Green travel is not a new concept. But it does bring to mind a long list of prohibitions – don’t buy take away food in plastic containers; don’t buy water in plastic bottles (carry your own re-usable bottle) and don’t pick the fynbos.
All of this is rather patronising; a restrictive list that leaves the average traveller (not necessarily an avid greenie, but still intent on considering the environment) feeling daunted by the prospect of travel, and guilty as charged before they’ve even packed a bag.
Whilst avoiding brochures (waste of paper) and plastic bags, not using the hotel’s shampoo or towel heating rail, taking the stairs and re-using your towels are all commendable (and not picking the fynbos highly recommended!), they’re not as vital as the positive difference you can make to the lives of the people you will come into contact with on your travels.
Here are my 10 planet friendly travel tips:
The shortest route possible (or take your time)
before going on a trip, do research and choose the shortest route to your destination. The more stopovers, the more petrol the plane will use. Sometimes the best travel is about the journey itself, rather than reaching the destination, so consider travelling by alternative public means, like the train.
Consider home swaps
where registered members stay in one another’s homes. More times than oft this will include the car and access to the Internet (as well as insider ‘secrets’ like where best to shop, eat or hire DVDs).
Support local agritourism and farm stays
some organic farms in South Africa are on the local WWOOF (worldwide opportunities on organic farms) site – great for volunteers to live and learn from the experience; other farm stays are on working farms or converted lodgings. All offer the chance to experience rural life.
Learn something of the local language and culture
Watch out for green spin
there are a lot of businesses claiming the ‘eco’ label. Often it’s greenwash or environmental spin. When you book anything, ask for proof of commitment to environmental and social responsibility.
Eat local, organic and seasonal food
support the local economy, shop at farmers’ markets (countrywide) to experience new tastes that impact the environment less. Support locally run restaurants where the chef has grown and harvested the ingredients, or at least has a relationship with his local suppliers.
Use local guides and public transport
you will find out more about the local culture and lives and will help the locals earn a living. The Baz bus is a backpackers favourite and runs between Cape Town, Durbs and Jo-burg; use the carshare.co.za and liftshare.co.za websites for short hops or alternative car hire.
Support local business (and those that support others)
support local clothes designers and those who support the vulnerable, unemployed and marginalised like Street Wires and The Big Issue. Rather than giving money to beggars support valid ngos and organisations like Greater Good SA, Give Back, Food Bank South Africa, Papillon Foundation, and Starfish Greathearts Foundation.
Go easy on local resources
in many parts of South Africa there is often not much water. Bear this in mind and be water thrifty. The same goes for removing any plants or objects from nature – the local ecosystems are fragile; stick to the trail, if you’re hiking, and don’t remove archaeological treasures.
Engage – ‘whilst in Rome do as the Romans’.
Ask questions, see things from a different perspective, go to local festivals and visit locals in their homes, if you can – it will all add to your experience.