn, what you know. In Bohol we met a wonderful couple who taught us to gather crabs and harvest rice. In return we told them what we knew about blogging and the web. Enrichment should always be a two-way process. After all, happy memories for both parties are the crux of great trips.
A dead, dried coral head. Please don’t buy corals or seashells as the trade is unsustainable.
Don’t patronize unsustainable trades – Don’t buy or gather animals, plants, shells, coral skeletons, decorative stones and other items sourced from the wild. Unmanaged extraction is a relatively unsustainable trade and buying adds fuel to the furnace. Once I took home a dried starfish as a room adornment. Somehow, it got wet … and the rest of the story is too horrible to recall.
Never eat sharks, rays, snakes or any of the local delicacies which use endangered or threatened animals. Take it from someone who has tried – often they taste worse than the regular fare. A lot worse.
These trades must be stopped at the source. When the buying stops – the killing, gathering and pillaging, will too.
Support local businesses – Especially in developing countries, tourism is the lifeblood of many impoverished communities.
Patronize cottage industries to help keep unusual arts and products alive and in circulation. It’s not just plants and animals which are endangered – even the cultures and traditions of our indigenous people are threatened by homogeneity and modernization.
As much as possible, stay in small inns run by reputable locals – not in fancy international hotels. In hotels you will be treated as a client, while in homestays and guesthouses you will often be treated like family.
If certain items look a bit pricey, consider the amount of effort that went into producing it. A friend once explained that while a tiny rattan basket might cost P300, it probably took an entire day to weave. After some consideration, P300 for a whole day’s craftsmanship is a pretty sweet deal. Don’t scrooge up if the money goes to a good cause. Think of yourself as a patron of the arts.
Dine in local restaurants and eateries to partake of the local flavour. Order dishes with home-grown ingredients – this has lower impacts than buying imported produce.
Think global, support local. We want our money to line the pockets of needy local residents – not to fuel the interests of a few big corporations.
Spread the word – If your trip was a blast, then write about it! Post, tweet and blog about those experiences, photographs and price rates. Good eco-travellers always help each other out. Compared with high-impact tourism, the eco-travel movement stands ever-ready to reward proponents with a whole busload of physical, spiritual and economic pluses.
So what are you waiting for? Douse your fear and grab your gear. Your first eco-travelling adventure might just be a week away!