(And how we can make it better)
It’s been a little over a year since I started my Master’s degree in Tourism Management. Time flies. And so did I. Quite a bit. Which sucks.
I’ve lived in Denmark and Slovenia for a few months, spent a few weeks back in Austria in between and somehow went to Belgium, Germany, Cyprus, Israel and Hungary on the way, before moving to Spain and visiting Portugal recently. It’s quite ridiculous that up to this very moment I actually thought that I didn’t travel much throughout this year. And I really tried not to. I really didn’t want to. Because studying tourism made me so much more aware of my travel behavior and its impacts.
If „travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer“, someone or something else has to pay for your gain. And usually that’s the locals and/or the environment. Tourism is by its very nature wasteful and injust. It destroys the places it is built upon. It makes people care even less, because we all have this „Fuck it, I’m on holidays!“-mentality somewhere inside of us. And maybe we should start thinking about why. But that’s a matter for another time.
There’s countless examples of tourism gotten out of hand. Maybe you’ve seen the pictures of „tourists go home“ graffitis or plastic-polluted beaches. I guess most of us agree that that’s not how it’s supposed to be. But the problem with these images is: We don’t feel responsible. We’re not one of „those“ tourists. We are different. We are not part of these issues. And there’s nothing we can do about it, anyways. But that’s where we’re all so wrong.
I realized this through this article on Binge flying which I would highly recommend you to read. Because so much of this resonated with me. Because I, too, got excited by the idea of being able to fly around for 5€ and didn’t even spend a second considering that there is no way on earth this price could be covering all the actual costs associated with air travel. Because I, too, prioritized my own freedom over my responsibility as a citizen of this planet. I jumped on this train of thought about a year ago. And I decided to change my behavior.
So throughout this past year of moving and traveling described above, I managed to not fly for 9 months. I tried to travel locally and explore what’s around me. It’s quite amazing what you find closeby if you simply stay and look around instead of jumping on the next-best plane to the next-best city.
I took 2 days to travel back to Austria from Denmark by bus and train. And guess what: It was super nice. I met some friends along the way. I got the chance to discover a couple of new places. And I do understand that not everybody can or wants to do stuff like that. That sometimes you don’t have these extra 2 days. And that’s okay. I’ll let you know what else you can do at the end of this post. 😉
So yes, I did managed to not fly for 9 months. But I definitely caught up on those miles since then. To be honest, I’m actually on a plane as I type these words. Quite unvoluntarily, but still. I was planning on taking the bus back from Lisbon to Barcelona. I had the ticket and was mentally prepared for this over 15-hours ride. But guess what: A somewhat odd combination of surfing on flat waters, waiting for half a free-range chicken and falsely trusting Google Maps to know it was Sunday made me miss it. So yet another night spent at an airport (the one in Lisbon is not recommended to do that, btw, especially not unprepared) and yet another plane caught. I’m sorry, Mother Earth. I’ll be smarter next time. And I’ll keep trying. Because I think that’s what really matters.
It’s not about unnecessarily limiting ourselves and not taking the amazing opportunities travel brings us. It’s simply about being more aware. About realizing that the actual cost of a flight for both nature and society is way higher than the low ticket fare. And maybe, it’s also about taking a second every now and then to rethink our travel behavior as a whole. Because honestly, what’s the deal with this whole bucket list tourism? What’s the point of going somewhere just to tick it off a list? Why visit a place if you don’t really have time to truly experience it? Is this one Instagram post really worth it? Can’t we all just travel less and experience more?
And yes, I also hope that one day there will be another technological revolution that will allow all of us (and I mean: ALL of us, not only the privileged first-world citizens) to travel as much as we want. But I also think that we shouldn’t rely on some potential future change. I think that we all should take responsibility for our own behavior right here, right now. So unless you’re some sort of master-mind working on planes fueled by green energy, here’s a few ideas what you can actually do:
Take fewer trips, stay longer.
This doesn’t only reduce the negative environmental impact, but also allows you to have more authentic experiences and dive deeper into a place.
Prefer direct flight connections.
This is not only a lot more comfortable, but also more sustainable since the majority of emissions from planes are produced during take-off and landing.
Pay for carbon offsetting.
Most airlines and long-distance bus carriers provide the option to pay a little extra to compensate for the CO2 emissions produced on a journey. This money is used to fund projects to reduce the negative impacts on the environment.
Bring your own food.
What works in every day life also works when traveling: Mealprepping keeps you from buying unhealthy, overpriced and packaged travel snacks.
Refill your water bottle.
Once again: A very basic thing to do that saves money and reduces trash. Most airports have water fountains or potable tap water, so you can just bring an empty bottle and fill it up after the security check.
Check for alternative modes of transport.
There’s more and more pretty good and cheap bus or train connections. I usually check on GoEuro, FlixBus and local train companies. If you travel over night, you can also save on accommodation. Car sharing is another alternative that is usually quite cheap, fast and fun!
Discover your surroundings.
You don’t always have to go to another continent (or even country) to experience something new. Every place, region and country has so much to offer. Take a look around!
Obviously, trains, buses or cars are not as fast as planes. But there’s beauty in taking it easy. They say the journey is the destination anyways, so what’s with the rush?
Remember: Sharing is caring. Feel free to share this article if you find it useful. And if you have any additional tips on how to travel more responsibly, please let me know!