As a generation of humans who have the ability to travel fairly easily at our fingertips, we have to be conscious of our resulting impact. “With great power comes great responsibility.” Budget backpackers head to cheap destinations. Everyone does have college debt after all. We head to these second and third world countries and can all of a sudden live like kings and queens!
While I was in Thailand, I got the most magical full body scrub, foot massage, and deep condition for $30 including a good tip. This was all at a spa that made me feel like a goddess. I would never spend the money on something like that in the US because it would probably involve handing over my first born.
It’s great to go spend your money in less monetarily fortunate places. But these places are still second and third world. The same systems that are found in more developed countries are not necessarily in place to manage the constant pressure of a large (and growing), constantly fluctuating population. So while you are backpacking your way through Southeast Asia and Central America, here’s a little beginner’s guide on conscious backpacking.
Conscious Backpacking 101
Take things out of their packaging before traveling. This one’s an easy one, but one that slips our minds often. When traveling to countries without much infrastructure in place to manage waste, it helps if we minimize ours. When your back home, shopping for last minute necessities, make sure you remove everything from it’s packaging before packing and recycle it at home.
Aim to buy things that don’t come in packaging in the first place. Nothing drives me more crazy than going to a grocery store and seeing vegetables sitting on Styrofoam and wrapped in plastic. I use my consumer voice and refuse to purchase these kinds of product no matter where I’m at in the world.
If you’re not interested, don’t take the brochure. If you don’t think you’re going to stay at that luxury resort while you’re backpacking in Costa Rica, than don’t take the brochure only so you can throw it away later.
Bring a water bottle. When it’s recommended for travelers to only drink bottled water, often times people leave their reusable water bottles at home. But a lot of hostels and restaurants will have those 5 gallon water jugs available for you to refill your water bottle with. Usually for a lower price than buying a plastic water bottle in stores.
Diva Cup. This one’s for the ladies. A lot of times when traveling, people warn you to bring extra pads or tampons because you might have a hard time finding them in other places. Well, here’s an end all solution to your problems. Convert to a reusable menstrual cup. Sounds weird, but I promise you I am suggesting not only as an advocate for Eco-friendliness but as a satisfied user as well.
Learn how to say you don’t need a bag in the local language. When I was in Thailand, it didn’t take me long to learn that I needed to know that phrase in Thai. Everything came in a plastic bag. Minimize where you can. Bring your own shopping bag that doubles as purse or over the shoulder bag to use in the markets too. But make sure you know how to politely decline a bag in the local language though, otherwise your efforts will come up short.
Utilize public transport. Sometimes when the private transport is still cheap, we want to go that route. But be aware of the added carbon footprint in making that choice. Disclaimer: I sometimes choose private transport because I tend to get motion sickness. You don’t have to make yourself miserable to be a conscious traveler, just be actively thinking of where you can cut corners on your impact.
Choose local. The closer to home it was made the less it had to travel. Another good way to lower your footprint. Grab a local beer rather than sticking to your usual. Additionally, choose local to support the community you’re in, not the one you’re from.
Give back to the community. This one is my favorite and most rewarding way more conscious backpacking. Find an organization, community, or even just a local family that you can help in some way. Not with money, but with your time. There are plenty of living and learning type communities that offer useful and exciting things for you to learn in exchange for time and effort put back into the community. An example is my stay at Mindful Farm. Volunteers would work for about 2-5 hours a day on the farm or on various projects and pay $7 a day in exchange for a beautiful place to stay in the countryside, all organic meals, daily yoga, and daily guided meditation. Check out my post about it, here.