Look, But Don’t Touch: Practicing Environmental Conscientiousness While Traveling

Just as much as anthropologists mean to merely observe the culture and traditions that pique their curiosities, as travellers and visitors, we have the responsibility to respect — and hold sacred, even — the welcome that is bestowed upon us. Unless, perhaps, we are graciously granted the blessing by the locals themselves to partake in their practices, or consume their resources, let’s always assume that we are not at any sort of liberty to exploit any of it.

A bag of a popular Filipino corn chips brand, found on the streets of Rome, Italy

A bag of a popular Filipino corn chips brand, found on the streets of Rome, Italy. Not good!

Respecting cultures means respecting their land. This includes maintaining cleanliness and being mindful of any waste that we generate. This really should be habitual for us, as human beings, regardless of whether or not we are on the road. The principles are the same, but the practice is slightly different when we travel, because we are almost always not at our most comfortable.

So, here are a few tips on how to stay environmentally conscientious while we travel:

  • Stay away from fast food joints!
    For many obvious reasons. First of all, their nutritional content is shit. Second, they have no qualms about giving you disposable, non-biodegradable packaging and utensils. And they make you believe that you need to use straws. You don’t. Which brings me to my next point:
  • Buy food without packaging, or at least not individually wrapped.
    It is for sure more convenient, space-efficient, and environmentally sound to eat a local eateries and restaurants while traveling. But snacking is an inevitable, often unforeseen necessity. In a country like the Philippines, where the sachet mentality is prevalent, food (mostly junk) is readily available in small, individually wrapped plastic packaging. But instead of buying basura snacks packed in wasteful wrappers, why not try the local barbecue stand or bakery down the street?
    You also have the option to carry your own. In the past, I’ve brought my own snacks: a whole bag of trail mix (with nuts, dried fruit, and chocolate chips) to last me three days at the beach; a pack of crackers; a a couple of sandwiches. All in resealable bags, which I brought back home with me.
  • Reusable bamboo drinking straws, from G StuffDon’t use straws. Or if you must, use reusable wooden straws made out of bamboo.
    Available at G Stuff (4th Floor, Rockwell Power Plant mall) — twelve pieces for P75! I have a little cousin and a young niece who do like to use straws, so I bought the bunch, really with them in mind.
    I’ve put one straw in every bag that I travel with now. If they are reusable, then they are washable. Just soak them in soapy water, and let air dry. Better if under the sun, so the saleslady said. And they are certainly biodegradable.
  • Bring reusable food and beverage containers.
    Very important: a reusable, refillable water bottle.
    I highly recommend the Hydroflask. You can put in ice cubes in there in the morning, go out for an excursion under the sun, and your drink will still be cold when you come back in the afternoon. Plus, the bottle doesn’t sweat, so everything else in your back keeps dry.
    Not only does it keep your cold drinks cold , and your hot drinks hot, a certain percentage of your purchase goes to a charity of your choice.
    Bringing a bottle of water will turn out cheaper for you as well. Instead of having to buy bottle after bottle of water, feel free to ask your hosts to refill your water bottle before you go out during the day.

I don’t always do this, especially if I know that I have the option to dine responsibly, but it might be useful to bring your own food containers, or mess kits for camping trips.

Also, bring a spork. This has been one of the most useful finds I’ve made as of late. Light My Fire (available at the Deuter standalone store at SM Mall of Asia) has a pack of four very sturdy sporks available for just a little over P400. There’s a spoon on one end, and fork on the other end, but that’s not all: one of the fork’s tines is serrated just enough for knife functions. But, not nearly enough to cause any damage to your mouth.

  • As much as possible, stay in fan rooms instead of air-conditioned ones.
    Lodging in fan rooms, especially when you are in provincial locations, really is not so bad. Often, it is breezier out there, and generally less warm than it is in the city. Live like the locals do! Rough it a bit! But don’t forget your mosquito nets and insect repellants.
  • Limit use of electronics.
    Use rechargeable batteries. Or, use solar-powered gadgets, like lamps and torches. Travel and camping stores (like the Deuter store, where I’ve gotten most of my equipment so far) often have options like this. If I remember correctly, Light My Fire is the brand that offers these products.
  • Use environment-friendly beauty products.
    Lately, I’ve made the conscious decision to switch all of my beauty products (at least the ones for grooming; makeup is another story) to those which are eco-friendly, natural, fairly-traded, locally produced, and of course, effective. If they are of any benefit to a local community or supports sustainability — better.
    There are quite a few local brands which champion these causes now, and I am currently in the process of exploring what they have to offer: bath soaps, shampoo, conditioner, sunscreen, feminine wash, toothpaste… everything.
  • Look; don’t touch.
    As tempting as it might be to go nuts, laying our hands on all the pretty things we see, let’s be mindful to keep our hands off of them. First of all, it isn’t always safe. Regardless of the actual circumstances that surround that issue, let’s just assume that the lesson that was meant to be taken away from it is just to not touch anything! Unless, of course, given blessing by guides. As humble visitors, we aren’t in any position really to go wreaking havoc in any of these places.

How do you practice environmental consciousness and preservation at home and while you’re traveling? Care to share any tips of your own?

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