How to Travel Responsibly
Both local and international travel this year has been hugely disrupted due to the effects of COVID-19. Many of us love to travel; however, in recent years, the spotlight has fallen on the impact it has on the environment and planet. With global temperatures rising, the looming threat of the climate control crisis, amongst other issues, it is our responsibility to try and travel responsibly. Travel is good for the soul. The first hours of setting foot in a new and unknown city can be both exhilarating and terrifying. Expanding your knowledge of different customs and cultures can never be a bad thing, except if this harms the planet. Responsible travel does not have to mean any less fun; there are many simple things we can all do to be more accountable while donning our rucksack ready for the next adventure.
Economy All the Way
Much of the stock that we offer in our shop comes from Nepal and India. Our traditional rugs are woven in a village in the mountains only reached by foot. We spend many hours checking in with our makers, discussing new items and exploring new ideas. Internet is slow and tedious if available at all and with 129 different languages spoken in Nepal alone, we always knew the willingness to travel would be an integral part of our business. While there may be something quite appealing about flying business class, a single business class seat takes up the same amount of room as three to four seats in economy aka Cattle Class. Not only would it be irresponsible for us to use our company money to frolic about in the first-class lounge. First-class travel adds to higher carbon emissions as the ratio of passengers per meter is much fewer.
Many airlines now offer the facility to offset the carbon footprint of your flight by donating to a charity as you purchased your ticket.
Annapurna Mountain Region. Home to Mt Everest
No matter where in the world you are going, a quick Internet search will reveal hotels and guest houses that are environmentally friendly. This means they work harder to support the ecosystem, by using renewable energy, taking part in recycling programmes, and using organic materials where possible around their properties. Staying in eco-friendly accommodation is a much more responsible way to travel. Taking the tiny shampoo bottles that are then hoarded in bathrooms around the world are a pointless pastime. Many environmentally-conscious hotels now are opting for larger refillable in their bathrooms as they come under more pressure to encourage sustainable travel. Hotel chain InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) in the UK, has promised to remove all small plastic toiletry bottles from its 843,000 rooms in 5,600 hotels. IGH is just one hotel chain out of the 145 located in the UK alone, that is a lot of tiny bottles.
Many hotels in India and Nepal use solar power, and much of the water used for washing is collected in huge barrels on the roof. Outside of the city, local gardens are common to grow organic vegetables to accompany market bought staples.
Maspur Village, Nepal 2008
While travelling whenever possible, sticking to public transport or walking can help discover hidden city gems. Having lived and worked in London for many years, I was never too fond of the tube, choosing to walk or cycle. Walking helped uncover many independent stores, cool markets and places that would have been missed if I had been deep on the underground or whizzing past in a taxi.
Buses, Trains and Feet
If possible, take the extra time to walk between your destinations, and you never know what you might discover along the way. Of course, the money will be saved on transport fees which can then be invested by sampling the local beer. Win-win!
From drink containers to carrier bags every time you make a purchase on your holiday and throw away the container afterwards, you are adding to the problem. Both Nepal and India are hugely polluted counties. Plastic waste is a colossal problem, and it is impossible to walk in a city in India or Nepal without plastic becoming a sad reoccurrence every few steps. By merely carrying your own reusable water bottles, you can avoid adding plastic to the local waste on your trip. In recent years we have noticed many hotels in Nepal offering filtered water for free in the lobby to tackle Nepal's ever-growing waste issue. It is a saddening realisation that most of the waste littered on the streets is from irresponsible tourists.
One popular trekking route in Nepal is estimated to have a heart-breaking 5 million bottles littered within the valleys equating to 125 tonnes of plastic waste. One single plastic bottle takes over 450 years to decompose. The idea that people who enjoy it for themselves don't wish the same opportunity for their children leaves a gloomy peek into the ethics of our society.
Think Before You Haggle
Haggling in local markets and with street vendors is an almost running joke. As someone who has worked on both sides of this coin, if you do it, be kind. Always approach the situation with respect and a smile. Back in 2004, we witnessed someone very rudely haggle over 50p for an hour. We see slamming of taxi doors and offensive language being used. It is disrespectful and totally unnecessary. Check if the taxi meter is working before you embark on your journey or agree on a price before setting off. Mostly one only needs one slightly uncomfortable encounter to learn this lesson. Haggling when done right: and in some cultures, is part of everyday life. It should be fun, but be mindful of the person who has potentially handcrafted the item you only wish to pay £5 for. Or who has been driving around for the last 8 hours and only earnt a few pounds. A good question to ask is:
What is that item worth to you, and what is it worth to the seller? Do you spend that amount without thinking "back home" on a coffee?Bear in mind that sometimes you may pay slightly more, but these are items you don't just pick up in your home country. They come with a story and assist in that trader being able to earn a wage and assist in fair trading ethics, that is always worth that little bit extra.
Make peace with the fact prices for locals, and the costs for tourists is never going to be equal.
It is always good to read up on customs or traditions in places you will be visiting. Wearing a bikini or kissing in public in some countries will land you in jail.
After literally bumping onto a friend while backpacking around Asia in 1994, we travelled together to Myanmar, a country still very heavily under the military ruling. Now there are many things we experienced on this adventure: enough for a completely separate blog. However, the responsibility each of us has while travelling was never so apparent as it was on this particular trip. Read up; we read a lot of information about government, customs, military and local rules. It helped enormously. Staying with locals and being mindful of who actually was benefiting from the money spent on this trip. At this time, there was not one ATM in Myanmar, and local banks did not exchange foreign currency. Not having this information beforehand would have resulted in an incredibly unpleasant voyage.
Whist visiting a stunning and isolated village many years ago we witnessed a lady taking large bags of sweets to give to the local children. This practice encourages begging and is an extremely unfair western habit. Be mindful, this practice might make for a good story when you get back home or a worthy fireplace photograph, but it unethical and thoughtless. Interactions are a great way to learn, flinging sweets at children and watching them clash, not so much. If you want to take something, a pack of balloons take up no space in your luggage, and you will have as much fun as the children running after both them and ballons!
All images on this blog have been taken by us with permission of all involved. All images are protected under copyright and are not to be used without written consent.